Why Etsy Sellers Are Going on Strike

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S1: For me, striking isn’t just about my own problems of Etsy, but when I hear someone saying I’m not going to make rent this month, I have no choice. I need to go on strike with this person.

S2: Hi, I’m Rachel Hampton.

S3: And I’m Madisonville and Kircher. You’re listening to. I see. Why am I?

S2: In Case You Missed It.

S3: Slate’s podcast about Internet Culture.

S2: Welcome back, Madison. I have some great news for you.

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S3: Are we producing a full scale musical? Are we finally making a musical episode?

S2: No, but Elon Musk, 49% of Twitter stock, and now he’s on the board of directors.

S3: We really just had to ruin it, didn’t you?

S2: As some of my Twitter mutuals call him apartheid, Clyde is now fully involved in Twitter.

S3: I just Twitter is bad enough with him just as a user. I don’t need him in charge of the users.

S2: A power user, if you may.

S3: Has the power user made any sweeping declarations? I’ve said power yet.

S2: I mean, I think the most important thing he’s probably said so far is that he might actually be introducing an edit button. And people have been asking for this and like most things people ask for on the Internet. This is not actually a good idea. We do not need the power to edit our tweets. Tumblr taught us what happens when you can edit post after you post them.

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S3: I think what Rachel is describing is if one wrote a tweet and then said tweet was embedded in a BuzzFeed article and then you changed the tweet to just say, Pardon my French, fuck off BuzzFeed. That’s what the article would say. And you can’t do that now with Name Flaming, which is when you change your display name. But this would be that on a whole new level.

S2: Also, you know, perhaps having a tweet go viral and then change it to get to something like let’s all take ivermectin and then it’ll all get promoted into your feed because it’s a viral tweet. There are a lot of reasons that this should not be a thing. Leave your typos in the tweet. It’s fine.

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S3: Okay. But I should be allowed to have an edit button as a person who is phenomenally bad with a typo. I think personally I should be entitled to an edit button.

S2: No, because with great power comes great responsibility. And I don’t actually know if I trust you like that.

S3: Wow. Spent a year. The truth comes out.

S2: All right. This is anything.

S3: New? I need an edit button for my podcast host.

S2: Edit delete.

S3: All right, fine. No edit buttons for anyone but a strike over on Etsy for everyone. That’s we’re going to talk about today on the show. Etsy is going on strike. Well, the sellers of Etsy are going on strike in February of this year, Etsy CEO, who is named Josh Silverman, announced that despite the fact that company revenue is at an all time high, Etsy is increasing their transaction fees. This means beginning on April 11th, which is coming up very quickly. Etsy would be taking 30%. I say that one more time, three zero, 30% more from a sellers bottom line than they used to be.

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S2: Soon after this news broke, thousands of Etsy sellers announced they’ll be going on strike for a little over a week from April 11th to April 18th. They are also asking shoppers not to cross the picket line. And at the time of recording, just under 35,000 people have signed a petition agreeing to boycott Etsy for as long as the sellers are on strike.

S3: So since Etsy was founded in 2005, it has developed a reputation for, you know, hosting and supporting small business owners. And frankly, prior to doing research for this episode, Rachel, that was still my understanding of it.

S2: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

S3: But here’s the part where we say, But now I’ve learned, and according to sellers on the platform, that February transaction fee increase is actually just the most recent change in a really long line of changes that demonstrate Etsy doesn’t seem to care anymore about helping the small businesses that made the platform the platform.

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S2: Later in the show, we’ll be talking to one of those Etsy sellers about her experience on the platform, how it’s changed over the years, and what led her to join the strike. But first, how did we get to this point? After the break, we’ll be back to talk about the history of Etsy and why this fee increase is really just the final straw. And we’re back on Etsy, except not really because they’re on strike.

S3: So this month, like you said, Etsy sellers are going to go on strike from April 11 through April 18th. About 5000 sellers who have planned to participate in the strike are going to close their shops in an attempt to show Etsy just how important sellers are to Etsy’s bottom line. For a sense of scale, there’s about five, a little over five, 5.3 million sellers on Etsy, according to company data. So a strike of 5000 isn’t exactly a majority, but it’s not an insignificant number, especially considering that sellers have to go off platform to organize. Right. There is no Etsy union.

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S2: The movement actually started on Reddit, a real mixed bag of places, but on the subreddit are Etsy sellers, which has about 68,000 members. A user who goes by the name rejecting normality created it is truly amazing. Created a post titled We Need an Etsy Sellers Union.

S3: I actually have a question which is how does one officially strike on Etsy? Do you delete your whole shop? Can you put a like closed sign up? Do you take your items down?

S2: I mean, basically some variation of the closed sign, you can put your shop in vacation mode, which means that nobody can purchase anything from you, which is great, a great functionality to have in case you do actually want to go on vacation or on strike.

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S3: Yeah, the vacation. You can’t go on because Etsy is cutting so deeply into your profits.

S2: Mm hmm. So rejecting normality. Whose real name is Kristy Cassidy has been leading the charge ever since that post. She started the site Etsy strike that org, which includes the demands of the strikers. We will explain these in more detail later. But the primary demands are cancelling the fee increase we just mentioned cracking down on resellers and allowing sellers to opt out of an advertising program.

S3: I want to take a minute to shout out a piece that ran on the verge at the end of March by Mia Sardo, which was perhaps the first piece of coverage I read about the Etsy strike. We’ll put it in the show notes, but it’s a really good primer.

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S2: So Etsy strike that org also includes sample vacation mode announcements, these really cute little templates for mailing stickers that include info about the strike that you can stick on your packages. And just a lot of other resources will also be looking to the blog and the show notes, but the site pretty effectively answers all the questions that anyone could have about the strike, why it’s happening, and why it’s so hard for sellers to leave the platform.

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S3: I love the idea of the stickers because that’s I so deeply associate those stickers with ordering from Etsy. You know, you get the cute little package with the like custom wrapping. Mm. I love the idea of the sticker being like, screw Etsy, join us.

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S2: There’s a strike. Don’t order for me.

S3: So it is, like you said, hard for sellers to leave this platform because Etsy has the tech and it’s pretty easy to use. There are built in customer service tools, advertising and most importantly, a really powerful search engine, which I don’t know about you. I don’t have Etsy shops I frequent I just.

S2: Know.

S3: Type in items.

S2: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I am staring, actually, at a crochet wall hanging that I bought after searching crochet while hanging on Etsy.

S3: Can I put you on blast?

S2: Yes. Yeah, fine.

S3: Remember that time you wanted to buy a stick like a tree branch from Etsy?

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S2: Okay. It was an aesthetically pleasing stick that would have been supporting a small business. Or so I thought.

S1: Please think of the small stick sellers.

S2: Anyway, this very powerful search engine is one of the only ones on the internet where you can type in, for example, aesthetic stick and get access to hundreds of presumably small businesses that you otherwise would have had to research individually and probably got a ton of ads through Google for.

S3: So I spent way too long on this Strike blog and something I found really compelling is the way that they lay out how much a seller needs to raise their prices to keep making profits. As Etsy raises these fees compared to an item for sale in 2018 should make the same profit. Now you would have to increase your prices 36%, and that’s according to the organizers of the Etsy strike. By comparison, inflation during that same time period is just under 14%, so that’s a lot of money we’re talking about. Cassidy has also started a petition on co-worker talk, which we said at the top, and tens of thousands of people have signed on to support this Etsy strike. We did reach out to Etsy regarding the strike and they provided us a statement via a spokesperson reiterating that Etsy is committed to the success of their sellers. Quote, We are always receptive to seller feedback. And in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our. Residents in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support and removing listings that don’t meet our policies.

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S2: So now we know what’s going on with the strike, how it’s being mobilised. But how exactly did Etsy change from a site where you go to presumably support small businesses to a site that small businesses are now organizing against?

S3: Etsy was founded in 2005 and they were focused on vintage things and handmade things and individualized products that went straight from creator to consumer. You know, art, clothes, crafts, anything handmade you could imagine you could find it on Etsy.

S2: It really developed and honed a reputation as a kind of side hustle marketplace where creative people use it to hawk their specialized wares. And it created this centralized location that was unavailable in real life, because where else could you find such a collection of small businesses from not only all over the country, but all over the world?

S3: Although you have to remember it’s 2005, Facebook groups aren’t a thing yet. Instagram not a thing yet. There is nowhere like this yet. eBay, of course, but that does a different thing. And and all of these sorts of platforms that we now would take for granted as places you could sell handmade wares. They’re not things yet.

S2: But so the first eight years or so kind of lived and died by these craft show vibes. I mean, when I think of Etsy, I kind of think of, you know, this giant conference hall full of stalls featuring like any handmade bauble you could possibly imagine. And it’s basically an online flea market. It’s my.

S3: Like churches. Christmas bazaar. Yeah, exactly.

S2: It was until about 2012 when the platform began to change, when in 2012, around 3000 sellers decided to go on strike to protest the way Etsy handled an investigation into a seller who was selling mass produced furniture at the time. That was actually forbidden on the platform, huh? Yeah. And so all these sellers were upset about the way the Etsy decided to handle this investigation. And so rather than enforce its own rules, Etsy simply changed its rules in 2013 to allow sellers to outsource production. Because the thing is, to crack down on sellers that are selling items that are produced elsewhere would cut into the company’s profits.

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S3: This prompted a influx of dropshipping companies, and we’ve talked a little bit about Dropshipping on the show because you can’t exist on the Internet these days and buy things and not. But in case you’re not familiar with the term dropshipping is when a company sells you a product that they don’t actually have in stock. So instead they’ll contract with a third party seller to fulfill whatever you order, and then that company will ship it directly to you or dropship it directly to you.

S2: This, of course, allows for these big dropship companies to start dominating the market and pushing out smaller creators by undercutting their business. Because the thing about drop shippers is that because they don’t actually have anything in stock, they have everything in stock they can carry literally anything in the world that once versus a macrame artist who can only sell what they can make, but the supplies that they have.

S3: It’s pretty clear based on the description why an artisan on Etsy would be really pissed off by the presence and increasing presence of drop shippers. Because not only does it hurt their business, but it’s antithetical to the ethos that Etsy is founded on this idea of curated goods that are being bought and sold between people. There’s no people at a dropship company. It’s just just a dropship company.

S2: Also, as Madison kind of alluded to, the provenance of dropship items is usually extremely murky, ethically dubious, and probably environmentally unsustainable. So most people, me rubes who haven’t been keeping up with the shifting nature of Etsy, go to Etsy.com thinking I am getting around the vast Bashan dropship industrial complex only to be taken in by a pretty little Etsy shop that actually is just a front for a drab shipping company.

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S3: My earrings. She in.

S2: No exactly. You think you’re earrings Etsy but they’re she.

S3: And things only keep getting worse for Etsy sellers when the company goes public in 2015 because this is the final nail in the coffin of the most important people being involved in an Etsy transaction, being the buyer or the seller, because now there are shareholders in the company.

S2: And what do shareholders love more than the efficiency of a factory system?

S3: So more and more drop shippers are joining the company. The company is focused on revenue in an increasing way that seems to be negatively impacting sellers. And it’s not going great if you’re an Etsy seller, to be honest.

S2: Yeah. And then it continues thick not. Go great, because in early 2020, Etsy, which, by the way, records record profits during the pandemic, implemented a mandatory advertising policy that sellers were required to participate in if their shops made over $10,000 in sales each year. Now, most shops on Etsy don’t, but obviously a fair amount do. So what this program did was advertise individual sellers items on what Etsy called high traffic sites across the Internet, so places like Facebook, Pinterest and Google. So what that means is say you Madison are on Facebook and you see an Etsy ad. It’s not just an ad for the site, though. It’s an ad for a specific seller, let’s say a candle shop on the surface. That seems great for that candle shop, right?

S3: Yeah, they look they look calm and ready.

S2: Exactly. And paying for that kind of advertising, as we know, is pretty expensive. But the thing is, if you bought the candle from that candle shop through that Facebook ad, Etsy automatically takes at least a 12% fee from the seller on top of the existing 5% service fee for every transaction. And if that candle shop makes over $10,000 a year, they didn’t have a choice about whether or not that ad was placed there.

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S3: I definitely bought the candle.

S2: We all bought the candle because we’d.

S3: Like to apologize to the candle seller.

S2: Supporting the small business. And the thing is, when the program launched in 2020, every single seller was automatically enrolled, even the stores making less than $2,000 a year. So if you were an Etsy, so under that threshold, you still had to go into your settings and turn off the service.

S3: We love an opt out feature. So this one over. Great, I assume, right?

S2: Phenomenally. People loved it. No. Sellers call it off where it was, which is a blatant cash grab without any tangible benefits besides the hopes of clicks from advertisements.

S3: That was a really quick timeline. We’ve now caught up to the present and those are just a few of the reasons that have been building up and building up for months and years leading up to this seller strike. There’s a few more reasons that we don’t have time to get into, but we’ll make sure to link to some additional reading in the show notes. If you are curious to dig even deeper into the trials and tribulations of trying to sell stuff on Etsy.

S2: And after the break, we’ll be back to hear about those trials and tribulations from an active seller. He’ll be sharing her perspective on the fee increase the strike and whether or not this means she’ll just leave Etsy altogether.

S3: Hi there. Just want to take a moment to shout out anybody who is listening to. I see. Why am I? For the very first time. We’re so glad you’re here. In case you missed it. Our show actually comes out twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so be sure to check us out on both days of the week if you want to listen back. Last Wednesday’s episode was all about how the unofficial Bridgerton musical came from behind to win a Grammy. Somehow that’s legal. And we’re back with Etsy seller Ali. Hi, Ali. Welcome to the show.

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S1: Hey, thanks for having me.

S2: So you run the common prayer shop on Etsy. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

S1: I so things and I’m an Episcopalian and so I have found this incredible niche where I make toys, HomeGoods accessories for Episcopalians, mainline Protestants and anybody who’s interested. So everything from scrunchies to tea towels to plushies, it’s all on Etsy.

S2: So you’ve been on Etsy for about two years now. What is your experience been like on the platform?

S1: I have had a great experience with buyers. It’s been wonderful meeting new people. At the same time, there has been this growing sense of doom. It’s harder and harder to sell on Etsy as a random woman in Houston, and as fees have been rising, as weird management choices have been increasing, like the star salaries program and things like that that I’m sure we can talk about more. It’s just become harder to stay afloat, which is such a shame because it’s such a it’s a beautiful place to meet people in this marketplace.

S2: So you mentioned weird management choices and the star seller program specifically. What exactly is up with that?

S1: So we all got a notification last year. It was introducing the star seller program. This is something that will track your every move as a seller. And if you if you meet our threshold for what we think is a good seller, things like consistent five star reviews, responding to messages within a certain amount of time. If you meet thresholds of behavior, then we’re going to give you this little badge piece of flair and we’re going to boost you in our results when people start searching for your products. That works great for corporations, right? The problem is that we’re real human beings with real human beings lives, and maybe we don’t respond to a message in time. Maybe we’re making custom products where the shipping time has to take longer than what Etsy might expect for a generic service. If I’m handcrafting someone a table and we agree that it is going to take six months, Etsy takes away your star seller rating. Oh, here’s that. Here’s the best part for me. If someone leaves a glowing four star review, we get mad now because we’re going to lose our star seller status. And that person was just trying to be honest and helpful to other people. It feels like Amazon, if you’re in a shop at Amazon, like shop at Amazon, right? I don’t know why Etsy is trying to compete directly with Amazon. They have this niche and they’re abandoning it and they’re abandoning the sellers who make Etsy such a great place to shop.

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S3: Part of that abandonment comes in the form of these fee increases. What was your first reaction when you heard about those?

S2: Oh.

S1: Classic. Like spit out my drink. Are you kidding me? 30% increase. What? One of the really cool parts of this strike that I’ve gotten to participate in firsthand, it’s so cool is just this building of community. Folks are organizing not just on Reddit. People are really getting together because we are collectively fed up. And honestly, my livelihood, my rent doesn’t rely on my Etsy sales, but I know other people do rely on it. And so for me, striking isn’t just about my own incentives. My own problems with Etsy. But when I hear someone saying, I’m not going to make rent, I’m not going to be able afford food this month, I have no choice. And it’s rooted in my faith. I need to go on strike with this person.

S2: You mentioned organizing online and getting to see that firsthand. Can you tell us a little bit more about like where these conversations are happening, what it’s like to kind of see this, I guess, up close?

S1: I first got involved through Twitter, which is like my main social media. And then so through that, I found out, okay, this is really happening on Reddit. So I’m like, put on my hard hat and dive into the Reddit. And then I discover there’s a discord for more like quick feedback with everybody. So it’s happening on all these different levels, outward and inward as well. Etsy has to be watching.

S3: You know, they 100% are. We talked a little bit about the demands of the strike earlier in the show, but I’m curious, what are like your top demands? Like, what is the thing you want to see change the most immediately?

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S1: Take back this 30% increase in fees more long term. What’s important to me is cracking down on resellers. These factories are undercutting our ability as actual small sellers and craftspeople to make it onto that first page of results that you get when you search for a given thing. You want to give a gift to somebody that first page of results. More and more is going to be factories. And I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for if. You’re browsing on Etsy and I want to find people who will really enjoy my stuff.

S2: That’s really funny. Not funny. Interesting because so many people go to Etsy specifically to find small businesses. So if the first page is all stuff you could get from like AliExpress, that’s kind of a kind of a scam. Or at least like the algorithm isn’t doing its job on paper.

S1: Etsy is a really great place, which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see this shift to prioritizing factories over small artisans. They have a great brand that they inherited from the days before they started making these choices before 2015, when they went public. They were a B Corp, which is a voluntary opt in certification for being an ethical company. They’re still riding the coattails of that like 2014. Happy Etsy. And then they’ve sort of transformed behind the orange logo into something that looks very different.

S3: Are they still a B Corp?

S1: No, they’ve replaced that with some platitudes and like public statements, but they are not volunteering to be held to the standards of a B Corp anymore.

S2: I’m curious, what’s the wider tenor of the conversation like about what happens after this strike if, for example, like the fee increase stays the same? Are there next steps?

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S1: I’ve discussed probably the most beautiful thing out of this strike is that we’re all in solidarity with each other and we have built these networks. So if it’s necessary to strike again, we will. We are going to actively pursue media opportunities to get the word out to people, too. Yes. Talking to Etsy. Right. In the most loving way possible. Like we love Etsy. That’s the thing. We’re not out here striking because we hate Etsy and we all want to leave. We all very much want to stay on the platform. For a lot of people, it’s their sole source of income. But if Etsy makes that impossible, a lot of us are building our parachutes to leave.

S3: Ellie, thank you so much for joining us today and for talking through this strike. We wish you guys all the best.

S1: Thank you. Thank you so much.

S3: Yeah, but. All right, that’s the show. We’ll be back in your feed on Wednesday. Please subscribe. It is the best way to make sure you never miss an episode or a strike update. Please leave us a rating and review in Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Tell your friends about us. Tell your comrades about us. We are on Twitter at I see why my underscore pod. Feel free to send questions, comments, concerns and also email. I see. Assume it’s sitcom.

S2: I see why I mean, is produced by Daniel Schrader, where edited by force Wickman and Alegria Frank and Alicia montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcast.

S3: See online or at the picket line. We’re getting in the time machine.

S2: We are making machines out here. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm.