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An Etsy Alternative Isn’t the Answer

This is the second post in a series.  The first – Can we Build an Etsy Alternative Marketplace? – can be read (or listened to) here.

Before the Etsy Strike – before we even had a petition for you to sign – I had a dream.  I had a dream of an alternative to Etsy.  It would be open to every single type of seller allowed on Etsy today – every single one of the awesome people who helped our movement reach so many people in so little time.  This alternative would be a seller-owned cooperative – and so it would belong to us – the people who built it, the people creating and curating all the beautiful products that would make it unique.

I was keeping the idea close to my chest, because I knew we couldn’t just build it and the buyers would come.  In fact, I knew that growing my cooperative dream on the type of budget a group like ours could raise would be darn near impossible and would require a slew of brilliant and entirely unique marketing ideas – ideas that hadn’t come to me yet.

But I believed we could figure it out together.

While still struggling to get those first few signatures on our petition, I made a post in the subReddit r/LateStageCapitalism. It’s viral growth completely shocked me:

Reddit post with image, orange and white text on black:
Etsy, 2020-2021:
*makes record profits*
Etsy, 2021:
*buys competitors with cash*
Etsy 2022:
*raises fees 30%*

I thought – if that happened once, it can happen again – even bigger the second time around!  I saved a new layer in my template in Krita (free open source Photoshop alternative) with a variation on my original text:

Screenshot of photo editing program with image:
Etsy, 2020-2021:
*makes record profits*
Etsy, 2021:
*buys competitors with cash*
Etsy, 2022:
*raises fees 30%*

Redditors, 2022:
"F*ck that, let's build our own Etsy."

In the last post in this series, I talked about joining Etsy way back in 2006 – when the terms were amazing, but the sales sucked!  My dream of a cooperative alternative was inspired by the platform I remembered being a part of in 2012.  I didn’t want to go back to 2006.  

While working on blog posts to spread the word about the strike, I discovered exact buyer and seller counts for Etsy from that year:

In 2012, Etsy had 830,000 sellers and 9 million buyers.

Next, I learned some even more sobering information.  It turns out the funding that launches big tech companies is public information, for the most part.  How much venture capital funding had Etsy received by 2012?

More than 90 million dollars.

When I learned exactly what it took – in time and in capital – to grow Etsy, I had to think twice about my dream. You see, I know what it’s like to join and try to grow a new marketplace.  It’s a lot of work that you do in return for very few sales.  In the beginning, you’re bringing all your own buyers, through your own social media marketing and other advertising efforts.  In fact, it’s a lot like starting a standalone store on your own website.

The thing about a marketplace that’s nice, is you put in all that work, along with other sellers that are putting in all that work, and if the social experiment succeeds, eventually enough buyers get to know about it that you’ll start making sales from the marketplace’s search function.  You’ll get to profit off of all that hard work you and other sellers put into the marketplace at the beginning.

But how long would that social experiment have to go on without 90 million dollars of venture tech capital funding?  How many people would we lose along the way?

And how much harder would it be to get shoppers – the thing we need most – when instead of spreading the word about something that doesn’t exist yet, we’re trying to get people to leave the platform they’re currently using?

Etsy has 89.9 million active buyers, and 5.9 million active sellers.  Based on their behavior, they seem to believe they’ve got us trapped.  They more than doubled our fees in less than four years.  In that same time, they introduced a slew of anti-creator policies that make it darn-near-impossible to run a shop with really unique or custom-made items – the types of items they claim to be all about.  And then, when nearly 30,000 of us joined together in a historic protest, the CEO said:

“Each of our sellers is a blade of grass in a tornado.  They’re someone you haven’t heard of.”

In an internet dominated by tech platform monopolies, there are huge barriers standing in the way of a viable alternative to Etsy.  There are barriers that make it very difficult for Etsy alternatives to launch in the first place.  There are barriers that hold back their speed of growth.  There are barriers that make it difficult for us to join, and then make it difficult to keep putting time and income into a platform that isn’t able to pay off yet in the form of sales.

An alternative to Etsy isn’t the answer, because it’s not enough.  The answer – the thing I want for my creative indie business and for yours – is freedom.  Freedom means each and every single one of us being able to sell the awesome things we create or curate, on whichever platform we choose.

If we want freedom for our creative indie businesses, we must work together to bring down those barriers.  We must start a collective project with the goal of transforming the tech-platform-monopoly internet into a free internet where alternatives to Etsy can grow and can thrive.  A internet chock-full of alternatives, with detailed information on each provided by our guild to help you decide which one is best for you.

Then, we need to be the organization that connects them all together, and helps buyers find our sellers in their new internet homes.

That’s the vision of our Marketplace Accreditation Program.  I hope you’re intrigued, because I’m going to talk a lot more about it in the months to come.  But first, I want to share a fascinating inside look at an Etsy alternative for handmade sellers – Goimagine.

Click here to read the next article in this series, about Goimagine.

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