Thousands of Etsy sellers — artists who make money from selling their handmade goods on the website — are closing their (online) shops for the week and going on strike.
Earlier this year, Etsy's CEO Josh Silverman announced that starting April 11 the company would increase the 5% transaction fee for sellers to 6.5 percent. This was done to fund improvements in marketing, and seller tools, among other changes, Silverman said.
The sellers are fed up with new transaction fees and other Etsy-imposed costs. Many sellers feel like Etsy is intent on squeezing the platform's independent artists with these new policies.
In response, Etsy sellers banded together and launched a campaign, urging other artisans and their customers to abandon the site for one week in protest. Organizers said more than 5,000 shops pledged to participate this week.
In a letter sent to Silverman on Monday, Etsy strikers said: "Etsy has become a downright hostile place for authentic small businesses to operate. For both full-time and part-time sellers alike, the changes on Etsy have brought many of us to the brink of financial ruin."
"After giving Etsy two years of record profits under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, we're tired, frustrated and ready to fight for our seat at the table," they added.
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This isn't a strike in the legal or traditional term. So, there won't be any physical picket lines. The sellers aren't workers, Etsy isn't their employer, and they aren't covered by the National Labor Relations Act.
But to Lori Peterson, a seller on Etsy, the setup feels very similar to a traditional employer-employee relationship.
"Technically we are just customers of Etsy because they have a platform and we're on it," she told NPR. "But we are also the laborers for them and they make money directly off our labor."
The collective action of Etsy sellers is part of a broader wave of workers pushing corporations for better conditions and pay. It comes days after workers at a Amazon facility in Staten Island and staff at some Starbucks locations have voted to unionize.
Off-site ads and other fees hurt, sellers say
Kristi Cassidy has actively sold her Victorian, gothic, steampunk wedding dresses and costumes on Etsy's online marketplace since 2007.
Her product is niche, but Cassidy found a home on Etsy, which specializes in selling handmade or vintage items. She's been able to make a living creating custom dresses to her customers.
That is, until, Etsy started making big changes, she told NPR. This latest fee increase comes just a couple of years after another bump in transaction fees for sellers.
"It was just like this feeling of putting more and more work into my shop, and getting less and less out of it as I went along," she said.
Cassidy helped organize the Etsy strike campaign after she found other peeved sellers on social media felt the same way.
Sellers are reporting seeing more resellers on the site and some shops that steal other artists' designs. Many people that spoke to NPR said they felt like Etsy is doing nothing about complaints they submit to the company about these problems.
These independent shops also want to be able to opt out of off-site advertisements. These are Etsy-created promotions for specific listings that are posted throughout the internet; the cost is pushed to sellers once they make a sale based on these ads.
Cassidy said those ads make it hard to know what she would ultimately take home from custom orders.
"Off-site ads make my business completely unsustainable," she said.
Organizers say more action may be needed
According to Etsy, its site has 5.3 million active sellers and more than 90 million active buyers. The company has defended the fee structure.
"Our sellers' success is a top priority for Etsy. We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don't meet our policies," an Etsy spokesman said.
Nicole Lewis, who runs her own Etsy shop, defended the company. She called on artists to raise prices and do other things to cut costs, not to attack the company.
"If this fee increase is making you nervous, your prices are not correct," she told NPR. "There are so many things that sellers can be doing behind the scenes on their end ... that can cut down these costs drastically."
Peterson doesn't want to do that.
"I don't want to milk my customers for as much as I can get out of them. I feel like I owe it to my customers to provide them a reasonable price. And I want to see my art in the world," she said. "That's what it is for me as an artist."
Sellers who spoke to NPR said this may not be the last of this kind of activism by artists on Etsy.
The main organizers behind the Etsy strike are considering turning the effort into some sort of labor organization for independent sellers, Cassidy said.
"I'm not sure what we call it, but we are all definitely all in on making that a reality," she said. "We are all in it for the long run."
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