I am sure this article has been floating around the etsy world for a while now, but I just discovered it and thought it was worthy of discussing. It basically makes the argument that etsy.com as company peddles a fantasy to women that they can start their own home business and quit their day jobs. It's a fantasy because vanishingly few are actually able to do this, according to data which etsy has gathered. The article also observes that vanishingly few men sell stuff on etsy. Why? Because they can't make enough money there. It's a valid observation and explanation.
You can scroll down to the bottom if you'd like to read the original article.
So here are my off the cuff thoughts on the essay based on my experience selling on etsy, paying attention to what other sellers do and say (in the forums especially) and seeing how my own small niche in its marketplace has panned out over time.
First off, I think the article is dead on. Yes, it generalizes about how many etsy women are basically SAHMs who are being supported by their breadwinner husbands. Truth be told, I am not so far outside of that category. But there are plemnty of women who sell stuff on etsy who don't fit that mould.
Why are male sellers not well represented on etsy? Sure it may have something to do with there not being a lot of money in it. Now, I am not a "top seller" by any means, and I have not quit my day job, but I have made at least as much as the seller highlighted in the article, so I consider that a tremendous success.
That being said, I do not make even close to enough to make what I do a full time job with health insurance, etc and not be dependent on a second source of income. So, yes, I think the etsy allure of a feminist dream is pure fantasy. However, etsy as a company does not sell it so much as the community (of women) wanting, expecting and asking how to realize that dream.
I have a hunch that most of the people who sell on etsy do not have a marketing or business background and so are unprepared for exactly how to make their arts & crafts a truly profitable endeavor. And most probably have no idea or do not accept the fact that it is difficult if not nearly impossible to make self-employment truly work, let alone operate a profitable business from home that is based on arts and crafts. Perhaps in the 'good old days' it was more possible but now with cheap, foreign-made crap ubiquitous, all it takes is our disposable culture to make it damned near impossible to sell handmade goods at a price the market will bear.
Why buy a $95 handwoven scarf when you can get a perfectly decent scarf for $10 at any number of Big Box stores? And why buy handmade paper at $3 a sheet when you can get ten times as many sheets for the price by buying handmade paper that has been imported from Nepal? Sure, some people can afford the high-end handmade stuff that is Made in America. But there are not enough of them.
Figuring out what to charge for any given item is but one problem, but I see it as the biggest one.
The vast majority of sellers on etsy severely underpay themselves and undervalue their work. Prices are ridiculously low for the time it takes to make the items sold. Some women admit to charging only for the material/supplies! Many charge a modicum for their time. Perhaps they do this becasue they know the market will not support a higher price, for reasons I just stated.
But perhaps many women simply undervalue their time. It is as though that old shampoo ad motto never sunk in: Because I'm worth it!
This is a generalization, but I think men are less inclined than women to undervalue their time and so when they find out that the etsy marketplace (with its attendent competition with other sellers there and from brick and mortar stores) does not support the higher prices they set for their work, they ditch etsy altogether or find another venue for their work where they can get the price for their work that they demand. I'd love to see data on whether men start and then abandon etsy storefronts at a higher rate than women do.
When it comes to pricing on etsy, I think women are more likely to just lower the price of their work and accept less.
We have learned to do this our whole lives. I think if women demanded more for their work and set prices that gave them fair compensation for their time, prices on etsy would be higher. But the marketplace competition does seem to drive prices down, and without being able to mass produce more creations at a lower profit margin, the end result is that no one can make very much money there at all.
I've seen the going rate for certain things I sell cut in half when a new seller moves in who undercharges for (her) time. I know how long it takes to make the things and am unwilling to accept less for my time, so I just don't sell those items as much anymore. I'd rather do that than undervalue my time.
I am a feminist.
And I have a day job.
And I have no delusions about the chance of successfully working from home selling arts and crafts.
But, I still really wish women would demand more than $4 an hour for their time! It's a tremendous disservice to everyone.
Here's the original article: