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by Bob Keys ~ From Fusion 12, the Journal of the PMC Guild
In the last few years, the online marketplace Etsy has opened up vast retail opportunities for artists. Etsy, which began in 2005, has been described as an artsy cross between Amazon and eBay, and that description is apt.
Sellers post their creations and set their own prices, and the site brings customers to them. It’s kind of like a virtual craft fair, where customers can “mingle” as they browse the Web in search of something that catches their eye and interest.
In that sense, the Brooklyn-based Etsy serves as a connector because it links buyers with sellers. Artists pay a fee – 20 cents per item -- to Etsy to set up a “shop.” Etsy also receives 3.5 percent of each sale.
It’s become a phenomenon. Within two years of its launch, Etsy topped $4 million in sales per month. This time last year, monthly sales were in the vicinity of $10 million to $13 million. Along with handmade craft and art items, Etsy also sells craft supplies and, in what appears at first glance to be an unusual twist, homemade sweets and such. But the homemade food angle fits into Etsy’s overarching philosophy that encourages buyers to purchase handmade and original items. It’s part of the larger trend in America (and elsewhere) that finds shoppers placing higher value on unique and local goods, created by hand by individual makers.
For most sellers on Etsy, the site is one aspect of their marketing strategy. It’s a complementary marketplace, and not necessarily the sole or even primary outlet. Many artists, including several Guild members interviewed for this story, have just begun using Etsy in an experimental way. Others have been on the site for many years and have racked up major sales.
Lynn Cobb, who lives in the Bay Area of California and works exclusively in PMC, is among the newcomers. She opened a shop on Etsy this spring as an alternative to the high-end crafts shows, which can be very expensive.
At the time of this interview, she had not recorded any sales, but had made contact with potential customers. She thinks Etsy is too big to fail, and believes it’s important for her to establish a presence.
“There are, last I looked, over a million items in the jewelry section. Many artists simply post, in order to have an Etsy presence, and I suspect that won’t end whether they sell much or not,” she said.
It has proven particularly helpful in generating sales for artists who make small items, such as jewelry made from PMC. Overall on Etsy, price points tend to be lower, in the $15 to $20 range, and the site skews young. Many analysts attribute Etsy’s boom to the economic recession. It has created an affordable and convenient way for people to buy handmade arts and crafts items, and also has enabled artists to organize themselves in clusters based on geography, style, material and other common interests.
A recent Etsy search for “PMC Jewelry” turned up 183 pages, or more than 6,000 individual pieces.
Jen Kahn, a Vermont-based maker who works mostly in PMC, began listing items on Etsy in January 2008. It was a New Year’s Resolution for her, and she followed through by setting up her own retail “shop” on the online outlet. Sales were slow at first, but picked up into the summer and fall, and Kahn says the effort to establish her presence on Etsy has been worthwhile.
“For the most part, I love Etsy,” she said. “Sure, it has some issues. But the bottom line is that it has provided me an easy way to start and maintain a store online. Initially, I thought my sales on Etsy would come from folks who see me locally, but the majority of customers are people who just find me through searches, and they come from all over. So yes, it definitely has helped me in finding new customers. It’s also a great way for me to maintain a constant presence where people can buy my work, since my local selling events are intermittent.”
With the establishment of Etsy as a viable and, apparently, sustainable marketplace, we’ve also begun to see that Etsy may be influencing how people not only sell their work, but also how they make it. We’re in the early stages of evaluating what has become known as the Etsy aesthetic.
Influenced by the success of other artists, makers are beginning to make pieces that fit Etsy’s price point. They are adapting their work to better blend into what is selling on Etsy.
“I think successful artists do influence others, although I do not necessarily think that artists are giving up their own muses, ideas and aesthetics just to have a successful shop,” Cobb said. She added that she intends, as time allows, to post less expensive items on Etsy and “perhaps try to develop a line that is within this price range.”
Kahn understands that thinking. Long before she sold her work on Etsy, she paid attention to commercial trends in Vermont. When she has created something that sells, she makes more of that design. When she makes something that remains on the table of her booth week after week, she might re-work it.
“As an artist who aspires to try to make a living from my art, I can’t ignore things like the economy and price points and what sells well,” she said. “That’s not to say that those things are at the forefront of my mind when I create it, but it’s something I take into consideration.”
She adds, “Etsy does not influence my work, my sales on Etsy do.”
She reads articles on the Etsy blog “the Storque,” pays attention to interviews with other artists and browses other shops on Etsy. She does her best to stay up on the trends on Etsy because, she says, “they are more ‘real’ than those in magazines. … I might have a sense of them and how they jive with my own style, but I wouldn’t try to fit my work to them. If a trend that has nothing to do my aesthetic is popular or being talked about, it doesn’t affect me in any way. If a trend is relevant to my work, if I’m making really long necklaces instead of chokers and I notice that that’s a trend on Etsy, I take note of that. I want my work to be unique but relevant.”
Etsy is a clean and fairly easy-to-navigate site. It’s massive huge, with seemingly endless pages, but it’s reasonably well organized and not at all static. The homepage features a left-hand navigation bar of categories, arranged alphabetically, from accessories to woodworking.
The homepage features a series of rotating themes – at the time of this writing, it was “Redefine your space,” with links to sellers offering such handmade housewares as pillows, curio shelves and folk art; another to a marketplace for weddings; another for eco-friendly creations, dubbed “Shop with a Conscience.”
The homepage also has a showcase page, updated daily, where sellers show off their top items. There is a link to an interview with an artist and a spotlight on featured items culled by the editors while browsing through the many Etsy stores.
You can navigate by geography and color, and there’s also a search engine to enable refined quests.
Especially for sellers, it takes some getting used to, because of its size and encompassing content. As Cobb said, “Etsy is a nightmare to get started on, unless one has a very good working knowledge of several computer programs. … Young people are getting better and better at this, from all of their computer games and aren’t put off by the layers and layers of instructions and lack of technical support. I, for one, can’t stand being told to just go to 25 other sites or blogs to possibly find instructions on how to, for example, make a banner or resize photographs or some other technical problem that arises with Etsy.”
For her and for others, the lure of Etsy is exposure and potential. Deanna Long, a PMC artists from Lincoln, Nebraska, opened her shop on Etsy in December. At the time of this interview, she had made one sale on Etsy. “But I will continue to put pieces in my shop because with Etsy, I feel my work has a chance to be seen by more people than if I just had my Web site alone,” Long said. (And as an aside, her presence on Etsy led to this interview, a point made for the unforeseen benefits of exposure.)
She specializes in art jewelry influenced by ancient cultures, and will continue to sell her work on her own Web site, through Etsy and other outlets and venues.
Her work has not, and will not, change no matter the outcome of her Etsy experience, Long says. “Etsy has not influenced the aesthetics of my work because I am creating pieces like I wanted to make back when I was working on my BA in art history.”
Nisa Smiley, a designer and jeweler from Maine, feels similarly. She is making the work she wants to make, and has not tailored her craft to fit any aesthetic, Etsy or otherwise, besides her own. “I approach my craft from an artistic perspective, as opposed to a business perspective, and the drive within me that inspires each individual piece expires with the finishing of the piece.”
She is fairly new to Etsy, and has enjoyed her experience with it. Until she got onto Etsy this winter, Smiley’s online presence was restricted to her own Web site. She discovered Etsy as a buyer. She bought glass beads from Etsy seller, who asked Smiley why she did not have a shop. “I thought about it and decided that that especially in today’s economy, it made sense to have a second source of exposure and potential sales.”
She has begun photographing her own work and is in the early stages of establishing an Etsy shop. She wants to do it right, because it’s apparent to her that those who are most successful on Etsy take the time to present their work in as appealing a manner as possible. That means sharp, effective photography and showing off a variety and volume of work.
Smiley counts herself among those who like Etsy – “quite a bit actually. I am able to buy various materials and supplies there, meet other artists and craftspeople, talk with them about their work and get a sense of the latest trends and what the average customer out there is looking for and buying. I would not say that the trends have directed my work, but without a doubt I am inspired by what other people are creating.”
- Etsy: www.etsy.com
- Lynn Cobb: www.lynncobbsilver.com
- Deanna Long: www.dklstudios.com
- Jen Kahn: www.jenniferkahnjewelry.com
- Nisa Smiley: www.nisajewelry.com
See more work by these artists at www.PMCguild.com/fusion
Below are a few books that may help you find your niche in the craft market including Etsy, 1000 Markets, Ruby Lane, eBay, Amazon, your own blog, website and more.
- Crafty Superstar by Grace Dobush
- Craft Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco
- The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin
Last updated on Wed, June 9, 2010 by Metal Clay Guru