Saturday, January 09, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

I've come to use that phrase when referring to Etsy, a lot.  Several years ago, Rob Kalin decided to get rid of vintage and supplies.  After the hue and cry in the forums he changed his mind and allowed them to stay.  I often wonder A.  what were the reasons he felt they didn't belong, and B.  What convinced him otherwise?

I was never comfortable with them being there.  Believe it or not, I was more worried about supplies than I was vintage.  Vintage doesn't compete with handmade.  Supplies don't really either, at least not in the same way.  But, the problem is something I see happening more and more in the forums; copying.  Sellers looking for the next hot item on the front page, in the storque finds, gift guides, wherever.  Suppliers looking there and hunting down the supplies and then selling them so that we can have scads of scrabble tile jewelry, octopus necklaces, tulip flower jewelry, acorns, deer, mustaches, get the picture.

You see something you like on Etsy?  you can almost lay odds that someone on Etsy sells the supplies for it.  Along with it comes the expectation that everyone is going to share their designs, techniques and resources.  And finished item shops mixing supplies in is just asking for trouble.  People are constantly offended when they are asked to share how they made something.  Really? 

Every single person I know that has a shop mixing finished items and supplies sees the supplies selling faster and with more regularity than the finished items.  The smart ones know this will happen and use these items as window dressing to show what can be made with their supplies.  They might even be selling tutorials and tools as well.  Good business for them, and potentially for every other supply seller because some people are not out to copy but make their own designs so they may look around for something not quite the same.  But what about your fellow finished item sellers?  What are you doing for them by providing the supplies and directions to make what is also their craft?  I ust think there needs to be a few more degrees of separation between supplies and finished items, personally.

Not only that, supplies opened up the floodgates to anything and everything that could potentially be used as supply.  I remember asking in a forum thread one time that if I could get a good deal on fish bowls, could I sell them as a crafting supply?  after all, they can be used for other things; terrariums, candle holders, lamp bases, etc.  I never did get a straight answer from admin.  Fast forward to a few months ago when they came out with some changes to the Dos and Don'ts which clarified some points and just muddied the waters even further on others.  Here is the section on commercial supplies:
  • A commercial crafting supply is not a commercial item that, although it may be used in crafting, is ready to use as is (for example: mass-produced clothing, dollhouse furniture and clothing).
  • Commercial tools, elements and accessories that are used in conjunction with handmade items, but are not used to create a new item may not be sold on Etsy as a commercial crafting supply (for example: make-up brushes, wax tart burners).
The first bullet is pretty clear, although I think they could have  given a few more examples from some of the different types of crafts sold here.

The second bullet is very muddy.  Maybe they should have said anything not a part of the finished construction cannot be sold as a commercial supply.

I learned a long time ago in my early days of jewelry making that a supply was something that was 'used up' in the construction of a given craft, wire, beads, clasps, yarn, fabric, thread, but things like pliers, jewelry polish, polishing cloths, sandpaper, saw blades, sewing machines, rolling mills, sergers, cameras, printers are tools, used in the construction of a particular craft, but not part of the finished product.

But it's a double edged sword.  Get rid of a lot of the stuff that doesn't belong and lose the potential revenue?  Or try to steer Etsy back toward it's course.   Not that it really clears up the copying issue I outllined earlier, for that they would have to remove commercial supplies altogether, and unfortuntely, I don't see that happening.  And for those of you screaming about commercial chains now being disallowed, how about instead you scream for options in listings so you can list a pendant with a chain and without, with 2 different prices and let the customer chose.  I'd much rather see that then Etsy start making exceptions to the rules they put in place and just re-opening up the same problems as before.

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