Round ’em Up: Etsy’s New Seller Policies

Posted By on Nov 9, 2013 in Creative Business

If you’re at all involved in the handmade community, chances are you’ve heard the buzz that there are some new policies at Etsy – and they’re causing quite a stir! In case you can’t quite wade through the opinions to find the facts, we’ve decided to round up some helpful articles on the subject for you today.

photo credit: queen puff puff via photopin cc

photo credit: queen puff puff via photopin cc

For a little bit of background: in the past, people who wanted to open and run a shop on Etsy had to be in one of the following categories: people making things by hand, people finding and selling vintage items (aka, things that were at least 20 years old) and people selling crafting supplies. If you were in the camp of people selling handmade items, those hands had to be YOUR hands and you needed to be a one-person operation … kinda. That’s where the trouble came in – you could have outside help, but Etsy was vague on what kind of help that could be, and how large your business could become, before you didn’t fit in with their standards any more. This opened up all kinds of sneaky back doors for people to skirt some vague policies and left other people wondering just how handmade these items really were.

Fast forward to last month, when Etsy decided to clarify their policies. Under the new ruling, handmade sellers must prove three things:

  1. Authorship. One person came up with the idea to sell this thing, and that person owns the idea and the inspiration behind it.
  2. Responsibility: As the shop owner, you’re responsible for every step of the process in your handmade item. You know where you get your supplies, and if you hire out for manufacturing in any part of the process then you have a relationship with these manufacturers and you don’t just close your eyes and look the other way while you hand over some cash.
  3. Transparency: As a shop owner who uses manufacturing OR hires employees, you have to be up-front about that in your public shop identity so that buyers can see just who’s involved in the making of your products.

Any seller who wishes to use manufacturing or hire employees now has to apply to be approved by the powers-that-be at Etsy in order to keep selling there.

So … what’s the big deal? These new policies open up the doors for someone to have their idea for a product mass-produced in a manufacturing facility (aka, a factory). That generates all sorts of alarms for people who pride themselves on being handmade artisans or who shop handmade because they like the idea that one person made their coffee mug, not a machine in a factory somewhere. Supporters of the new policy argue that this opens the door for Etsy sellers who were previously overwhelmed by demand to retain the creative nature of their business while expanding production to meet the needs of their customers. They say they shouldn’t be punished for success.

Here’s what the Voices of the Internet have to say on the subject:

  • The original announcement about the policies came through a Town Hall style video from Etsy. View it here to get your facts straight from the source.
  • Etsy has put together a behind-the-scenes look at a few Etsy sellers who are using manufacturing while still retaining the spirit of “handmade” in their businesses. Read all about them on the Etsy blog.
  • Caterina Fake put together a post for the Huffington Post blog about her view on the subject. A fan of shopping on Etsy, Fake supports the new policies as she sees them as a way for sellers to expand their businesses while still giving shoppers the personal experience of buying handmade.
  • Ashley Milne-Tyte wrote a post for NPR where she comes down on the side of the small sellers who say that handmade means just that – made by hand – and that these new policies muddy the waters too much. Read Milne-Tyte’s article here, where she questions the value of items that are “handmade in spirit.”
  • Kathleen Davis’s article on provides a nicely balanced and informational view of the situation. She points out that some sellers and buyers believe that Etsy is selling out, but that the CEO of Etsy maintains that the site is a “fundamentally creative community.”
  • Shawn Hessinger wrote an article on Small Biz Trends where he poses the question: will Etsy’s new policies solve the debate over reselling? Previously, sneaky sellers would buy cheap and mass-produced items and then attempt to pass them off as “handmade,” hiding behind Etsy’s vague policies. Hessinger’s article notes that with Etsy’s new diligence over the transparency of sellers, the day of the reseller may soon come to an end.

So what about you? Where do you stand on the pro/con debate over Etsy’s new policies? Share them – politely, please – in the comments below!

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