On April 11, Kabber Seifert changed his status to “vacation mode” on Etsy, the hugely popular online marketplace for homemade and resold goods. Seifert is a digital artist and also a member of the furry fandom, the subculture in which members enjoy making art and dressing up as anthropomorphized characters. On his Etsy shop, he sells custom paws and gloves for fursuits, or animal-like costumes for those in the fandom.
The notice read, “Kabber Seifert is taking a short break.” Despite earning a quarter to a third of his income from Etsy, Seifert is boycotting the platform for the next week, due to Etsy raising its transaction fees for sellers on its platform by 30%. “[I am] participating in this strike because we’re being bled dry,” Seifert tells Rolling Stone.
Seifert is just one of many creators who are striking from Etsy, the digital marketplace with nearly 4.4 million sellers, according to Statista data. The platform has faced increased criticism over the past year for reportedly exploiting small creators by allegedly turning a blind eye to sellers buying and reselling cheap items from stores like Shein, a violation of terms of service; or instituting policies such as fees for non-optional click-through ads that draw users to creators’ pages. The platform has also long garnered criticism for overly aggressive censorship, while simultaneously allowing content promoting medical misinformation, such as anti-vaccine messaging.
But it was the most recent transaction fee hike, from 5% to 6.5%, as announced last month by Etsy CEO Josh Silverman, that prompted creators to take action, with more than 46,000 people signing a petition promoting the strike and 5,000 creators agreeing to go on strike this week to protest the change.
“Our sellers’ success is a top priority for Etsy,” the company wrote in an email to Rolling Stone. “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. We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”
— Etsy Strike (@EtsyStrike) April 9, 2022
Sellers, however, are not convinced. “It has just been building up, the distrust in Etsy,” says Hannah Forkel-Matte, 30, a stay-at-home mom and My Little Pony fan artist who estimates that 80% of her sales come from Etsy alone. “They just kind of spring things on us.” Forkel-Matte is striking this week, she says, to “show solidarity for other creators and to demand more for my own store. Etsy doesn’t have any type of ramifications for making the choices they make, and they just can’t continue how they are.”
Artists and creators of all types on the platform will be affected by Etsy’s recent transaction fee hikes. But small artists in niche communities, such as the MLP or furry fandoms, are particularly impacted, largely because they tend to be highly dependent on the platform for their income.
“Etsy has been increasingly important for me because I do use it to increase visibility,” says Seifert. “I know a lot of fellow furries use it as a convenient way to get more eyes on products or to easily compile products on a searchable website. In a fandom full of artists, it can be difficult to stand above the crowd. I think Etsy is taking advantage of that by taking more and more off of our incomes.”
Many artists going on strike are putting their shops in “vacation mode,” effectively limiting their reach to potential buyers and taking a substantial financial risk by doing so, says Moth, 20, an artist and member of the furry community who uses they/them pronouns. Yet by taking an organized stand, Moth and other creators are hoping Etsy will rethink its decision to increase fees, thus placing undue financial burden on small vendors. “Etsy should be a safe community for every kind of artist to be able to connect and share their art with their community/customers, and that’s an integral part of being a prominent artist online and making a living doing so,” they say.
Not every small creator can afford to participate in the week-long Etsy strike, which started trending Monday morning on Twitter with the hashtag #EtsyStrike. Dynamo-Deepblue, a fandom and merch artist on the platform, says she is far too reliant on Etsy for her income to boycott the platform even temporarily. Although she won’t be buying from other sellers this week, she gets far more exposure from Etsy than from any of her other storefronts, and “I can’t close my own shop if I don’t want to be broke,” she says.
Those who have slowly started migrating to other platforms, however, such as Seifert, are hoping that by selling directly to buyers on social media or moving their product to other, smaller storefronts, he and other creators can send a loud and clear message to Etsy that their actions will not be tolerated. “Etsy won’t listen to individuals,” he says. “But when we as a collective decide to hit them in the wallet they may have no choice.”