Today, we announced some clarifications and changes to our policies that allow sellers to hire staff, have someone else ship their goods, and apply to sell items they produce with manufacturing partners. I’ve been excited to present these changes because I believe they’re way overdue and give the control back to sellers to decide how to run their businesses. I’m aware, though, that the new Guidelines will raise serious questions for many community members, so I want to share how we got here.
Authorship, Responsibility and Transparency
When Etsy started, we relied on one word to carry all our values out into the world: handmade. Almost immediately, that was a problem. Many of us felt we knew handmade when we saw it, but that was hard to put into enforceable policy. What kind of tools could you use? How many hands could shape the product? Could you use mass-produced components to put together something original? As Etsy wrestled with defining exactly what handmade meant, and what was and wasn’t allowed, our DOs and DON’Ts ballooned from about 4,000 to 14,000 words. Inside the company, we struggled to see our way out of this bind without compromising what we felt kept Etsy special.
Meanwhile, sellers told us again and again that our policies were confusing, that how we enforced them was unclear, and that as a result, they felt anxious and worried about their Etsy shops and unable to reach for their goals. Some sellers chose to work punishing hours to maintain a one-person shop, thinking that if they hired help, they would get kicked off the site. Some sellers quietly began to bend the rules, hoping that no one would really notice. Some sellers simply left, because they felt Etsy’s policies were too intrusive and restrictive. We think this is tragic.
When we rethought these policies, we went back to the heart of Etsy: the people in the community. When we consider the truly dazzling array of methods sellers use to make their handmade items — everything from raising the bees that provide the wax base for hand-dipped candles to 3-D printing jewelry — we realized that handmade on Etsy could never be defined as a single method or process.
Instead, handmade was about values we as a community prize: authorship — the idea that your handmade item begins with you — and responsibility, because Etsy sellers are deeply involved in how their items are made and accountable for their buyers’ experiences. When we began to think about giving sellers greater choices for staffing, shipping and making items, the third value was evident: transparency. The Etsy community places a premium on knowing the person and the story behind a handmade item.
We know defining handmade as authorship, responsibility and transparency may not match your personal definition, but these are the values we see Etsy sellers living every day. They capture what sets Etsy apart, and they create a clear framework for giving more opportunity to sellers.
Why These Changes Make Sense Now
Etsy sellers are at the heart of a growing revolution. More and more people around the world are interested in supporting local, mindful, independent businesses. Buyers increasingly want to know where their goods come from. At the same time, makers have access to an ever-growing array of methods to create their items, everything from laser cutters and CNC routers, to manufacturers who do small runs of high-quality items. Artists are integrating these new technologies with some of the oldest hand-making processes in the world in surprising ways. Makers are banding together to collaborate, sharing workshops and tools, and building their own production facilities.
We believe these trends are going to continue and we want Etsy to lead the way. As we reimagined our policies, we wanted to give Etsy sellers the ability to take full advantage of all these incredible developments.
Why Transparency Matters
We need to hit the reset button. Etsy community members deserve clarity. Our former policies allowed sellers to use “partial production assistance,” but those collaborations were also often completely opaque on the site. When members saw items that didn’t “look” handmade, they could assume shops were breaking our rules, but many shops were actually following rules that we hadn’t made clear enough to everyone.
Going forward, Etsy is giving sellers better ways to be open and honest. We are asking all sellers who work with an outside business to make handmade items to apply for review and approval by the beginning of 2014. The application requires sellers to demonstrate authorship, responsibility and transparency. If the application is approved, you can list the items, and information about your manufacturer is made public in your shop’s About page.
Transparency extends to Etsy, the company, as well. We admit that we haven’t done a great job explaining how we monitor the marketplace and enforce our policies. We’ve also missed the mark not communicating enough with you about our goals as a company and community, and how they have evolved over time. As a young company (still), we’ve spent too much time debating and figuring it out inside our offices and not enough time discussing it with you. We’re committing to fixing that — starting with regular quarterly updates to share with you what we’re planning on working on and why. We know that unless you understand our vision for the success and health of the marketplace, you can’t decide how you fit in.
I know we won’t and can’t please everyone with these changes, but I believe they are essential for Etsy to thrive as a community and platform. Etsy sellers have shown us, time and again, that you know better than anyone else what makes sense for your businesses, and we trust you.
We’re here to take your questions and discuss your concerns. Join us in the Forums or send your questions privately to email@example.com; we will be listening and responding. We’re excited to discuss the future with you. You’ve grown Etsy in ways we never predicted, and that is thrilling to see.