It Ain’t Easy Being Etsy

Collages Sara Cwynar

“What is the fucking obsession with Brooklyn? Why is it always people from New York, people from Brooklyn, who get their stuff on the front page?”

The Cranky One has simply had it with the moss. She’s none too thrilled with the birds or the mustaches either, but the moss—GOD! Moss! Oh Jesus!—that’s what really gets her. The moss, and the dissection art. What’s with these people and their sick thing for dissection art? Especially that one girl, the admin, whatshername. She can’t get enough of the stuff! Stick something half dead in a jar, she’ll put it on the front page every time. And then there’s the rest of it—the owls and the bicycles and the mustard-and-grey whatnots. She’s not too crazy about any of that either. And, for that matter, Brooklyn. What is the fucking obsession with Brooklyn? Why is it always people from New York, people from Brooklyn, who get their stuff on the front page?

The Cranky One has a real name, but she won’t say what it is. Her phone is set to block caller ID. She takes these precautions because as one of the proprietors of—a website devoted to attacking online arts-and-crafts marketplace Etsy—it’s better to stay anonymous. If Etsy knew who they were, she says, they would probably try to sue them, send a cease-and-desist letter, something like that. She’s actually expecting one at some point, she says. Then they’ll move the site, and Etsy will chase them around, and it will go on like that, very cat and mouse. Hey, she says, here’s a headline for your article: “Etsy Hates Its Members.” No, wait, how about this: “Etsy Hates You and Everybody You Know.”

It seems unlikely that Rob Kalin, Etsy’s co-founder and current CEO, expected this sort of thing when he started the Brooklyn-based company six years ago with fellow NYU grads Haim Schoppik and Chris Maguire. What could be more innocuous, after all, than a website where crafters could push their wares? Etsy launched in 2005, offering digital storefronts for sellers of handmade goods. Items cost 10 cents each to list for four months (the fee has since gone up to 20 cents per item) and the company took a 3.5 percent commission on any sales. In its first year it moved around $166,000 worth of merchandise.

Since then the site has grown exponentially, going from $3.8 million in sales in 2006 to $314 million in 2010. In the first four months of this year, over $146 million worth of goods were sold on Etsy, putting it on track for a $440 million 2011. Host to some 800,000 sellers, the company is now looking to expand its presence overseas and has dispatched its former director of communications Matt Stinchcomb to Berlin to head up its European headquarters.

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