Tuesday, July 7, 2015

There are enough sparkly unicorn T-shirts for everyone

Rumors are flying hard and fast about Amazon's new handmade category.  People are saying Amazon is "taking over" Etsy.  Apparently you have to fill out a form to even be considered as a seller!  Oooh wee!  Very exclusive, very elegant.  And yet not.  

I want to say right here that I am a big fan of Amazon.  They are absolutely superb at doing business in a businesslike way.  I'm not interested in the "you're killing the small book-seller" trope.  Maybe they are, or maybe someone was going to do it - Amazon or not - because so few people are reading actual books these days.  At any rate, Amazon could give up all its book sales and still be a megamondo retail giant.  Books are such a small part of what Amazon does.  

We buy a lot from Amazon.  Mostly recurring household items, but also things I just can't find anywhere else.  We are Prime members, so we get a good deal - and lots of good streaming videos, too!  I wouldn't say shipping is "free," as they advertise, because some of the cost is built into the item price.  But it is quick, and we haven't had anything go wrong yet.  Sometimes I place an order in the morning and get it the next day.  Who can complain about that?  

We also own Amazon stock.  Why?  Because they make money.  They make money because they know how to do business.  And that's a good investment. 

That being said, I think all this hoopla about Amazon taking over Etsy is a lot of stuffed muffins.  At least as far as the individual artisan is concerned, this rumor has no truth at all.  Amazon is big.  BIG BIG BIG.  (Add enough "BIGs" to circle the world three times.  Then double it.)  In order to sell on Amazon successfully, the seller has to have LOTS of merchandise.  There is just no point otherwise, because Amazon's up-front fees (waived through August, but around $40 per month after that) are nothing to sneeze at.  Compared to Etsy and other online selling venues, Amazon is a huge investment for a seller.  They take 12% of each sale - much more than Etsy. There are other costs.  

The only way to make real money as a seller on Amazon is to be part of their Prime program.  That means sending your handcrafted items to one of their large warehouses so they can fulfill customer orders lightning fast.  You will not only give up control of your shipping process, but you will pay hefty additional fees, because being part of the Prime program is not free by any means.  

In fact, although it's talking about wanting "artisinal" work (HATE that term), Amazon is catering directly to the same bought-it-in-China-but-we're-calling-it-handmade sellers that plague Etsy and other online venues. Which individual artisan has 50 or more of the exact same item to send to a warehouse?  Only sweat shop labor produces that kind of identical product volume.  And because Amazon is allowing people to have "employees" and "outside shops of 50 people or less [sic]," they are ensuring they will get the same mass-produced pseudo-handmade trash we have all come to hate.  

This is no mistake on Amazon's part.  They know what they're doing.  They're saying "artisan" out of one side of their mouths and "imported schlock" out the other side.  They want bulk, cheap items that can be called "handmade" by some stretch of a febrile imagination, in order to get the mass sales and markups that generate profit.  In many ways, this is good business.  But it has no relevance for the artist who crafts one intricate item at a time.  

As always, the more things change the more they remain the same. Amazon "handmade" will feature more plastic beads strung on elastic cord, and unicorn T-shirts with glitter. 

Amazon won't be taking away Etsy's business.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say there's enough bedazzled crap in the world for everyone.  Because there is.