“Art for art’s sake” might be a wonderfully romantic notion, but most of today’s small-business artists ultimately hope to offload the pieces they produce onto willing buyers. Whether they’re utilizing their talents as a full-time job, looking to make a few extra bucks or just hoping to financially sustain a hobby while sharing their work with others, artists often invest tons of time and money into selling their creations. Of course, these artists usually have very little of both to spare.

Enter the magic of the Internet. More specifically, enter the magic of a marketplace-style arts and crafts hub named Etsy.

When I stumbled across Etsy a few years ago, I was convinced that an ideal marriage between artistic creativity and digital accessibility had finally been achieved. Here was a place where artists and crafters could sell their creations online without starting websites from scratch. Sellers open “shops” where they publicly list items for a small fee; Etsy skims a little off of the top of each sale, but most of the money is sent directly to the shop owners themselves.

A single search bar could let me browse paintings from Seattle and handmade soaps from Singapore. Simple, fast and cheap, it seemed like it could do no wrong.

But the art-and-craft world’s honeymoon with Etsy is ending, and it’s slowly becoming obvious who got the better end of the deal.

The problem began when Etsy started to take off. I mean, really take off. Suddenly, all of my artsy high school friends had opened a store for themselves and filled it with everything from their AP Art Studio sculptures to handmade jewelry. I watched as the number of sellers swelled into the hundreds of thousands and listings were propelled into the millions. Etsy became a marketplace of far-too-epic proportions.

Don’t get me wrong — increased traffic across a globalized marketplace was exactly what Etsy wanted. It just hadn’t planned out how to keep its “indie integrity” once actually getting its wish.

With no new way to organize this influx of creativity, small sellers now find themselves drowning in a massive pool of competitors with no easy way to stand out from the herd. Three of my friends have closed up their shops after going weeks without a single page view, and the rest have resorted to relisting their items multiple times (for more rounds of fees, of course), hoping to rank higher in buyer searches and attract some sorely needed attention.

To make matters even more frustrating, sellers have had to compete against more than just other honest artists: Many people have found it profitable to ignore Etsy’s quaint request that only handmade pieces, vintage items and art supplies should appear for sale.

Chinese resellers have popped up with increasing regularity, and an alarming number of listed items have a mysteriously tendency to pop up elsewhere on the Internet. Plagiarism is constant and unregulated, and strategic tagging on items, despite being a “no-no,” ensures that many of your search returns will be totally random.

Best of all, one can always find thousands of people peddling supposedly “vintage” items that only add to the clutter. What’s that? You found a rusty coat hook in your grandma’s basement? Just upload an artsy off-center photo of it, whip up a product description noting its “charming patina,” and voilà! Bonus points if you photographed it against an old hunk of wood!

So where are Etsy’s moderators in this mess? They prefer to bury their heads in their button-boxes and pretend like they’re running a multi-million dollar website where problems are magically solved using the Power of Love and Unspoken Mutual Integrity. They’re also notoriously non-confrontational toward sellers who pull in a profit, so don’t expect immediate action if you point out any of the aforementioned reselling, plagiarism or general rule violation (trust me, I’ve tried).

But all is not lost. Yes, Etsy has some serious organizational problems. Yes, its moderators need to grow a spine and crack down on their more unsavory sellers. But despite its stunning ability to take them for granted, Etsy is still a collection of some of the most talented, dedicated and unique people in the world.

Want an oil painting of a misty nighttime cityscape? Got it. How about one of Snorlax? Done. Yesterday I dove into the site for 10 minutes and saw everything from handmade retro watches and made-to-order ’20s-style wedding dresses to bronze-cast sculptures and a woodblock print of a lake that I used to visit. Each artist had a fierce passion for his or her trade that shined through the work they now offered up to others.

If only Etsy appreciated them as much as their customers do.

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