Turn your Hobby into a Business on Etsy: From the Platform Promise to the Work Reality

« Turn your Hobby into a Business on Etsy »: 

From the Platform Promise to the Work Reality

 

Anne JOURDAIN

Associate Professor in Sociology

Paris-Dauphine University / IRISSO

ABSTRACT

 

“Turn your Hobby into a Business” is one of the taglines displayed on the web platform Etsy. Created in 2005, this platform is dedicated to the sale of handmade products (clothes, decorative objects, jewels…). Today, it gathers 1.8 million sellers and 29.7 million buyers. Claiming its affiliation to the “gig economy” and advocating a “social safety net that works for everyone who works”, Etsy encourages everyone who practices handicrafts to turn themselves into professional creative entrepreneurs by selling their items on the platform. To do so, they should focus on craft while the platform would help them to market their production.

Actually, the platform’s promise of a new source of (self-)employment via the professionalization of a hobby has not become a reality for most of Etsy “creators”. Only a minority earns a living thanks to the platform. Besides, this minority is not made of craftsmen or craftswomen but rather of designers who outsource the production. Moreover, the actual key to succeed on the platform is not to be a good craftsman but to invest time and effort on “digital labor” (Cardon and Casilli, 2015; Scholz, 2013) and finally to act as a mere “entrepreneur” (Jourdain, 2014).

Based on an empirical research, the aim of the paper is to lay the emphasis on the various uses and the diverse kinds of work generated by a lucrative platform such as Etsy. In a sociological perspective, this issue is discussed though the analysis of social class and gender (most of Etsy creators being women from the middle and the upper classes). Our data is both qualitative and quantitative: we conducted semi-structured interviews with 16 creators on Etsy and A little Market (a French platform which was bought by Etsy in 2014) and with 3 employees working for Etsy in France; at this moment, we are collecting international quantitative data from Etsy platform through web scrapping; finally, a questionnaire (in English and in French) will be sent to Etsy creators in order to get statistical sociodemographic data. By establishing a typology of Etsy creators, the paper will question the blurring boundaries between work and play, and the increasing social value of entrepreneurship in our modern capitalist societies.

 

References:

Cardon Dominique and Casilli Antonio A., 2015. Qu’est-ce que le Digital Labor?, Paris, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel.

Jourdain Anne, 2014. Du cœur à l’ouvrage. Les artisans d’art en France, Paris, Belin.

Scholz Trebor (ed.), 2013. Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory, New York, Routledge.