Amazon versus Etsy – handmade does not equal cheaper

Handmade-Amazon-Etsy-artisansThere was once a world before Amazon. I remember having to hurry to the university bookshop to get a recommended textbook before they sold out. If I wasn’t fast enough I’d have to wait, sometimes a couple of weeks, for my local bookshop to obtain a specialist book for me. Amazon and the Internet changed all that. Naturally, in this ‘Age of the Internet’ there have been plusses and minuses. There have been some winners and, unfortunately, some losers, not least those who make a living from cultural production. Musicians, writers and photographers have all had to find new unique interactive ways to sell their work to their respective markets. We’ve seen the rise and rise of live music events, literary festivals and even some professional photographers moving to live shows to exhibit their output. Authentic experiences are valued and traded which is perhaps one of the underlining elements fuelling the renewed interested in original handcrafted work.


The world moves on and you know an alternative trend has gone mainstream when a company like Amazon sets up an online retail service called ‘Handmade’. And, it’s already old news at the point when the UK Sunday Times Style Magazine publishes a feature on the new Amazon Handmade offer as a challenge to Etsy the online marketplace for artisans. There’s been quite a fuss in the world of artisans and crafters on various forums discussing the pros and cons of changing one’s selling platform, but not much discussion about why an enormous, global company such as Amazon thinks there’s serious money to be made out of handmade, artisan goods. As far as I can see Amazon used to be the go-to site for a mass produced product at a very good price if not the cheapest. And, it’s easy to have a “pile ’em high sell ’em cheap” attitude if you’ve got scale and muscle and a good just-in-time relationship with your suppliers. But surely all that is the antithesis of the artisan/cottage industry model.


Artisan-work-in-progress-it-takes-timeEach handmade item takes a real person skill and time to create. Most crafts involve specialist knowledge and honed skills together with that all important essential- creativity. Artisans have experience working with raw materials and understand the precise associated processes that will culminate in a unique handmade piece. Within any specific area of artisan production there is a range of abilities, quality of materials used and standards of finish attained, but there is always more time involved to produce ‘handmade’ items. And, as they say, ‘time is money’ therefore handmade should not equal cheap.

If we just step back for a moment, one of the primary outcomes of the Industrial Revolution was the saving of time and the increasing of productivity through machine manufacturing. Machines were faster and more consistent producing thousands and thousands of identical versions of any given object. Nowadays, we take mass production for granted, it is the norm.

So what’s Amazon doing getting onto the ‘handmade’ bandwagon. Let’s face it there isn’t any real possibility of scaling up for most artisans as by the very nature of your work you are making things that require intense, time-consuming human activity and not machine/technological production. So if there’s not profit to be made by scaling up production what is the big business model? Well, that would be scaling up the makers – that is vast numbers of people listing and selling a few pieces. But what of the individual makers – perhaps a working life similar to that of the medieval weavers of East Anglia. Oh joy!

Artisan created piece, Thelma pink. Designed, hand drawn and hand painted  crepe de chine silk scarf by Agnes Ashe. Only one available.
Artisan created piece, Thelma pink.
Designed, hand drawn and hand painted
crepe de chine silk scarf by Agnes Ashe.
Only one available.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

6 thoughts on “Amazon versus Etsy – handmade does not equal cheaper”

  1. I’m afraid I don’t trust Amazon to do anything right, or altruistically. Their reputation as tax-dodgers, and as truly appalling employers is not exactly a fine one. I simply refuse to buy anything at all from or via them. Not even anything handmade.

    1. Yes, I know what you’re saying. Their record so far has not put much value on social responsibility or human endeavour and I can’t see that changing just because they’ve decided to promote handmade.

  2. Interesting shared information here Agnes. The best thing about handmade is when one buys or trades with the maker. We have enough battles with impersonal online and social media and all the other soul destroying stuff going on. Hand made should stay with a face to face exchange. Recently my wife spent 2 weeks at a workshop in a country village in the hills NW of Tokyo developing shibori skills and learning other traditional Japanese artisan skills. Incorporated in the workshop was visiting artists like a potter, a stencil maker, one of Issey Miyake’s designers and others. She brought back some beautiful examples of these artists work after visiting, talking with , then buying from them. We also practice buying from or exchanging with artists here , whether potters, textile artists or others.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with you about buying direct from the maker, but unless you already live in an area with a thriving craft culture where you can sell from your studio or a community gallery it’s difficult for solo artisans like myself to meet my customers in real life. How wonderful to visit and engage with the Japanese artisans. Of course, in Japan there isn’t this artificial divide between art and craft that has rather disrupted the appreciation of craft in Western culture. Don’t you think that it’s perhaps this Eastern attitude that Bernard Leach embraced so successfully?

  3. I agree with you about Bernard Leach, he was so lucky to grow up in Asia, then to share his philosophy and practice with like minded Japanese artists such as Hamada. When she was in Tokyo recently my wife visited the Mingei museum, such a wonderful legacy from Yanagi who of course encouraged and influenced Leach and Hamada.
    I do understand that as a specialist solo artist you need to sell your art on line.

    1. How wonderful to visit the Mingei museum. A trip to Japan has been on my list since I was teenager, but haven’t quite managed it yet despite a family member working for Asatsu-DK for over 15 years! Frequent meetings in Tokyo, but no time to add on a holiday.

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