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Etsy and the Sameness of Internet Fights

Etsy and the Sameness of Internet Fights

This week, thousands of people selling merchandise on Etsy went on strike to protest the company’s climbing fees. And what appears to be a fight over a small corner of the internet is truly one of the most enduring battles around our digital world.

Etsy is one of those buzzing internet companies that brings together people who have something to sell and those who might be interested in accepting that offer. For their role in connecting the two sides, these brokers collect a fee that can range from 15 to 30 percent of each sale. (Etsy fees are much lower.)

Technicians call these markets, and they are everywhere. Most Amazon e-commerce sales come from fees the company charges to independent merchants who find and buy cat toys and phone chargers on Amazon. Apple’s App Store, Airbnb, restaurant delivery apps, and Uber are also marketplaces that match customers with people offering apps, homes for rent, restaurant meals, or a trip to the airport.

It is well established in the digital world that these brokers are loathed by the individuals and companies that depend on them. Almost always, some app developers, restaurants, Etsy dog ​​picture creators, Substack newsletter writers, and other marketplace sellers at least think the fees are too high, the rules aren’t fair, they’re being abused — or all of the above.

These conflicts can be inevitable. In 2022, running your own business always means relying on the technical intermediaries that make your business possible, but they can also make it more difficult.

Look, I want to admit that in the Etsy dispute — as with Apple developers angered by the company and Amazon merchants resentful of selling at the gigantic digital mall — both sides have a point.

It’s undeniable that Etsy, Amazon, and Apple do a lot of work for the people who sell things through them. Without Etsy, people who make pictures of dogs would have to try to build their own websites or stores and find customers themselves, handling tasks like processing credit cards and providing customer service.

Etsy does it all for them, for a fee that goes up to 6.5 cents on every dollar of sales from what used to be 5 cents. Merchants fighting Etsy have other disagreements with the company as well, including that it effectively penalizes individual business owners if they cannot immediately respond to potential customers, and that the company requires sellers to pay to advertise their products on sites like Google, Pinterest and Facebook that benefit the most. of its income.

Etsy said that some of the company’s methods may not be popular at the moment, but that they will benefit sellers in the long run.

Sometimes those feelings can feel nostalgic or abstract, but put yourself in the shoes of these Etsy sellers, restaurants that sell food through the Grubhub app, or companies that make apps for the iPhone.

They love being able to find a group of customers in one place, but they may resent that Etsy, Grubhub, and Apple dictate so much of the way they run their business, take a big chunk of their money, and grow stronger from their business.

These controversies are echoed by the prices we pay, which are huge risks for the millions of people trying to make a living doing what they love.

One of the questions I always get asked about controversies around the markets is what’s a fair fee for them to charge people who offer to ride an Uber or sell a picture of a dog. But I also wonder if the fictional tech industry hasn’t been creative enough to look for alternative ways to make money.

Almost all markets charge a commission and often other fees when you buy something. Even in the metaverse, it seems, companies will continue to make money by collecting a commission from people selling virtual reality graphics. Is there another way and is it better?

Two years ago, an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs suggested that instead of battling developers who might resent paying as much as 30 percent on sales of a digital weapon in the iPhone game, Apple could offset its costs to support the app economy in a different path. Analyst Rod Hall suggested that developers instead pay for some or all of Apple’s technologies that developers use to create and distribute iPhone apps.

This approach will certainly create a whole new set of problems. And it doesn’t address the complaint of iPhone developers or those who protest against Etsy sellers who like to have one central place to sell their stuff, but hate the ways those marketplaces have so much power over how they run their business.

There are no magic cures for the constant internet battles against brokers like Apple and Etsy. But I appreciate Hall’s attempt to reimagine how markets earn income. It’s as if we could use more experiments to try and bring peace to one of the internet’s most enduring conflicts.

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  • Ukraine says it has stopped an attempted Russian cyber attack on the country’s power grid. My colleague Kate Conger writes that the revelation of the sophisticated cyber attack raises new concerns that the Russian government may ramp up its use of digital weapons in Ukraine and possibly the United States.

    Related: Russia’s tech industry is facing a brain drain as thousands of workers flee the country. VICE writes that Twitch video broadcasters in Ukraine are transmitting images of the war to Russian viewers.

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  • Bribery to work in the office: My colleagues have a fun article about the perks that tech companies give workers — including a Lizzo concert, window seats for everyone, free fried chicken, and lessons on making terrariums — to bring them back to the office.

This is amazing The dog knows he was naughty because he ate all the candy in the house. (He would totally do it again, though.)

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