A few years ago, it seemed I was writing frequently about either ArtFire or quoting craftspeople who sold their work on the marketplace. These days, I don't hear about ArtFire very often. What's going on?
According to President and CEO John Jacobs, the Tucson, Arizona-based is doing just fine, thanks. "Artfire.com is doing quite well. Our year-over-year unique visitors increased by 54 percent sitewide from 2012 to now reach 20 million shoppers, and member sales are over a million dollars per month. Our member count sits around 120,000."
But the ArtFire sellers I wrote about in the past and re-contacted recently had mixed verdicts on the marketplace. Two had closed their ArtFire shops, while two others are still on the site and doing well. This is hardly scientific, but you also get the same variety of comments looking around the web at bloggers who write about selling or no longer selling there. Here is an example at KrissiAndVic's blog.
A little history might prove helpful. In an article published in 2010, EcommerceBytes reported that just two years after launching, ArtFire had grown to 65,000 members. At the time, ArtFire had a free unlimited listing version as well as a Pro version with a monthly fee. In 2011, ArtFire came in in first place in this site's annual Sellers Choice survey.
In July 2012, ArtFire announced that it was eliminating the free Basic package and would charge all sellers a $9.95 monthly fee for unlimited sales (Today the fee is $12.95 per month.) That year it sank to 16th in the Sellers Choice survey. Its rank in the last two years looks like this: 2013: 9th (its competitor Etsy came in at #1); 2014: 12th.
The question is: what happens to marketplaces that used to be free but aren't any more? How do sellers continue to make a profit once they're being charged sales fees by their once-free storefront hosts?
The sellers I contacted acknowledged the importance of constantly updating their stores, posting new offerings, and diversifying.
"I closed my ArtFire store about six months ago, as I hadn't been doing anything on it for a long time (and it was costing about $10 a month)," says Sharon Blanding of Colorado Springs, CO and owner of Sharon's Vintage Store. "My primary selling spot right now is Etsy. I still get sales from my main website, but not nearly as many as I used to (one really does have to keep up on and be adding new things to the standalone sites to keep the orders coming in)."
Blanding adds that she still has three storefronts on Ecrater, two on Etsy, and one on Zibbet, "But again, if one isn't tending to them regularly, they get pretty quiet."
Nanette Thorell of Enchanted Hen Productions has also closed her ArtFire storefront. She still lists on Etsy, eBay and her own website, but comments, "I am disappointed in Etsy's move to include mass produced goods. I think it depletes their strong and unique handmade-goods model."
Jacobs acknowledges that ArtFire has had a commercial section for some time "to delineate handmade product from items that are likely to be produced by larger organizations and our site includes craft suppliers and designers. We think that designers add value to products as well as makers, and many of our successful makers have made the jump to bringing on additional staff to support their craft. Our role is to support our community in a way that contributes to each member's success as much as possible."
In contrast to the previously mentioned two sellers, Karen Galib of Fall, River MA-based KG Krafts says she won't be bothered by the new policies of ArtFire's rival Etsy until she sees a year's worth of sales data. She still has five separate shops on ArtFire. "All the shops seem to be growing quite nicely," she says.
But the most positive report comes from Kharisma Ryantori, who sells under the name Popnicute on ArtFire and on Facebook through ArtFire's kiosk. "I still sell on ArtFire and have been doing quite well," she says. "In fact, I just celebrated my 600th sale on ArtFire about a week ago."
One way ArtFire is evolving is to go local: it's collaborating with Maker House to open a community space for artisans and makers from the area, organizing craft groups and evens for local nonprofits.
"ArtFire.com will likely be supporting the launch of additional maker space around the U.S.," Jacobs says.
As one respondent to the Sellers Choice survey noted, makers need to make time and spend effort on their stores: ArtFire, the seller said, is "not for someone who only wants to list and run; you must be willing to work on your business."