Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Crossroad, of sorts.

In 2009 I joined a new and exciting online selling platform. ArtFire was in its infancy, all shiny and new with bugs hiding in every corner. Those of us that joined in the first year of ArtFire (which began in 2008) were clearly told there would be issues, and strife, and that actually selling anything would be a bonus. The Charter Artisans spent a lot of time promoting ArtFire, driving traffic and bringing in new sellers, as well as assisting ArtFire staff with 'bug catching'.

Many of us built up quite a rapport with ArtFire John (aka John Jacobs) and Tony Ford (the marketing face of AF). We felt we were listened to, and that our opinions, thoughts, experiences and feelings actually made a difference, that we were part of a growing community. Ideas were brought up, thrashed out, disposed or implemented and rarely was anyone made to feel unwelcome, stupid or annoying.

As an 'International' I felt welcomed, included and valued.

Then something changed.

Instead of a differing opinion being sort, listened to and considered, it was rejected as 'troublemaking', 'whining' or 'bitching'. International sellers felt themselves being pushed further into the shadows, and being told 'you are a minority, deal with it'. When you had an issue you were told it wasn't a bug of the site, but user error. If your buyers couldn't check out it was an issue with the buyer, not ArtFire and too bad.

Decisions made by ArtFire admin no longer went via the community, but instead were made behind closed door then paraded in the forums as 'just an idea', when in reality they had already decided and begun implementing them.

Decisions and changes were made, which is to be expected, but not changes that moved ArtFire further and further away from its original mission. They made a big noise when they started that they would not be like other online selling venues, that they would always listen and value the sellers. Their stated goal was to help handmade sellers reach their audience and sell to it. The goal now seems to be to make ArtFire a big name on the backs of those sellers, and to make money doing so.

I understand it is a business, really I do. And I will forever be grateful for the education I have received, and the amazing artisans I have had the pleasure to get to know and count amongst my friends. But I am a business too, and my business ethos no longer runs parallel to that of the new ArtFire.

I have been loyal to ArtFire since the day I joined, often defending it to those who would cut it down, promoting its sellers across my network, regularly buying there as well. I have given a lot to ArtFire, and in some ways it feels like a member of the family. But as with some relatives there comes a time when you need to step back from them.

There is no one thing that has lead me to this decision, but many small things that have built up over time and culminated with many of my dearest friends being told by Tony to 'deal with it or leave'. These weren't new sellers, these are people who have invested a lot of time and money in ArtFire since the beginning. They were demeaned, hounded and ridiculed by ArtFire members and called a 'whining mob' and 'troublemakers'. The same people who helped ArtFire in its infancy, who worked their arses off for the site were suddenly considered nothing but a nuisance.

So, we come to my crossroad. Do I throw away all that I have invested? Or do I hang in there and hope things improve? Well, actually I will do both. I have 4 stores on ArtFire, and two have already been downgraded to 'buyer' accounts which will become effective in the new year (Haffina's Hoard and Haffina's Minis.) BeadsByHaffina will close at the end of January. HaffinaCreations will remain, but will be smaller.. all the current stock will be gone. And then I will see.

I love the people I have met because of ArtFire, and the things I have learnt, especially from Tony, Kyle, Vanessa, John and other staff members. But I am not sure I can ever truly forgive the discarding of long term valued members and their opinions.