In 2012, I lost a ring that meant a lot to me. I spent most of the following year learning enough about 3D software and 3D printing to recreate the ring from photographs.
I decided to use those newly-acquired skills to open a shop on Shapeways, which at the time was the premier 3D-printing service for people with low-end needs such as myself. I originally called it “Acorn Garden” (after my Wiccan group), but following a suggestion made by a friend-of-a-friend I renamed it to “Kickin’ Wiccan” (“They’re finger-Wiccan goods!”).
There were many challenges: Coming up with designs that people would actually want, working around Shapeways’ ever-changing rules about what they’d print, and so on. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was frustrating.
As time went on, I expanded by creating a Kickin’ Wiccan storefront on Etsy. It was basically a wrapper around my Shapeways shop. For a slightly higher fee, customers could find and purchase my stuff via Etsy instead of using Shapeways directly.
Over the past couple of years, almost all my sales came via Etsy. It wasn’t always so. But Shapeways is evolving as a company. When I first created my Shapeways shop, they were aggressively encouraging designers to create shops on their site, offering tools and services in support. Now the tools they offer are slow and clumsy, and whatever Shapeways shop->Google search assistance they once offered is gone. Anyone shopping for pagan jewelry on the web would find my items via Etsy, not on Shapeways.
My guess is that the big profit in 3D printing is making 10,000 copies of a widget on an industrial scale. The shops for individual designers were not making enough money to justify Shapeways putting any real effort in design or promotion.
In fact, a couple of years ago, Shapeways began offering “e-commerce integration”. Basically, they offered a (clumsy) tool to make it easier for an Etsy order to translate into a Shapeways order. In other words, they were trying to out-source their shop-creation tools to other businesses who were willing to do the work of marketing.
It took a lot of effort for me to adjust to using the e-commerce tool. I offer a lot of variations in the items I sold. Every material and ring size that I offered required separate work to create the Etsy->Shapeways transaction.
In my mind, the work was needed to be able to offer what my customers wanted. I’m selling jewelry to Pagans. They’re an individualistic bunch. If one of them wanted a size 10 3/4 ring, they would not settle for a size 10 1/2 or 11. If they wanted it in bronze, they would not settle for brass.
The economics of the shop grew worse. Shapeways increased their prices for their work, so I had to increase the Etsy prices or I’d lose money on every sale. I kept my profit margins small, which does not compensate me for the time and energy I put in. But I could easily be undercut by the small-scale custom pagan jeweler, who could make items for less than half the price I was selling them for. After all, I had to charge at least what Shapeways charged me, and Shapeways was charging for their profit against a side of their business that was not very profitable for them in the first place (or so I surmise).
Shapeways’ shipping charges are high, and their item costs are high. The only reason people were buying anything from my shop at all was because it was on Etsy. Over the past year, the number one seller has been my Tree of Life sculptures, and that’s only because they’re still relatively unique.
There’s another harsh reality: I am not an artist. I’m a technician. For the most part, my jewelry looks like it’s been designed on a computer, because that’s exactly what I did. I’ve occasionally asked artists for inspiration, and once someone responded. But I can’t pretend to match some of the beautiful work I’ve seen from professional artists and jewelry designers.
To be fair, the entire enterprise had its bonuses. For one thing, I didn’t have to maintain any inventory. Each item was being individually printed and shipped by Shapeways. I never had to touch the jewelry. I could offer a range of materials and size that would be difficult for an individual jeweler to achieve.
The shop occasionally gave me some pin money. By this point I was on cruise-control. Apart from answering an occasional question (e.g., “What kind of silver do you use?”) I didn’t have to do much.
This has just changed. Etsy is now going to start reporting sales totals to the IRS. This is due to new tax rules. I agree with the rules in principle, since it makes it harder for people to engage in tax fraud.
What it means for me in particular is that I’d have to prove to the IRS that I’m not making money from the shop. This would mean filling out a Schedule C, listing the amount that Etsy reports, then subtracting what Shapeways charged for each order. This would be tedious, because Shapeways doesn’t provide me with any such list in a convenient form.
So I’m shutting the Etsy shop down. I’ll leave the Shapeways shop open, but no one will find it. I have a Kickin’ Wiccan page on Facebook, an Instagram feed, and a Twitter account. None of them have ever generated any sales, not even when I put some money into Facebook promotion. Only the Etsy shop gets any response.
I will close the Etsy shop on December 31, 2021. In essence, Kickin’ Wiccan is done.