Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Business of Selling Art Online – 2012 is not 2002

Mosaic Canyon Rockfall and some related products.

I have had my own art website since 1997.  Soon after that, I started to receive offers from various start-ups and dot.coms.  It was the late 1990’s and everyone was trying to sell everything online, including art.  I dabbled with a few sites that didn’t cost anything.  I ignored many of the other offers.  Most of the early websites were poorly designed and looked awful.  They usually had business models where artists were supposed to pay for various levels of membership, etc.  Having my own website, I did not see the need to pay additional fees to show my art online. 

When I did join a few of these sites, I was able to track how often they sent traffic to my own website.  It was only a handful of visitors per year.  None of these early, art selling websites generated sales for me.  Mostly they lead to other sites contacting me with sales pitches.  They also put my name on the list for countless schemes like the ones asking me to pay hundreds or even thousands of Euros to be listed in artist directories.  Directories no one will ever see.  My junk mail box still gets a few of those offers a week.

Since the very beginning, my website has always generated a few sales every year. I have always seen my site as more of an online portfolio.  When people ask what type of at I do, nothing is more effective than handing someone an interesting looking card with your web address on it.

By 2001, as the boom was spinning out of control in San Francisco, I had written off selling art online.  If it happened, I saw it more as something by chance.  It was an era when there were so many outlandish ventures trying to sell everything online. 

A Decade Later

Recently I’ve noticed a real increase in online sales of my work.  I realize it might be time to revisit selling art online.  Quite a few things have changed since the early days of ecommerce. 

Many technological advances have changed the rules for artists.  The improved quality and affordability of digital cameras and scanners has made it easier for artists to get images of their work online.  The idea of submitting slides to galleries is all but obsolete.  Nowadays, nearly all submission guidelines call for digital images.  The improvement in browsing speed and the quality of monitors has had a major impact. The quality and accuracy of images is crucial to selling art online.  An excellent digital image is now possible and it can give potential art buyers more confidence than ever before. 

Printing technology has also changed the art market.  The quality of on demand printing gets better as the prices keep falling.  Most of the online art sites now offer prints and other printed products (i.e. note cards, laptop cases, etc.).  The artist actually receives little for these printed products.  Personally, I still see them as a good deal for artists.  An artist should not expect on demand art prints will earn significant money for them.  But, on demand products give art sites a source of revenue and the good ones no longer charge artists for other costs (i.e., memberships, listing fees, etc.).  It’s become a commission-driven business.  From an artist’s perspective, I see offering my work for on demand prints as free advertising.  It gets my work out there and may potentially lead to more serious sales.  The better sites allow for artists to have profiles which can link to the individual artist’s website. 

Consumer attitudes to online shopping have changed.  We all tend to buy things online we would never have considered buying online ten years ago.  In many cases it is out of necessity.  As small, specialized business tend to disappear, I find myself looking online for things I used to get at local shops.  In San Francisco it is even becoming difficult to find a bookstore. 

Art galleries are being squeezed out of communities.  As rents and other costs increase, galleries disappear.  The only galleries that tend to remain are the extremely commercial venues and the very high-end galleries.  Galleries with moderately priced art, the galleries that truly partner up with emerging artists, these are the ones that have mostly vanished in cities like San Francisco.  The art buyer with a modest budget has fewer places to find art.  I believe this is what is helping to increase online, art sales.

Where is the best place for artists to sell work online?

Each artist needs to review a lot of sites and determine which ones will work for them. 

Some artists have done well with eBay.  The relatively low costs can seem appealing.  The problem is you’re selling fine art in an online flea market.  There you are next to the guy with the piles of tubes socks.  Now, maybe if you paint pictures of tube socks…  

And then there is Etsy.  I had a little success with Etsy.  There is a lot of good work on the site.  It is best for small, very affordable work.  The problem is it just disappears among the thousands of things on the site (good and bad).  Most artists, who do well with Etsy, do so by driving buyers to their own Etsy page.  It is particularly frustrating that Etsy does not allow artists to add their own website to their profiles.

Recently I’ve joined two art selling websites.  Society6 and Saatchi Online.  They’re a couple of well-designed sites, ­no financial risk to artists and relatively easy to use.  Saatchi Online is set up for selling both original art and on demand print products.

I think that no single site is going to do it for an artist.  It’s better to find a combination of sites.  Ideally, that will include your own site.  Now that PayPal has become so well established, I find art buyers are even more confident purchasing from artists directly online.

When it came to selling at online, I might have said never ten years ago, but that was before I started making all these trips to the post office to ship art.


  1. Very good reading, do you delve into seo optimization, out of curiosity? is my new website

  2. I think anyone offering optimization services is basically a scammer. The trick is to keep your site up-to-date and accessible. That works just fine for me.

  3. Thanks a lot for your information.That's a great site to sell your work
    Sell Your Artwork