Question number 3 in my informal art business survey: What online venues have you used for selling art, and if you have, which one(s) have you found most successful? Some examples include: your website or blog, etsy, Fine Art America, Saatchi, artspan, artsy, ebay, Pinterest, facebook, instagram, Shopify (which apparently can be used with facebook, instagram, twitter, and pinterest), redbubble, zazzle, etc.
I got two completely opposite opinions about etsy - one who sells a lot on etsy, and one who does not. This corroborates other things I've heard. A friend told me he knows someone who makes a living selling on etsy, but I've also heard that it's not a good place to sell since they opened it up to non-handmade products. I've also been told that it's better now that they've made some changes, though I have no idea what those changes are. Another said she sells mostly from facebook and her website.
To shed some light on the whole etsy question, I found this article, Etsy Pros and Cons by Ariane Foulks on her art business blog, Aeolidia. The article consists mostly of the opinions of people who sell on etsy; it's worth reading because it gives you a feel for what selling on etsy is like, both good and bad, along with a few suggestions from Ariane. One of the biggest pros is apparently that everything is already set up , including the payment process system. Other major advantages seem to be that customers are well-aquainted with etsy, and so are likely to trust the sellers, and there's lots of help available through community boards. Disadvantages are lack of control, limited design choices, and tons of competition, because so many sell their products on etsy that it's easy to get lost among the masses. And, of course, there's the cost: 20 cents to list each item, and etsy takes 3.5 percent of the selling price. An excellent article by Britany Klontz comparing etsy to setting up your own ecommerce site is also worth a read.
Obviously, I can't research and report on all these online sales venues, but there is no end to the number of articles on the internet that do. To be honest, I have read so many of them that my head is about to explode, and have come no closer to being able to make sense of it all. There are simply too many variables - what type of art you're selling, whether you sell giclees, how much money you need to make, how many followers you have, whether you want to license your work to be printed on paper, canvas, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc., how much you can afford to spend on promoting your site, and so on.
I'm certainly not an expert on this subject; there is LOTS to learn about selling art online, and I don't have time to wade through even a small part of it. But I will share with you some things that stood out to me and seemed to have the ring of truth.
1. In my investigations, I found that most of the people who claim that you can make a fortune selling art online have courses, webinars, or coaching services they want to sell you after they lure you in with "free" information. The free information is pretty generic and generally just consists of common sense statements with exclamation points. Some of it is helpful, though; many have blogs, newsletters or podcasts that you can take advantage of, and maybe glean some useful information. I can't speak to whether their trainings are helpful, as I don't have money to spend on them.
2. Almost every art business coach says that the number one most important thing to do is to build a large email list and send out frequent newsletters. Generally, they advise you to collect the email addresses of people who buy your work. The problem with this is, since I have mainly sold through galleries, I have no information about the buyers; gallery owners do not usually share the names of buyers with the artist, for obvious reasons. This one stumps me, as they don't exactly tell you how to build an email list, and I'm not sure what I would put in my newsletter; I don't have that much 'news' to report. But I'm definitely going to look into it, and will share what I find out later if you're interested.
3. Another point which I hadn't really thought much about is finding your niche market. In other words, what sets your work apart from that of the other bazillion artists out there? This does seem a bit counter-intuitive; I'm always being told that I should paint things most people want to buy. I could make lots of money, I'm always being told, if I would paint landscapes, or do pen-and-ink drawings of Cincinnati, or paint pet portraits, for instance. These aren't things I feel passionate about, and I would not be happy doing them; consequently, I don't think they would have that essential quality - whatever that is - that touches people and draws them to an artist's work. The important thing is to develop your own artistic voice, to which certain buyers respond. These buyers become collectors of your work, and will introduce your work to others.
4. Tell stories. People want to know about you as a person, how you make your work, what inspires you and why. They want to feel engaged with you as an artist, which helps them to engage with your work. Initially this seemed a bit surprising. I've always thought that my life was pretty boring, and that people didn't really care about who I am as a person. When I think about it though, it makes sense; I always look at the bio section of an artist's website, and enjoy finding out more about them. It helps me to gain insight into their work, making it richer and more meaningful to me as a viewer. I'm always fascinated to find out about their processes, and to see work in progress.
Lance Rubin, an artist who has spent about ten years exploring this subject, has this to say about selling art online: "To sell successfully, you need to have what people want. You need to have an abundance of the art for sale (choice for your buyers, and I mean 30-100 available pieces), a sales record (your buyers can see that people buy your stuff), it needs to be the size they want, and the color they want, and fit their pricing needs all at the same time. It should also be unique and creative. I have also noticed that a warm palette art sells much better than cool or cold palette. People also prefer credentials of some kind and a backstory or personal information about the artist. Whew! Who can pull all that off at the same time? It ain't easy."
So, after all this I'm afraid that my research has not been very successful. I've found almost no real definitive answers, and my questions have just raised more questions. I will have to leave it at that for now, but I'm continuing to research it, mostly by trial and error at this point. I will keep you apprised of what I find out. Right now, I have set up ecommerce on my artspan website, and am in the process of enabling prints on demand for some of my work. I'm also considering setting up a shop on Fine Art America, and connecting it to my facebook page; I was told by a friend that it wasn't difficult to do.
Oh, yeah, and I need to find another gallery or two to sell my work, since the Promenade Gallery was sold.
To quote Alyson Stanfield, "My hope with this lesson is that you understand the value of action.
I give you lots of ideas on my blog and in my newsletter, but there comes a point when you have to stop gathering ideas and information and start taking action.
How about today?"