Sell the Gallery
As a successful seller on Fine Art America and Pixels, I’m often asked for advice from other artists trying to get an online business off the ground.
Art is Business
First of all the key word is “business”. My career in the arts started about 35 years ago when I first fell in love with photography at a summer camp. We shot film and developed it in a dark bag on a picnic table. Later in high school I got my first SLR and darkroom experience. Practicality took me to Boston Universities business school but I still shot film and developed prints in my closet darkroom as I studied the great photographers in BUs extensive library of photography books.
So I ended up with a business degree and a career in the publishing industry. Later when I left the publishing world to dedicate my time to my fine art career, I brought the knowledge of the business world and market research world with me. After all – Art is Business.
As an artist, one can not pretend that art is all about self-expression, freedom and ignorant bliss. You have to recognize that art is a marketplace like any other. There are needs that need to be fulfilled. There are buyers and sellers. There is an exchange of money for a product. The artist is in a sense a factory that produces a product just like any other product and the collector is a buyer of that product. If you produce items that have no market, you won’t be successful.
And you have to consider the over all market size for your art/product. It could be that there are thousands of people out their clamoring for your specific type of artwork. Or there might only be one person in the world who wants exactly what you have to offer.
Price accordingly. If the there are thousands of people looking for your art than you can sell them items with low mark up. Maybe mugs are the way to go. Maybe there are thousands of people looking for your art on a mug so you can make $1 on each one and net $1,000 for your effort and you can sell out in a day.
Or maybe there is only one elusive person on the planet who “gets” your work. Now to find this person will take considerable time and effort. You will have to spend a lot of money (in the form of time and maybe advertising) to find this buyer. You will need to cut through all of the clutter and grab their attention at the right time. Hopefully not just after they’ve spent all of their money on a different artist.
So after years of searching for this buyer and after convincing them that your work is worthy of their attention and money, what are you going to sell them? A coffee mug?
Sell The Gallery Not The Gift Shop
I see a lot of my fellow artists on Fine Art America clamoring for the site to sell things like calendars or coaster or some other low end product. I think it comes about for a few reasons:
- They aren’t currently selling the products offered at the moment
- They always dreamed about seeing their art on X,Y,Z
- They think the addition of another product might be just the thing for their art to start selling
My strategy has always been to take the high road. Low end products can be there, in the gift shop so to speak, but my main goal is to sell prints.
I work with the idea that my work is going to hang on someone’s wall. This is how I approach my work. This is what motivates me to get up in the morning on a cold snowy day and hike out to an old red barn in rural Vermont to capture a winter landscape.
This is why I spend thousands of dollars on travel expenses and equipment and put in the hours of processing time. I’m doing this work to create art prints which have a decent profit built in to pay for my time and effort.
I’m not doing this to sell a greeting card, mug or beach towel. If those gift shop items happen to sell then so be it but that is not my focus. This is what I mean buy selling the gallery not the gift shop.
You sell the movie not the popcorn. Sell the main event not the side card. Sell the candidate not the red trucker hats. Sell the car not the fuzzy dice.
I license my work to greeting card companies, book publishers, magazine editors etc. This is the way to get your work on these products, created in the 10s of thousands. If your work is up to industry standards then there is a market for it on consumer products. This is different than self publishing in a vanity site. If your work is puzzle quality then seek out a puzzle publisher and license your work to them. They know the market, they know the buyers. Far too many artist try to reinvent the wheel by going it alone and trying handle every aspect of the various markets, many of them not having any understanding of how that market works.
I suggest seeking out the experts in the various sales channels, people who have years experience in that industry. Concentrate on selling high end products of your work, leave the gift shop items to themselves or the experts in those areas.
When it comes to selling your artwork, concentrate on the high end, not the low end. Be professional and value your work.