In an interview on the One Million by One Million Blog (http://www.sramanamitra.com) Fine Art America and Pixels.com founder Sean Broihier explains why some artists on the site pull in $10K a month while others see little sales:
Sramana: What accounts for the success of some artists and the lack of success of others on FineArtAmerica?
Sean Broihier: There is a disproportionate distribution of wealth because we do not have a huge bulk of buyers relative to artists. There are some artists who are making an enormous amount of money and some who are making relatively little money. It all comes down to how the artists take advantage of the tools we give them and how they market themselves. The artists who are making $5,000 to $10,000 a month are putting in the required time and energy to generate their own sales. They are doing email campaigns, they are going to art fairs, making TV appearances, and attending trade shows. We are just doing fulfillment orders for those types of artists.
We are a marketplace that gives you tools to be successful. With so many artists on the site, we cannot provide them all with individualized sales and marketing attention. All we can do is give them tools to help them be successful. People who sit around and take the wait-and-see approach will have one or two sales a year. As for anything in life, you will not be successful unless you put effort into it.
Earlier in the interview Broihier explained how the number of artists signing up every day on Fine Art America and Pixels outpaces the number of buyers. In other words, artists on average see less sales unless they are going above and beyond with their marketing, branding and offerings.
Sean Broihier: The vast majority of orders go to non-artists who have found us through Google or Facebook. You would expect that if you had five artists, you would have 25 buyers to keep them happy. However, because we are free to join and everyone has seen how fast the business is growing, we have attracted a ton of artists. The pace of buying has not kept up currently. Obviously, we are growing quickly. If word got out that FineArtAmerica was doing incredibly well, then I could have another 200,000 artists sign up overnight. I am not necessarily going to see a correlation in the number of buyers signing up at the same time.
Sean Broihier is the CEO and founder of FineArtAmerica.com. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in mechanical engineering, he worked at an engineering firm for 10 years. He started his first business, LocalAutomation.com, as an online marketplace for engineers in 2005. In 2007 he launched FineArtAmerica as an online marketplace for artist and photographers.
Sean Broihier also launched Pixels.com as a site with a broader range of products and gifts.
I’ve been selling my fine art photography on Fine Art America and now Pixels since 2011. I started slowly, building my portfolio from a few images to nearly 5,000 artworks.
Along the way I’ve been developing my stock photography offerings through Arcangel, licensing to publishers for book covers and magazine articles, showing in galleries such as the Whitney in Pittsfield, MA and the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH. and traveling – adding images from around the world including Iceland, Hawaii, Italy, Florida, Vermont, Maine, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire etc.
My art sales did not start right away. I think it took me about three months before I made my first sale. At the time I was concentrating on my skills and basically learning to create better images and more compelling imagery. Also telling stories through images inspired by the demands of the commercial photography market.
I also wasn’t doing much of my own marketing, rather thinking that sales would come to me. After a few years I realized that this doesn’t happen so much. If you want to the world to see and care about your photography, you have to market yourself and develop your brand. You need to push your photography out unto the world if you want anyone to see it and then perhaps purchase it.
You also have to produce images that buyers are looking for – I’ve found that buyers want image that project a feeling of place or a mood, rather than the image I call “Look I saw a squirrel”. So many of the flow of photographs people post on Facebook or even offer to sell on Fine Art America, Pixels or other POD sites are simply snapshots. They point and shoot. Not much pre-thought or even any sense of passion for the scene. The result is boring and uninteresting images.
Good images require good subjects, good composition and compelling lighting. I’ve seen people offering the most boring images – photographs of drainage ditches, animal butts, weeds, clouds etc. You’re left wondering why someone would think these would sell or even why they even bothered to upload them. The scenes were boring enough in person and then made even more boring with not post processing work, cropping or even exposure adjustments.
Great photographs hit you immediately. Poor, boring photographs should also be apparent. If not, the viewer/photographer/editor of their own portfolio, should start learning to see. Hit the museums, hit the books, hit the galleries – learn to see great composition, great lighting and understand what is compelling and what is not.
How can you get thousands of sales on Pixels and Fine Art America?
Getting thousands of art and photography sales on Pixels and Fine Art America is as simple as:
creating a large portfolio of compelling artwork or photographs
creating images that buyers want to hang in their office or home
creating some buzz around your work
getting your work out there in the public space through marketing
creating unique images
creating well crafted images
creating professional level images
gaining followers and champions of your work who will share it with their friends
getting your work off the Internet and out in the public via galleries and shows
Behind The Scenes is where you can control your sellers account on FAA an Pixels. It contains your account information, public profile, marketing, stats, sales data, sale balance, pricing, etc.
To find your own “behind the scenes” first log in to your account and then hover over your name in the upper right. A drop down menu will appear and “behind the scenes” will be the second choice. Click on that and you’ll have access to all of the behind the scenes setting to set up your account.
Spend a lot of time in Behind The Scenes and you’ll discover all you need to know about offering your work for sale on FAA and Pixels.
In the real world art pricing is based on an individual artists reputation, skill, past history, career point, show history etc. While many POD sites treat all artists the same and have fixed profit margins (typically low), FAA and Pixels allows the individual artist to set their own profit margin.
This allows a more established artist to sell at higher prices or perhaps allows for a strategy of volume selling with a lower profit margin — in any case the pricing strategy is left to the individual artist.
FAA and Pixels are a middle man between the artist and the various vendors that they use to fulfill the orders. The vendor (the one who actually prints the t-shirt, mug, or art print) gets a cut of the overall price and FAA/Pixels takes their cut for processing the orders and running the website. Then there is the artist’s cut which you determine. Will it be $5 or $500 for a 20×20 inch canvas print?
In the “behind the scenes” area you will have to put in your profit margin that will be added to the vendor cut and FAA/Pixels cut to determine the final price to the buyer.
You can add profit margins for any print size as well as for products such as mugs and phone cases. This is the amount you will receive if the item sells.
If you don’t want to sell a particular print size or a certain product – leave the box completely blank. Don’t put in a “0”. A zero means that it can still sell and you will receive nothing.
Don’t follow the suggested prices from management. They are very low and you can do better.
You can price individual images each time or set up “Default Prices” in “Behind the Scenes”
You can change your prices universally using “Default Prices” and then applying the new prices to some or all of your images.
Is it worthwhile to pay $30 a month for a Premium Account on Fine Art America and Pixels? Yes – if you are serious about running a business selling your artwork on Fine Art America and Pixels. You can set up a free account to test out the system and upload 25 images. A free account is great for seeing how everything works and getting your profile ready, but don’t expect to sell anything. 25 images is a drop in the bucket to the thousands of new images that get uploaded every day on these sites.
The chances of some buyer finding your images with only 25 is like a needle in a haystack. Consider that you will be in this for the long haul and it might take many months if not years to start selling your work. It takes time for your promotional efforts to pay off.
So any way, consider the $30 a cost of doing business that will most likely be paid off with a sale or two if you market your work.
Pixels vs. Fine Art America
Pixels and FAA look awfully similar don’t they? Except for a few logo differences and colors they are virtually the same site although Pixels has more of the product stuff such as mugs and t-shirts whereas Fine Art America sticks to the more traditional art offerings such as canvas prints and framed art. But its the same company, same artists for the most part and same vendors fulfilling the orders.
If you sign up to sell your work with one of them, you will be on the other one too. All of the “behind the scenes” stuff is shared. Make a change to a price or upload a new image on one site and it changes on the other on too.
Why do I get so many visitors from the same cities?
If you watch the visitor count in “Behind The Scenes” you see your images being visited by the same cities over and over. Especially if you promote your images on social media such as Twitter. Instantly after Tweeting you’ll see 20 or so hits from these cities.
Are these real people looking at your work? Most likely not. Most of the views are from search engine bots that constantly scan the web for new content and uses these software bots to analysis and index web pages and images. Most of what you see recorded in “behind the scenes” will be these software robots or “bots”. To get real people to see your work you have to stop wasting time looking at “views” and get out there and actively promote and market your artwork. Don’t worry about view counts, worry about attracting buyers. It only takes one view from an active buyer to make a sale or you can get thousands of bot views and not sell.
How and when will I be paid?
If you are fortunate enough to make a sale, you will receive notification via email. You can also check sales in “behind the scenes” under “sales” or under “balance”. Payments are made each month on the 15th via PayPal. But you won’t be paid right away. FAA/PIxels has a 30 day money back guarantee so you have to wait for that period to end. It could be up to two months before you are paid depending on when the order comes in. And the buyer could cancel to order, have used a bad credit card or returned the item. So basically don’t count your chickens until they are in your PayPal account. Fortunately returns are rare but they do happen and they stink!
I had to chuckle when a new artist on Pixels and Fine Art America was complaining about their lack of sales on the forum recently. They couldn’t understand why they hadn’t made a sale yet despite having over 1,000+ views.
Really? 1,000 views and they expect the sales to come flooding in? Think about how many people walk by an artwork at a gallery or even at a mall store window before something sells.
And that’s real people. People in a retail environment. People with a wallet in their pocket or cash in their purse. People who are already in the mood to do a little shopping.
What is a 1,000 views on the Internet? Most likely its bots. Little software robots that index the internet every day. They come to a page, scan the contents and report back to the search engine from which they came. They are not buyers. Bots are most likely 99% of the traffic that an internet page receives and bots are not buyers.
Then there are the lookers, tire kickers and browsers. People looking for free clip art, people looking for free screen savers, people who are just curious, people who are simply at work – bored and playing around. And perhaps a few are serious buyers.
So out of that 1,000 views, how many are valid potential buyers? Perhaps three?
Now take that three and consider the competition. Pixels and Fine Art America says they have upwards of 125,000 living artists who use their site to offer their artwork for sale. 125K artists who are uploading something like 6,000 new images on a daily basis.
So this is the kicker from this artist who can’t believe they haven’t sold anything yet.
“Granted, I only have 8-9 drawings posted” and only joined in 2016 and has zero followers. In other words hasn’t done much at all.
POD means Print On Demand not ATM
Uploading images to a POD site and “offering” work is not the same as marketing, promoting and selling your artwork. POD sites are not ATM machines. They don’t spit out money without putting in some effort.
Despite what you might have heard, art does not sell itself. It needs to be seen and it needs to be seen by a lot of people before the right buyer reaches into their pocket and parts with their hard-earned money to purchase said artwork.
Do you have any idea how many buyers there are in the world wanting to purchase your artwork? Does it appeal to hundreds? Thousands? Millions? A few? Just one? No one?
Some of the work I offer in my portfolio of nearly 5,000 pieces of photography and artwork has never sold – perhaps yet or perhaps never. Some have sold a few times and a few have sold nearly fifty times. Some sold in as little as three days, others took three years to find a buyer.
Some have less than 100 views and have sold. Other have thousands of views and haven’t sold once.
What does it take to sell artwork on Pixels and Fine Art America and other Print On Demand or POD websites?
There really is not secret formula to selling artwork on POD sites. Good work, that is in demand, lots of it plus marketing, promotion and time for people to find it is the secret.
Professional, top quality work
Unique work that sets you apart from the pack
Work that fits the audience of the website
Lots of inventory to choose from
Social Media activity
Good titles, keywording, descriptions
Time for the work to be found by search engines and potential buyers.
Now are these my best work? I don’t know, I have my own favorites but these are the photographs and art images that my collectors have chosen to purchase as prints, framed art, phone cases, tote bags, throw pillows, metal prints, greeting cards etc.
I might pick different images to show at a gallery or put in a book….
…but as far as selling via my online gallery with Fine Art America and Pixels, these are the images the buyers have liked enough to spend money on.
Some of the images in my recently sold gallery have only sold once so far, other sell over and over. Some of my top sellers include the following images:
Now I’ll be the first one to tell you that selling artwork in a crowded marketplace is not easy. Sellers out number buyers by thousands to one. The odds are against you that you will be able to break through the pack, get noticed and find buyers for your work.
It took me about three years of uploading quality, intriguing, unique, niche focused artwork and marketing it on a consistent basis before I started to see steady sales. A few more years of building up my portfolio and brand to the point that I could say I make a living off of my photography and art.
Most people give up before they see any benefits. They end up blaming the system for their lack of success. But the true is that they didn’t put in the time and effort required to succeed in a market with more suppliers than buyers. You have to create stunning work and get people to see it among the millions of other people who are trying to do the same. Dreams are nice but actually hard work is what is required to make dreams come true.
Fine Art America is privately held company that provides a market place for artists to sell their images. Artists offer their images for sale, provide the mark up and Fine Art America and its sister site Pixels handles the sales transactions , printing and fulfillment.
Fine Art America started out as a popular artists forum in the early Internet days and then morphed into a marketplace over time. Its small company, mostly the brain child of computer engineer, Sean Broihier and a small support staff, but they manage to be the small business engine for thousands of artists and photographers.
There is currently two “flavors” of the Fine Art America POD marketplace. One is the original Fine Art America that promotes fine art prints and original artwork. The prints are handled by Graphik Dimensions Ltd. of High Point NC who has been serving the artist community for over 50 years with printing and framing.
With these guys as the principal framing and print shop, FAA offers the most framing, printing and mounting options of any online POD outfit. You can choose from thousands of framing options including metal, acrylic and new wood prints.
Pixels on the other hand is more of the gift shop to FAA’s gallery or museum experience. In the Pixels store you will find an expanded collection of gift items like t-shirts, mugs and throw pillows.
Sean Broihier the owner of Fine Art America seems to have done a round of press back in 2012. More recently he’s kept more tight lipped about the business maybe because of all the competition that has entered the POD market place over the last few years.
Here is some of the press on Fine Art America and Pixels from past articles. Note that the sales figures certainly have increased from the 2012 numbers.
Doing $5 Million A Year With Three Employees: FineArtAmerica CEO Sean Broihier (Part 1)
Sramana: What is the business model behind FineArtAmerica?
Sean Broihier: The business model is to create a marketplace of buyers and sellers. We allow artist and photographers to upload their images to our site. We then offer them for sale as framed prints, stretched canvases, acrylic prints, greeting cards, and so on. We have a print-on-demand business model. Independent artists and photographers all over the world can open an account on our site and upload their images, and our software will determine what sizes and products we can sell based on the size of the image. The artist or photographer gets to name exactly how much they want to charge for each product or size of the print that is made available.
When a buyer comes along, he or she can pick the print and size. We allow buyers to choose additional features such as colored mats and frames. They can customize the entire picture via our website and place the order. FineArtAmerica takes care of the entire transaction for the artist. We print, frame, package, ship, collect payment, and send the profits to the artist.
How Fine Art America Built Its Business by Bootstrapping
So how does Broihier do it? Here are his five tips on how to bootstrap a business:
Be lean. He started out by keeping the overhead low — working alone on nights and weekends. He generated a $500 profit his first month in business. In 2010, he hired his first employee, and in 2011 he added another — both of whom work remotely.
Generate buzz. Fine Art America didn’t advertise until late 2010. Instead, it took advantage of word-of-mouth through its artists via email, Facebook, Twitter and more. Customers, it turns out, are your best lead generators.
Outsource. Fine Art America builds great online software and outsources everything else. ADP handles payroll. Amazon manages its web servers. WebmasterChecks.com pays the artists. A company out of North Carolina handles its printing, framing, matting, packaging and shipping.
Don’t follow the leaders. Small firms often compete against well-funded corporations with millions of investment capital that can afford to throw money at bad ideas. Don’t copycat all of their decisions.
Resist taking on investors. Once you accept investment capital, you’re no longer the boss and you’re on a path to sell your business or go public. Unless you’re struggling with cash flow or preparing for an exit, accepting outside money makes no sense.