So you’ve recently retired and are looking for something to occupy your time. Perhaps you’ve taken up painting at the local arts center and feel ready to start moving those canvases out of the garage. Or you’ve always liked to take pictures on vacation, bought yourself a fancy camera, booked some exotic vacations to the national parks, visited a Peter Lik gallery and thought, if he can do it why not me?
Did you think it would be easy? Selling artwork or photography in a global market against college trained artists with decades of practicing their craft? Did you research the market and see with the total sales of landscape photography is and how many landscape photographers are chasing the same dream? Well at least as a retiree you have several advantages over the full time artist community:
You are in it for fun, no need to make a living at this after all you are retired
You probably have a roof over your head. No need to pay thousands a month for a shoe box apartment in Brooklyn.
You have savings. No living from pay check to pay check from your bartending job.
You can afford the newest, latest and greatest equipment. No saving up for a daily camera rental for you.
You didn’t spend $150,000+ getting an arts degree. So you start $150K of the game.
But what made you think it would be easy to sell your artwork among the zillions of other people trying to sell their artwork?
It is not like the chances are great anyone makes it in the arts business and the art world is not a lucrative industry. What ever career you retired from was a lucrative career – the arts are not.
The median income of those with art degrees who made their living as artists in New York City in 2012: $25,000
The median income for an artist in Canada in 2012: $21,603
Did you think you could just make it and the sales would appear? By any measure artists of all levels of success spend most of their time promoting and marketing their work. Twenty percent of the time they are spending on actually making art. The rest of the time they are trying to keep from getting kicked out of their apartment studio or trying to sell their work.
The 80/20 rule also applies to who gets all of the financial rewards. 80% of the rewards go to the top 20%. The bottom 80% have to fight it out for the $20 left over. Who is going to fight harder? The retiree looking to make a few extra bucks for greens fees or the recent art school grad trying to make it to avoid moving back into their parent’s basement?
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.
As an Artist Your Value Proposition Separates Your Work from the Crowd
What is it about your work that makes it deserve a sale? Think about the last time you purchased or supported another artist’s work. Why did you do it? How did it make you feel? What was the value of the purchase to you?
Consider that buying artwork is not like buying a commodity product like salt or gas. Art is not purchased because it’s the lowest price or you had a coupon.
Out of the zillions of available art works and photographs on the market that you could purchase, for some reason this particular piece of artwork compelled you to love it and purchase it.
Some of the factors involved might be:
You met the artist face to face
You saw a documentary about the artist
You read an interesting article about the artist
The artwork provoked a strong memory
The artwork was the perfect size or color for a space in your home
A friend recommend this artist
The artist reminds you of a more famous artist that you can’t afford
The artwork created a gut reaction
The art makes you happy
The art makes you think
The art sets a mood
The art matches your decor
The art matches your theme
You like the artist positions
You like what the art has to say about the world
The art is modern, the art is retro
The art gives you a positive feeling
etc, etc, etc.
One thing to remember when selling art is people buy or support art for a very different set of reasons than anything else they spend money on. Not only are they receiving a product for their money but they like to know they are supporting an artist so they can continue to create.
Support Artists To Support Your Set of Values
If you see work you like, you should support this work, even if you don’t end up owning it, because this artist is creating the kind of beauty you want to see in the world. By helping this artist survive and continue to make work, you’re helping someone change the world in the way you want it to change.
Your Value Proposition
Your value proposition as an artist sets you apart from your fellow artists and photographers.
VALUE PROPOSITION – (in marketing) an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers.
In an never ending flood of amateur snapshots uploaded daily on social media, a professional level quality and execution. Consistently, editing, selection and subject choice can be enough to pull your work out of the masses and into the realm of quality worth spending money.
Your followers will come to expect focused images with good composition, free of dust spots, grain and poles sticking out of people’s heads.
My value proposition as a fine art photographer would go something like this:
Using professional equipment, honed post-processing skills, years of study, effort and passion for my subjects, creativity and a unique vision, I offer a unique and compelling images suitable for display in the finest homes and offices.
Further my collectors come to appreciate my style of clean and uncluttered compositions. They might also take comfort knowing that my work has been shown in galleries, on book covers and magazines around the world.
The fact that professional image buyers have selected my work to grace book covers and illustrate magazine articles doesn’t make someone love it, but it does provide affirmation that their choice is a solid one. After all, if it’s good enough for a book publisher to bet the success of a book launch on, it’s probably good enough to grace a guest room.
I’ve been thinking about the differences between selling art online vs. selling in person via street fairs, galleries and shows.
I think of all of the art shows and gallery openings I’ve been to and think while I enjoyed the artist’s talks, the free wine and cheese and socializing, I haven’t walked out with any art except on one occasion.
Then again, I’ve purchased framed art, folk art and even a glass art piece while on vacation. And then recently at the RISD Craft fair, an annual event in October which RISD alumni and students sell their work on the street in Providence, I found myself caught up in the excitement and purchased a print.
The RISD Craft sale was a good example of the excitement of selling person to person. The idea of finding and discovering something you like especially perhaps from a young rising star, is contagious. The event is only once a year and the artist are selling a limited number of items from art prints to jewelry to glassware. So there is a scarcity element involved, plus the excitement of a crowd.
Going in to the event you are primed with the idea that you might be buying some art today and that the best stuff might sell first. So there is a bargain hunting mentality involved.
This is a lot different that offering a portfolio of hundreds or thousands of options online especially if those offering are open editions. There is not pressing need for the buyer to snatch up a print. So rather than selling in minutes, it might take years for the buyer to finally decide.
There also is endless competition online. Not only from the zillions of other artists selling their work but the endless distractions online.
At the Craft Fair you basically had 40 or so artists selling and the only competition for your money was the food trucks. Online the competition for your money and time is endless.
Of course offering your work for sale online is relatively easy (compared to actually selling). You can offer your entire production. You don’t have to edit down to a few items you guess might be attractive to the attendees of a show or fair. This one of my pet peeves about showing my work. I have so much to choose from and so many areas of interest. Having to choose a handful of images for a show is so difficult. Should I choose the most likely items that will sell or try for the most thought provoking work? Online you don’t have to choose, you can display everything.
Advantages of selling online
24/7 selling opportunity
Worldwide selling opportunity
Disadvantages of selling online
Inability to see and feel the product
No personal connection to the artist
Low excitement level
No direct contact with the buyer
Advantages of selling in person
Limited products available – scarcity
Face to face interaction
Ability to answer questions
Disadvantages of selling in person
Limited products shown
Potential damage to products
Difficulty in producing, transporting and displaying artwork
Imagine walking into a hardware store, finding a clerk and asking about hammers.
“For this job do I need a claw foot hammer, a roofing hammer or a electricians hammer? Is a fiberglass handle better than wood? What the difference between this triangle head and this round one?”
And the clerk just stares at you blankly and says “Idonntknow”, shuggs his shoulder and goes on break.
To sell art you need to know at least as much as your customers know. Is you knowledge of photography limited to knowing where to buy a camera? If a potential customer ask you a question about your photography would you have an interesting response?
“What motivated you to take this image?”
“I don’t know. I just was thinking it might be a good thing to take a picture of and everyone else was taking a picture of it.”
To be a credible artist, at least do some soul searching and be able to talk about your work enough that the potential buyer get the impression that you are seriously working on your art and craft. Be prepared to answer questions like:
What style is your photography?
Who are your influences?
Which photographers do you like?
Do you know the history of photography as an art form?
What are you goals with your photography?
What are your passions?
What is the last photography monograph you purchase?
What is the last photography show you attended?
What do you want the view to feel when they look at your photography?
Selling Art and Photography requires thinking like a buyer
Do you consume art and photography like you expect your buyers to? Do you purchase original art? Do you follow great photographers on social media? Do you read about compelling photographers? Do you visit galleries and museums to see what is going on in the world of photography and art?
To ask a buyer or collector to purchase your artwork, you have to provide more of a reason than “here is a image – buy it” – you need to think and act like a buyer. Think and act like a participant in the world of art and photography, not just like a stock boy putting another can of soup on the shelf.
Today it is rather easy to offer your photography for sale but are you ready to actually sell your work?
Selling Photography – These days it is so easy to set up an account with a POD such as Fine Art America or Pixels that I have to wonder if camera manufacturers will be begin trying to market cameras as a cash machine.
So many camera owners (notice I didn’t say photographers) seem to think all it takes to sell their photography is pointing their camera at something, uploading the images and voila! people will buy.
Most of them find it not so easy to sell their snapshots. Sure maybe once in a while they get lucky and someone buys one of their garden flower photos or their “Look! I saw a duck!” type images but I’d say the serious art buyer is looking for more depth than a camera operator. They want some proof that they are buying from a serious artist.
What’s missing from the typical amateur cameraman goes beyond quality. Professional quality is that base line standard as you are competing on a world market with professional photographers. Beyond basic quality standards, buyers are also looking for :
A unique vision
A body of work
Quality buyers see right through a facade of someone simply trying to cash in with their latest camera purchase. By looking at an artist’s work you can tell if this person is a weekend warrior who dusts off his camera a few times a year when off to the next national park or cruise trip vs. a working artist.
Art comes down to authenticity. Is the photography a result of an intended, well-thought out, pre-visualized idea? Or is it just a lucky shot? Is the photographer authentic, do they know their subjects, have they spent years learning about their subjects? Does their passion for the subject show through their images or are they simple recording their travels not really seeing the essence of what they are photographing?
Look at their body of work. Is it a bunch of random images toss together or do you see a reoccurring pattern of ideas and concepts? Do you see a unique vision or simply a collection of random snapshots?
Personally I can’t stand gallery shows that have a single image from a number of artists as it is not until you see a series of images from the same artist or photographer that you can understand their vision. The amateur photographs portfolio will be all over the place while in the profession or more serious artist, you’ll see a unique pattern as they display their vision of the world.
I think buyers pick up on this intuitively. They prize images from serious artists pursuing their own unique vision over the random snapshot.
Would be photography sellers would be advised to work on their own personal vision before attempting to sell their work. Develop a body of work with a distinctive style before expecting someone to pay for it.
Art Sales – Selling art is a lot like going fishing. You never know what sale might come along but there certainly are ways to increase your success rate. Think about two different Fishermen – Bob and Pablo.
Fisherman Bob sits on the dock near his house all day using the same bait. He picked the location because he didn’t want to invest in a boat and it’s easy. He catches nothing but minnows but at least he got out of the house for the day.
Meanwhile, Fisherman Pablo buys a boat and heads out to the deep end of the lake where the big fish live, he tries various lures until he finds what works, pulls in a boat load of lunkers and invites the neighborhood over for a fish fry.
Selling art is no different. It takes more effort, more investment and more experimentation to figure out what will work best for your art business.
You can sit around for years using the easiest or first sales channel you found waiting for sales to magically appear, perhaps using a bait-less hook or you can study the competitive landscape and various sales channels and figure out which will work best for your art and your promotional efforts.
Whatever sales channel you choose (or multiple), it still requires work to get noticed. You need the right bait – great artwork and you need to drop your line where the fish live. You have to offer different bait or lures for Bass then you would for Trout. You have to make your bait more attractive than the natural alternatives and often you have to make full fish hungry with offers they can’t refuse. You also have to make it easy for the fish or art customer to eat or buy your work. Let’s face it, if you are a fish or a person buying art we all like convenience.
Folks, being an artist means running a small business. For some reason artists have a hard time understanding this fact. They think that being an artist is some kind of pure en-devour divorced from the reality of things such as expenses, taxes, accounting, marketing and economics.
An artist is someone who produces a luxury good. These goods are sold for income and on the other side of the balance sheet there are all of the expenses involved in producing that good – gas, studio rental, time, material costs etc.
It is not enough for an artist to simply know their art materials and how to produce the product. That is probably 50% of the business. The other half is all of the stuff the typical artist seeks to avoid – the “boring” stuff like promotion, marketing, accounting, planning, taxes, logistics etc.
Earlier in my career I went to Boston University’s School of Management with a concentration in Marketing. We studied accounting, business strategy, market research, pricing, marketing, etc. But I went in with a strong entrepreneurial streak having made and sold various items all throughout high school. Later I applied what I learn in school and in a career in the publishing industry to my fine art photography business.
Certainly not every artist needs a degree in Business Administration to pursue a successful art career but these are the topics to study and understand though reading, workshops, seminars or simply asking the right questions to the right people.
Basic understanding of economics, the laws of supply and demand, certainly can go a long way to understanding how an artist can meet up with potential buyers of their artwork.
How does an artist get better at business? You become better at business by understanding the market, understanding the buyers motivations and understand the niche you represent in the market place.
One thing to do right away is to start keeping track of your expenses. Income is just important but real income accounts for your expenses. You might find that you are selling your work at a loss after figuring out your time, gas, storage and cost of materials.
Set yourself up as a legit small business and operate as such. Make goals and budget accordingly. Figure out where you need to promote your work, how much work you need to produce, what prices the market will support and the steps needed to take to achieve your goals.
Create a five year plan. Where do you want to be in five years? Then break down the plan into 1 year, 3 year and 5 years goals. Reevaluate the plan every year and make adjustments.
Identify your target market. Who is your buyer? Identify the buyers of your artwork and understand their needs. Why do they buy artwork? How often do they buy? Where do they buy? How do they buy? What needs does art satisfy to the them? You know why you enjoy producing art – what makes buying art satisfying to your buyers? How will you find these buyers? How will you get your art to them? Who will handle the transaction? Etc.
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 think at this point I’ve heard every complaint there is for not creating great photography or not selling your work. Let’s recap.
I don’t have a good enough camera
If only I had a F1.8 blah blah blah expensive lens
If only I lived in a more exciting location
If only I had a home studio
If only I had that new camera
If only I had a full frame camera
If only I had that mirrorless camera
If only I could afford expensive vacations
If only I lived in the country
If only I lived in the city
If only I went to photography school
If only the POD featured my work
If only I showed up higher in the search engines
If only I could write better
If only I was better looking
If only my friends were models
If only I had a cute dog
If only I got started earlier
If only there wasn’t so many competitors
Blah, blah, blah. Come on already. If you are not executing a plan to improve your photography and improve your photography sales in this day and age, then I’m sorry, you are just being lazy.
At no other time in history has it been so easy to learn about photography – for free and to learn how to sell your work.
At no other time in history as it been so easy to bring your photography to the market and promote your work.
At no other time in history has the market for fine art photograph or stock photography been so open to so many people.
At no other time in history has it been so easy to learn, improve, create and sell your work.
Seriously, with digital photography there is no need for a darkroom full of smelly chemicals or the need for special equipment or the costs of film, paper and chemicals. At not other time in history can someone rapidly improve their skill quickly because of digital photography.
The Internet provides all the information one needs to learn and get feedback on their images. Online classes such as CreativeLive provides professional level instruction for free or little cost.
Online market places from Ebay to Etsy to Pixels to Fine Art America etc provide simple access to buyers of artwork. Stock agencies provide any image supplier from professional to amateur access to the professional image buying market.
Sure you can complain that you haven’t found overnight success and the competition is fierce but when was it not? Artists have always had to hustle and work there way to the top one step at a time. We’re not digging ditches here. We are creating imagery. Of course there will be a lot of competition. At some point you just have to realize it ain’t going to be easy and you have to work harder and smarter than your competition.