Art Meets E-Commerce
by Karen Leland
The Internet’s Etsy, RedBubble and Imagekind provide artists with alternative venues for marketing and selling their work.
While the marketing mix for artists looking to sell their work continues to include traditional venues such as galleries, art festivals and individual shows, the online marketplace is expanding dramatically. Here’s a look at three of the sites where artists are finding the investment worth their while—and customers are spending money.
“In 2008 we sold $88 million worth of products,” says Adam Brown, spokesperson for Etsy.com. Etsy, which started in 2005, has grown into one of the most popular sites for buying and selling handmade goods.
Tiffany Ard, who creates art with a scientific bent for children (www.tiffanyard.com), says she has sold close to 1,000 prints in a little over a year on Etsy. In fact, Ard has done so well with the site that she’s been able to quit her day job as a graphic designer and copy editor and go full time as an artist.
“The most important thing I did to make Etsy work for me,” says Ard, “was to focus my online shop on a cohesive product line.” Ard says that at the beginning she was all over the place, peppering her Etsy page, electricboogaloo.etsy.com, with watercolors, multimedia art, block printing and more. When she finally narrowed her focus to promoting just her scientific art for children, she created a brand that customers could latch onto, and that’s when business picked up.
Brown concurs that building a strong brand is a key to site success but adds that two other best practices—posting high-quality photographs of the artwork and offering smart pricing—help make art sales flourish. “People do very well with prints on Etsy,” he says. “Original work, which people sell on the site, is a great draw, but prints, which are less expensive, are a great entry point for your customers.” Brown points out that people who can pay $20 to $50 for a print will buy one and tell other people about the artist, which eventually can lead to the sale of an original work.
Kate Peper, a textile designer and fine artist (www.peperprojects.com, katepeper.etsy.com), says what made Etsy appealing to her was how easy it was to set up and how inexpensive it was to use. “You sign up for free, get a PayPal account, give them your e-mail, and you’re on your way,” says Peper.
Once these first few steps are completed, each artist puts together a dedicated online shop where he or she posts listings that include photographs and descriptions. Then the selling begins. “I’ve found the cost really reasonable,” says Peper. Etsy charges the artist only 20 cents for each item plus a commission of 3.5 percent if the item sells; the artist is responsible for shipping the artwork.
“The whole idea behind Etsy,” says Brown, “is to make it easy for people to put time into making and selling their art—not into making and maintaining their own websites.”
When Ross Ford was looking for a place to print his abstract images on T-shirts (www.rossfordart.com), he checked out a number of online sites. Ford, whose original works are represented by a gallery in Coconut Grove, Florida, says that as soon as he saw the artwork on RedBubble and the high-quality, hip, American Apparel-brand T-shirts they sell, he knew the site was a fit for his work. “I found RedBubble to be very design-oriented and populated with serious artists,” says Ford. “It’s the community of people interested in visual art that makes the site a premier choice for me.”
But RedBubble isn’t just a place to print high-art T-shirts; it’s a good venue for selling photography and prints as well. Derek Stewart, an artist whose work is influenced by the horror and sci-fi genres (www.redbubble.com/people/derekstewart), says that what he appreciates about RedBubble is the diversity of wall art available and the way customers can browse through pieces sorted by category, style or even color.
Stewart also echoes Ford’s feelings about the communal aspect of RedBubble. “The site offers access to other artists who give you encouragement and feedback,” he says.
You can sign up at RedBubble for free, and the company does the printing and shipping for you. Ford says RedBubble only charges the artist money when a piece sells. Unlike Etsy.com, where artists pay per listing and set the price of the works they want to sell, RedBubble sets a base price and allows artists to determine what percentage of markup they want to receive upon sale.
Ford says that while he only makes a profit of $4 or $5 per T-shirt, the shirts make an inexpensive product that helps promote his art. He also points out that the cost of having RedBubble do the printing and shipping is significantly less than what he paid to screen-print the shirts in his own studio.
If Etsy.com is the queen of handmade, Imagekind is the king of high-end customization. Tim Aldridge, who uses traditional and digital means to create works of art (www.timaldridge.com), says that the quality of the prints he has seen from Imagekind is impressive. “The company offers customers a wide range of paper choices, print sizes and frames,” says Aldridge.
Once a customer has chosen the preferred image and size, he or she can choose to have the work printed on canvas or on one of eight different types of art paper, including enhanced matte, photo glossy, ultra-smooth fine art or fine art pearl. Imagekind also allows customers to shop for art by searching categories of subject matter, genre and palettes of up to four colors.
Like RedBubble, Imagekind sets the basic price on a piece—depending on its size and type of paper—and the artist is then free to determine the markup. “I simply upload the image and set the markup, and Imagekind does the rest,” says Aldridge.
Whether you’re selling a series of handmade holiday greeting cards, a fine art print or an expensive original, in today’s wired world, there’s bound to be an online site that will fit the bill—and help you sell.
Karen Leland, a freelance writer based in Sausalito, California, is the president of Sterling Consulting Group. She is also the author of Time Management in an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day (Career Press, 2008).
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