It's my perspective based on my own experience, reading the opinions of others as expressed on the internet and impressions gained from surfing relevant sites over the course of the year. I look for data the whole time and find very little - hence the emphasis on shared experience. If you have a different perspective please use the comment function to explain how you see it differently and why.
Blogs versus Websites
Prior to the advent of the blog the on-line art world typically comprised large complex websites (national art galleries and museums; on-line art galleries for art history and commerce; large bulletin boards for artists and some good resource sites) and large numbers of small websites - for individual artists and small groups. Blogs have added volume but have also helped create wider networks and relationships of the sort only previously seen on some bulletin boards.
The debate continued in 2006 about the relative merits of different ways of presenting art on the internet. Some artists with established websites and sales records who blogpost on a regular basis have publicly indicated that they now find their blogs to be an effective way of marketing available work, leading people to their websites and building relationships for the long term. Blogs are easy to access, change on a regular basis (leading to repeat visits and growing familiarity with a body of work) and provide an opportunity to hear about the work and talk with the person producing it. In a nutshell, they provide exactly the same sort of things which people value about a private view at a gallery!
Art blogs are becoming more influential within the on-line art world.
There is no good reason to suppose that the art world will be exempt from the large-scale change permeating the rest of the economy when it comes to communication using social media and transactions performed via e-commerce. One only has to pause briefly to think about the percentage of christmas shopping done online this year compared to last! The blog can be an important tool of communication and influence for art.
- Art blogs are read by people interested in art. Art and illustrated blogs are mainly viewed and read by people interested in art – learning about art, producing art, viewing art, buying art supplies and/or buying art. And artists buy art as well as produce it!
- Reader profiles vary. Many of the people who subscribe to or comment on my blog also have a blog of their own and most of those are art/illustrated blogs. Artist bloggers with an established following generated elsewhere (eg of buyers or students) may well have a different reader profile.
- Words are as influential as good images in attracting visitors. About 25% of the people visiting my blog 'found' it while conducting a web search using art-related terms. These are people who are interested in art in the past or the present, where to look at it, where to buy it and/or how to make it. A blog post is only one entry on a web search page - but if it looks interesting it'll get read and if it's actually interesting people will come back for more.
- Content rules. Artist who blog on a regular basis and focus on providing good relevant content (about materials, techniques, experiences or just themselves) as well as displaying their art on their blogs have had good results in terms of both readers and/or sales. I've looked at the blogs of artists who've indicated they've not had a positive experience of blogging. Many lack narrative. In general, posting an image and then sitting back and waiting for it to be found does not work - it's a bit like putting something in an envelope but forgetting to address it and post it. See Part 1 for my review of blogging basics.
- Art blogs have value for both tutors and students. A number of people are using an art blog to provide a 'taster' of the type of approach provided by those who offer tuition. The demands on the media 'savvy' of the tutor are however increasing - the quality of presentation is important and links to video casts have started!
- Art news blogs typically focus on the 'high end' of the art economy and matters relating to museums, exhibitions, auction prices and prestigious artists and art fairs. There's very little which focuses on eg regional or city-wide art activities.
- Newspaper journalists have discovered the value of blogging about art. 2006 has been a landmark year - whether it’s the Guardian (recognised as the lead UK newspaper for blogging) identifying the need for an Art and Architecture Blog (new this Autumn) or the New York Times and USA Today and other style journals realising that art blogs can provide good copy. Art Journals/Magazines are beginning to realise they also need to have an active internet presence - preferably including a blog with a feed. It's likely we'll see more developments in this area in 2007.
Conventional ‘message board’ websites focusing on art have offered opportunities for artists to communicate for about 5 years or so. The biggest ones have a range of forums and can attract a lot of sponsorship from those involved in supplies and services for artists. However, membership numbers now seem to reflect historical recruitment over time rather than the number of active users after the effects of 'churn' have been taken into account. Members are also spread across numerous different forums which can separate artists using different media. There’s a notion that such sites reflect ‘what the membership wants’ but it’s also become apparent that if ‘push comes to shove’ what actually happens on a site is dictated by the owner.
However in the web 2.0 world of 2006, definition of the "niche" is recognised as vitally important to effective communication using a range of social media that includes but is not limited to blogging. I’m noticing a change in that a lot of people, including me, now seem to be able to find niches for different art interests defined rather more effectively off rather than on the big message boards sites. It's a trend I expect to continue.
- A shift has started in favour of smaller more specialised communities. In 2006, the big boards continue but churn seems to have increased and on my travels I'm noticing:
- active blogging communities with hundreds of members (some have thousands),
- sizeable and active groups which have a specialised interest (e.g. art workbooks, botanical art, illustration, sketching) – some operating as part of Yahoo or Google Groups and some operating with small scale message board forums
- and a few blogs with very many totally devoted followers.
- Smaller forums can be more active than some on the big message boards. The metrics to compare activity on big and small sites is time-consuming to collect and analyse (although I might have a go in 2007) and might not be strictly comparative but, having observed a fair bit during 2006, I've come to the conclusion that some of the more specialised ‘small’ groups and blogging communities appear more active than the equivalent specialised media/subject forums within the big art forums. Indeed some individual blogs are more active and get more comments than some of the forums on the big boards. If they've not done so already (and there's very limited evidence that they have), it's probably time for those who run the big boards to evaluate activity and their current approach to segmenting different interests. Trying to cover all the bases only stretches the support 'staff' - who in the end might just find it more productive and satisfying to initiate a community group for their own particular interest.
The 80/20 rule probably applies as much in the art world as other areas of the economy. Most of the high value sales are to a very small world of collectors that galleries compete for. Most of the sales transactions will be for much lower prices to a much larger number of people. Of the latter, many who like to collect original art will be unable to spend huge sums and might never dare to enter most bricks and mortar galleries. What nobody knows is the value represented by the volume of people who like to buy and collect art - in an affordable way. The challenge is how to make art affordable and accessible. Initiatives about how to promote, package, price, and sell art - on-line and off - are being influenced by blogs.
- Art blogs are being used more and more by individual artists to generate sales. How they use the blog varies - some have 'buy now' buttons, others link images to on-line auction sites or their website or the bricks and mortar galleries which represent them while still others promote plein air events where work is sold direct to the public. It may become more apparent during 2007 if any one way is 'better' than another or whether all have value.
- Galleries seem to be changing their approach - very, very slowly. Although development is still extremely slow, more galleries seem to have begun to understand the need for an integrated marketing approach between the bricks and mortar side of things, conventional paper-based media and the use of the social media aspects of the web 2.0 world. The scope of a blog to provide a feed announcing new work and enhance communication has not gone unnoticed. Whether we see more of them though in 2007 is anybody's guess!
You'll have to wait until Part 3 for my thoughts on which are the most influential blogs - to be posted next week. I have a long list - and need to get it down to a short list! I'm happy to take any comments posted below - which aren't self-promoting - into account!
- Blogging Art in 2006 - A Review (Part 1) ,
- Wikipedia - social media
- Wikipedia - web 2.0
- Wikipedia - e-commerce