Saturday, July 26, 2008

Selling art - online art websites, tracking marketing data and a new survey for artists!

This week I've had approaches from three brand new online gallery sites, who have all seen my work, have all been impressed and who all want to host and sell it for me! What did I do? Run around and jump for joy? No, I looked at the sites, marked all the e-mails as spam and binned every one of them - which is why apart from the latest one this morning I don't have the names and URLs of the individual websites to hand.

Why did I bin them? Let me explain - and bear with me, it's a longish post but you will find out about what I know about
  • the simple economics of an online art gallery business (the sort that sends me spam e-mails)
  • what you need to know to asses the value of a site you give money to
At the end you'll find an announcement about a new survey of artists - which will hopefully provide an additional perspective on the value on online art galleries (and some of the other ways in which artists try to sell art).

How some online gallery sites make money

I want to start by emphasising that not all online galleries make money according to the business model I'm going to describe - but a lot do or try to. These are the sort of sites which will take your money and not offer very much by way of return.

The main purpose of some online gallery sites is NOT about selling art, it's about making money for their owners. Their business goal is very simple - sign up as many people as possible to the site for a fee while expending the least amount of effort or money. They make money by taking annual subscription fees off individual artists looking for a way of getting their art online. All you need is a rather nice looking website.............

Here's how some online art gallery websites will typically seek to make money:
  • take annual registration fees from artists (for giving them an individual page and an internet 'profile'). For example - multiply $59 (the fee for registering with this morning's latest gallery) and multiply that by (say) a 1,000 artists and you've made $59,000.
  • spend very little on administration and marketing
  • seek to gain website credibility through the number of artists which link to them
  • hopefully sell the site/business to another business for an enormous sum of money at some point in the future due to the number of accumulated links and value of the domain name.
An online gallery which behaves like this is no better than the bricks and mortar gallery which rents wall space to you and then sits back and waits for passing trade. Any gallery - B&M or online - which wants to partner with successful and potentially successful artists must do a great deal more than this.

Any online gallery which says it's up to you to do the marketing is only renting you "wall space" like any of the vanity galleries. So long as you are clear about this it's a valid business model. The question is whether you could spend your money more wisely.............

Publications and Advertising - the standard industry dataset

One of the things I'm always very surprised about is how online galleries can get away with 'selling' a service for a fee without providing any data about their effectiveness in reaching the sort of people you want to see your art. I've come to the conclusion that this might well happen because artists aren't aware of how other media sites sell their advertising space and marketing services in other spheres of business.

For example, and by way of contrast, if a business wants to raise its profile by advertising its products/services in any respectable paper-based journal this is what is the industry standard for the data they can provide to you. I'm using as examples the Guardian (the paper I read) and F&W publications who produce art journals that I read.
  • data about the coverage and impact of the publication: a lot of details and statistics about the audience for their publication (in other words what sort of audience do they reach) - expressed in standard profile terms
    • circulation and readership - how many people buy it; how many people read it; what proportion of the overall market is accounted for by this publication (eg see the circulation and readership summary page for The Guardian - a daily broadsheet newspaper in the UK)
    • demographic profile - the age, income, marital status, employment, location etc of readers - providing relevant data for designing advertisements
    • reader profile - what sort of people read it (data tends to come from surveys).
    • Download the 2008 Media Kit for people who want to advertise in the fine art publications from F&W Publications (this includes The Artist's Magazine; Pastel Journal). You can then find the typical reader and demographic profiles for the readers of each individual magazine - from data derived from a 2006 Reader Survey. Specifically these comment on the level of reader commitment to their art and how much they typically spend on art-related products in a year. See The Artists Magazine (pages 4 and 5); Watercolor (pages 9 and 10); Pastel Journal (pages 14 and 15)
    • Another example (from a non-art publication) is this user profile provided by the Guardian. It provides details of what they like doing, what they spend money on and how much money they tend to spend online.
  • details of advertising rates differentiated by size, type and placements plus discounts for frequency (ie one price does not fit all - there is always a menu to choose from)
Those paper-based publications which have an active internet site are now also providing additional information. Take a look at the Guardian Online. This has experienced rapid growth since 1999 and is the most popular online newspaper according to Neilsen - it now also provides
  • website traffic data - independently audited and certificated. They provide an ABCe verified breakout for UK and overseas traffic, undertake ABC Electronic audits every month and provide access to their latest ABCe audited certificate the ABCe website.
  • monthly analysis - The analysis includes a record of how many visitors Arts Guardian Online had (1.83 million in May) and how many times an arts page on the Guardian was called up (7.15 million in May)
ABCe is the industry owned, tri-partite, not-for-profit organisation that works with and for media owners, advertisers and media buyers to help them better understand and gain confidence in the data they use.
Now - I'm not advocating advertising your art via paper publications over internet sites. However I do think that internet sites wanting to sell their services to artists need to provide good quality data about their status and their ability to target relevant marketplaces if they want to extract cash from people wishing to market their art. Sites which understand that it takes a while to build business also understand they need to attract users and traffic by offering incentives. Sites which want to make a quick buck spam people like me and want to charge you money right from the off.

Some people might say that it's not possible to provide that sort of marketing data. Wrong. It's possible to provide an awful lot of data. More importantly it's also possible to provide independently validated data. Check out the ABCe website and JICWEBs website if you want to know more about media metrics online. This is what is industry standard data - or at least it is in the UK!
Global Metrics for Measuring Electronic Media

If you would like a list of the global metrics for measuring electronic media, or want to know how they are developed, visit the website of the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) or click here for a list of the latest metrics.

The Express Guide to the Industry Agreed Metrics:

1. How busy - the 'volume' metric = Page Impressions
2. How many - the 'audience reach' metric = Unique User/Browsers
3. How often - the 'frequency' metric = Visits
4. What see - the 'opportunity to see' metric = Ad Impressions
5. What do - the 'response' metric = Ad Clicks

For a full list of industry agreed metrics and definitions click here
Some might say websites are never going to provide that sort of data - for commercial reasons. First, this is a nonsense as it's perfectly possible to get an estimate of site traffic (see Case Study - Etsy). Second, it's advantageous to any commercial operation to be able to provide independently audited data about their scope and coverage.

My experience of business and performance information over the last 30+ years in the UK suggests the following is typical behaviour at either end of the range:
  • Keep it under wraps - Businesses which don't know what they're doing tend to struggle to provide data, don't want anybody looking at it and use 'commercial confidentiality' every time anybody asks about performance.
  • Shout it from the rooftops - Businesses which are successful believe in the importance of data, work hard at getting accurate data, can always provide performance data promptly, routinely subject it to independent audit to substantiate their claims and frequently make some or all of it available. Plus those that are very successful tend to boast about their data and its independent validation!
A checklist of things to do before you pay that money over.....

Before you sign up and pay your money to any gallery here's a suggested checklist of things to think about and/or do:
  • Keyword Search - Do a search on keywords for the sort of art you sell and look to see where the gallery in question appears in Google or your search engine of choice. If you can't find it why should your potential customers?
  • Impact online: check how many results you get if you put their precise business name into a search engine (bear in mind that some choose frequently used phrases which will have a good rating for reasons which have nothing to do with that particular website)
  • Marketing Spend - Check how many times you see a website's advertisements cropping up on sites which do have a large audience (for example the Wet Canvas Forums or Squidoo). Ask specific questions about their marketing, how they advertise their site and where.
  • Existing artists - Check out how many people are already on the site. (By which I mean active members rather than the number who are registered but have been inactive for more than 3 months). There's a reason why places like eBay, CafePress and the like create business for their members - and that's because they have MILLIONS of people who use them and MILLIONS of monthly visitors and visits. Only a small percentage of people buy - so you need an awful lot of visitors. You want to be with a site which is building traffic even if has started small
  • Performance data check. Check out what they say about performance data. If they say nothing (and even if they do say something) try checking out the numbers by plugging the website's URL into the site analytics part of This provides analytical data for different websites - and is very illuminating - particularly if you start comparing sites. I don't think anybody is claiming the data is completely accurate but it gives you a sense of scale and comparability.
  • Check for certified traffic data - this is not something which is especially prevalent at the moment except amongst industry leaders and in the UK - but is likely to become increasingly so amongst those that follow on behind. Especially those that value their customers.
Please feel free to comment on the above or add your own suggestions.


Monthly people count for - site analytics

Etsy has increased the number of people visiting its site each month by 286% in one year. It now boasts a whisker short of 2 million visitors a month. You can see this chart by following this link to

Etsy is an excellent example of a site which has become successful because it has partnered with its members in delivering their success. All Etsy shops are free and it costs just 20 cents to list each item of art. If you sell it they take 3.5% of the sale price. Finally, just note the Etsy Press Page - now that's what I call shouting! Plus the sign of a good site which continually gets good press among ordinary bloggers - which is the case with a lot of Etsy users.

Compare Etsy selling costs to the $59 wanted by the site which spammed me this morning before there's any sales. I won't embarass it by naming it (which means they don't get a link either!) but let's just say that this website doesn't even register on when plugged in for a site analytics profile.

CASE STUDY - Empty easel survey

Dan at Empty Easel did a survey about where artists sell their art. His survey had more than 300 respondents and it's worth taking a look at his follow up article Where Artists Sell Art: A Web Survey of Nearly 300 Artists. This indicates that
  • more artists sell art than not
  • more artists sell art offline than online
  • more artists use their own website to sell art
ANNOUNCEMENT - a new survey

I was greatly interested in Dan's results and so I decided to try a survey on this blog - my very first! It's in the right hand column. [Update - Vivien has suggested I be a bit more specific about where the poll is! It's just below the 'How do people rate this blog ( widget) and just above the 'About Me' module in the right hand column]

My new survey asks the question "What's the main way you sell your art?"

It focuses on the debate about whether online or offline venues are better for sales and narrows Dan's options down to types of vehicles used for sales - and isn't specific about actual sites. It does however seek to differentiate the relative success of personal blogs versus personal websites.

I'm running it for just over a month until 30th August and will announce the result in "31st August 2008 - Who's made a mark this week" (or a post at the very beginning of September). In the meantime you can watch its progress by checking the results to date - shown here - when you all start voting!

At which point I might try another one!

A warning to online gallery sites

I'm getting very fed up with the spam e-mails. Stop harvesting email addresses from artists' websites for your own commercial purposes. The next online gallery which sends me a spam e-mail will have their website reported to Google for spamming. Plus, I start naming names and the response you provide to a standard set of questions...........



vivien said...

good post!

I too get fed up with sending these to the spam folder (along with the offers of things to help anatomy I don't have!)

If a web gallery is any good at selling them I believe they should work like a good bricks and mortar gallery - they take only work that meets their standards and take a decent commission (comparable to B&M) but charge nothing to the artist for showing their work - they should also advertise widely in newspaper and on TV (like the current moonpig card ads)

Jeanette Jobson said...

I've received a number of these 'requests' as well and dumped them also.

With no supporting data, unheard of site, no solid method of operations do they really believe that professional artists will flock to them?

Snake oil merchants...artists beware!

Making A Mark said...

The main problem as I see it is that some of them have very plausible looking websites - but all that glitters is very decidedly not gold.

Plus being a good website designer does not make you good at marketing art!

Tina Mammoser said...

Good for you for binning those emails. There are so many online galleries around now and I no longer believe that spreading yourself around works. For exactly the reasons you mention - being on a site that gets no traffic or completely the wrong traffic doesn't give you any benefit anyway. I now stick to listing on 2 online sites (Etsy and LondonArt) and then my website and other 'portfolio' type sites (non-selling) such as Axis.

Like Viv, I don't mind a site that takes a fair chunk of commission. That's absolutely fine if they're doing the hard work of marketing and advertising.

Tracy Hall said...

I'm so pleased you bought this up, Katherine. I get sick and tired of these wretched things and the confusion they cause, especially for those starting out who are getting taken advantage of. If they ask for money it should ring alarm bells.

Actually, I've yet to hear of a worthwhile one - has anyone?!

Felicity Grace said...

It's interesting that you say more artists sell offline than online - I suspect that trying to sell online is greatly overestimated - even artists need to be in the know to find some of the sites. Also, I looked at a few of those galleries and the standard of work goes from excellent to downright appalling. The bad stuff can't be doing the genuine artists any favours.

Linda Warner Constantino said...

I have been almost "stalked" by an online gallery. Some participate in art trade shows mainly for licensing purposes and they want $1900 for an artist to participate in one event.
I think you are so right that many are in the business of supporting their owners with no real interest in selling art.
Thank you for further exposing this situation.


Kim Johnston said...

Great post! Similarly the freelance websites are I suspect also in the same business, you pay more on subscriptions than actually getting work, unfortunately when it comes to illustrating and design, people tend to look for artists in their area, besides when the deadlines are hectic no sane person wants to hire someone they have never met who they can't trust. I'm not saying that art is the same but if my art is in a gallery I'd like to know where my art is placed and next to whom.

Anonymous said...

Great info here! I started off thinking the same: the more online galleries I belonged to the better. I probably have 10-15 accounts (which don't do much)!

I'm now been utilizing Masterpiece Artist (formerly Archer Artist) management software which includes a free account to their Masterpiece Online gallery (just moved to I only get charged when I sell something! Plus I get to place my work next to some renown artists.

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