Monday, September 01, 2008

What's the MAIN way you sell your art? - The Results

Results of the survey run on Making A Mark - August 2008
(n = 55 responses in 5 weeks)

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Artists have significant success with being independent and selling online direct to their buyers. That's what the results of the first Making A Mark Poll seem to be suggesting. The poll which posed the question "What's the MAIN way you sell your art?" is now over and I've charted the final results.

Below you'll find my analysis and a commentary - but I'd be very pleased to hear your views about the results - and any explanations you may have for why the results are as they are.

A few words of caution about interpretation at the outset.
  1. This is a poll rather than a properly conducted survey. People responding selected themselves and as such may not represent artists in general. I have no knowledge of whether or not they are professional, semi-professional or amateur artists. Nor do I know whether or not they make a living from their art or sell an occasional drawing or painting.
  2. Similarly the poll asked about most sales - not about which channel was most profitable. Quite a lot of artists never crunch the numbers to work out which are their most profitable channels for marketing and sales. Asking which is your most profitable channel for generating sales may have generated a completely different pattern of results - although I rather suspect it could have been very similar.
  3. The results of this poll do NOT suggest that you can set up a blog or website to sell art and resign your job tomorrow! ;)

The reality at present is that no hard and fast conclusions can be drawn from this poll, consequently, the conclusions which follow are speculation on my part. However it does appear to be indicative of an overall trend towards independence in selling art and I wonder whether it's a view that others find sensible? Let me know what you think. It would be helpful when commenting if you say whether or not you voted - but you don't have to say how!

53% of artists responding to the poll say that the main way they sell their art is independent of organisations which sell art for artists. 53% of artists who voted in the poll sell most of their art direct - online or via their personal networks or personal studios.

Overall, the conclusion one might draw from this survey is that
  • working hard at selling via your personal networks and your own blog and website can really pay off in terms of sales.
  • If established artists become convinced of the merits and profitability of selling direct, then selling which has a high cost to sales ratio - through art fairs and galleries - might start to come under review if the economic situation worsens.
  • By way of contrast, the "less expert" or "less focused" channels or those which do not market art as well as the artists themselves appear to be much less successful at generating sales.
  • Artists using less successful options should consider how they compare to available alternatives which are more successful for some artists - and what they need to do to work at marketing their art.
I'm going to indicate results - and then pose some questions. They are in effect the next questions I'd want to ask to investigate this subject further.

Please feel free to offer your own perspective or answer any of the questions via the comments function - and we may all learn something! :)

Artists who having read this post are prompted to have a think about alternative options might like to reread my blog post last month Selling art - online art websites, tracking marketing data and a new survey for artists!

What works - the more successful ways of selling art

According to the poll:
  • 52% of artists who responded sell most of their art independent of an organisation which helps to sell art. They sell most of their art online through their own sites (30%) or through their personal networks and word of mouth (16%) or via their own studio (7%)
    • What makes selling on your own account more successful than the alternatives?
    • Is selling on your own account "a good thing"? Why?
    • Why is selling direct or via your own networks better than other options? Is it easier or more profitable or both?
    • Should artists always aim to sell their art through art galleries?
    • Are sales to friends or family really sales?
    • What proportion of sales are commissions from friends/family?
  • 30% of artists sell most of their work online - through their own websites (15%) and blogs (15%).
    • Are these artists who derive serious income from these sales channels or are these artists who have sold one or two works using this form of direct selling?
    • What makes a difference to selling art from your website or blog?
    • Should artists pay more attention to the design of their blog/website and ease of selling via blog/website?
    • Do artists who sell direct get more sales because they charge less than gallery prices?
    • Are artists who sell direct able to reduce the price because of lower overheads associated with the cost of sale?
  • 24% sell most of their art in conventional places where you find art sold - bricks and mortar art galleries (13%) and art fairs (11%)
    • Are these responses only from people who are professional or semi-professional artists ie people who are generating serious sales revenues?
    • Is this option only really applicable to art with a higher price tag?
    • Once the costs of sale (eg commission and/or stand fees etc) are taken into account, are either or both of these options still considered to be both profitable and preferable?
What works less well when it comes to selling art

These are the options which received less than 10% of responses. They're either less effective or less popular or maybe just just lack evidence of how they generate sales.
  • 47% of artists sell most of their art via third parties
  • 11% of respondents sold art online through third parties - auction sites (7%) and online art galleries (4%) - compared to 30% who sold direct from their own sites.
    • Why should individuals do better than organisations in selling online?
    • What are the key factors which make a key difference when selling online?
  • 9% of people sell most of their art through art society exhibitions
    • Who sells via art societies - professionals, semi-professionals or amateur artists - or all of them?
    • Is selling via an art society serious income or an art marketing exercise where it's nice if you come home with a profit?
  • Only 7% of artists sell most of their art via auction
    • Has eBay (and similar) had its day?
    • Do artists now sell more or less art through eBay since the recent changes in how sales are conducted (fees and feedback)?
    • Has the credit crunch affected sales via auction sites?
  • 7% of artists responding generated most sales via personal studio sales/open studio arrangements.
    • What are the factors which contribute towards sales from an artists' own studio?
    • It would be interesting to know whether secondary sales were mainly online or mainly gallery.
  • 5% of artists sold most of their art via a 'rent a wall' arrangement
    • What makes this option worth considering?
  • Only 4% of artists sell most of their art via online art gallery sites
    • Why is this figure so low?
    • Are such sites a useful sales channel even if they don't generate most revenue from sales?
    • Are such sites actually generating any significant sales for anybody?
    • Which is the best online art gallery site?
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.
Selling art - online art websites, tracking marketing data and a new survey for artists!
  • Nobody thought they generated a sale through a group blog or website
    • So why do so many people believe it's a good idea to belong to a group blog?
    • Do people hosting group blogs and websites need to work harder at their stats to demonstrate how buyers arrive at an artist's website or blog?
    • Do artists need to do more work to find out how their buyers found them?
Mindful of the results of the survey, in my next post (about the next Making A Mark Poll) I'll be showing you my artwork which is in of the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Feline Artists at the Llewellyn Alexander Gallery which opens today in central London!

I think it's called covering all the angles...... ;)

An update on Eloiza Mills - short-listed for the Threadneedle Figurative Prize
I met and talked with Eloiza Mills, age 21, who is living the dream of every art student who ever entered a prestigious national prize in their final year at Art School. She's the only artist to have all her submissions accepted for exhibition and she's been shortlisted in the first year of an important new Art Prize. This achievement must be an encouragement to other young artists who consider entering this competition in future years.
Threadneedle Figurative Prize (part 2) - Green, Mills, Murdoch and Schierenberg
Two weeks ago I talked to Eloiza Mills, the 21 year old Aberystwyth Art School graduate specialising in painting who is one of the short-listed artists for the new Threadneedle Prize - the winner of which is voted for by the public. I found out that she didn't yet have a website and recommended that, if possible, she got herself sorted with a domain name and got a website up and running asap - and here it is - the new Eloiza Mills website!

For all those who voted for Eloiza you can find out more about what inspires her work here and here. For all those who haven't, this is a reminder that the deadline for voting is noon (London) on 3rd September. The winner will be announced at an Awards Dinner on Wednesday evening - and I'll have a post about it on this blog on Thursday!



  1. I enjoyed reading these posts on sales splits and your polls, Katherine. My own (I can't remember if I voted in your poll) stat for most sales is Art Fairs, followed by Art Galleries. My online sales are next to nil.

    We are all so different, but the trend is interesting to see. Personal involvement and online are the new wave.

    I still seek guidance, here. I will say that my goal setting, which is happening now, will be effected by this trend that you have exposed.

    Will you be splitting out the online types of sales in another poll? Daily painters? Personal artist websites? Shopping cart served websites?

  2. I thought you were probably one of the art fair votes! :)

    I've certainly thought about developing this a bit further. I'm waiting to see what sort of comments I get before deciding to do another one.

    I was thinking of doing a split between online and offline (ie separate polls) and then finding a way of identifying which channel is the most cost effective.

  3. Hi Katherine,

    This was a fascinating poll and analysis. As I read articles, blogs etc. about artists selling on-line it is clear to me that artists selling directly to customers is a very strong trend, driven by artists partly because so many artists are disillusioned with brick and mortar galleries. Only those in the very high end galleies seem to be satisfied with both their sales and their relationship with the gallery. My personal experience has been that a group blog drives a high percentage of people to my personal blog or to my website and that's usually how my sales come about. In all of these venues I think the key is reaching the right people, those who truly love and collect art, and have the income to spend on it. Many people like to look at art. They approach a gallery like a museum and an art show or fair as an enjoyable way to stroll around for the afternoon. The same can be said of websites, people like to visit, look and browse but not necessarily buy. So they key is how to get connected with those who actually buy art on a regular basis, the true collectors. I'd like to hear people's thoughts on that aspect of sales/marketing. You do a wonderful job with Making a Mark, I always enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for this poll and discussion it's going to be helpful to many artists.


  4. Forgive me if you have already covered this. But I am interested in pricing online versus galleries. I know you are not supposed to undercut a gallery but I saw a painting by a daily painter in a gallery that had previously been for sale online and it was double the price in the gallery. I am talking about a price of about $650 versus $1300. Of course it was framed but that maybe accounted for S100 on the increase.
    I know some artists only sell their small paintings for $100 online. In some cases after that the prices go up dramatically. By the same token many painters sell small paintings for anywhere between $300 and $800 through galleries. By small I mean 5" by 7" to 6" by 8".
    It is an interesting "gray" area to me.
    I would like hearing how artists selling online are staying consistent with their galleries.

  5. Thanks Jan- you've very neatly summed up what I think is going on for a lot of artists.

  6. Linda - I'm planning another Poll on pricing so fine to comment now but there's bound to be more answers when I do that poll.

    Some pointers though
    - most (but not all)readers will know that prices should in principle be the same in a gallery and online for the same type/size of work. Otherwise you'll be dropped by a gallery very fast - for trying to undercut them
    - hence the principle that you keep types/sizes of work sold in galleries and sold online quite distinct and never ever sign a contract for a gallery to deal with all the work you produce (well not until you're famous and they've proved their worth!)
    - seeing what somebody quoted as a price is a lot different to knowing whether or not they achieved a sale at that price! ;)
    - galleries charge commission on the total sale price (including the cost of the frame and the cost of dealing with the gallery)
    - so, irrespective of what the frame cost, you need to add on the time and opportunity cost to the artist of getting it framed and then multiply that and the cost of the frame plus any other costs of sale (eg travel costs for getting to the gallery and back again) by a factor which will take account of the commission. Otherwise the artist is out of pocket on the amount they could have got for a sale of an unframed work from their website.

    Here's an example.
    Add $100 for a frame to a $650 work. Then add on (say) another $100 for time spent dealing with the gallery + travel time + travel costs. It's now $850. Now multiply that figure by 200% to get the price which includes the 50% commission that the gallery will charge on a sale. This gives you $1,700. Now work out the 50% commission on sale = $850 leaving $850. Now deduct the $200 costs incurred for selling in the gallery and you're left with $650 ioe the value of the work.

    Which in the example you gave probably means that either the frame didn't cost $100 or the artist hasn't factored in for dealing costs or the gallery isn't charging 50% commission.

    All of which explains why dealing with an artist direct can in theory offer much better value for the collector. Which is why dealers will never give out the names and addresses of people who buy your work.........

    I guess in principle, it's OK to go to a gallery after you've tried to sell it online. You certainly couldn't have it priced for sale online at a different prices at the same time as it was in a gallery - you'd be blacklisted in a trice! ;)


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