Monday, August 31, 2009

MAM Poll (August) results: the MAIN way you've sold art in the last 12 months

Results of the survey run on Making A Mark - August 2009
(n = 56 responses in 3 weeks)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The three most important ways you've sold art in the last 12 months are:
  • via traffic to/from your own website and/or blog (21%)
  • through commissions (21%)
  • via a gallery - as a gallery artist (15%)
This means that the two major sources of sales for the artists who responded to the poll were both entirely driven by their own marketing efforts.

The Making A Mark Poll for August asked What's the MAIN way you have sold art in the last 12 months? It's important to emphasise that:
  • you may have made sales in a variety of ways - this poll just examines the MAIN way in which artists achieved sales.
  • this poll only focuses on the last 12 months - while we've been experincing a really serious recession which has doubtless had an impact on the sales of very many artists.
This post also compares the results with the results of the same poll done at the same time last year (which you can find out about in this blog post What's the MAIN way you sell your art? - The Results). The number of respondents were virtually identical - and this number is significantly lower than the number who regularly respond to polls on this blog.

You can see the results of the 2009 Poll in the chart at the top of this post right click and open in a new tab or window to see the chart as a bigger image.

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 note 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 almost certainly do 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. Artists make sales in a variety of ways - this poll focuses on the main way respondents sold their art ONLY. This could mean it's the channel which is most effective or, alternatively, it could means this is the channel which they find easiest to use.
  3. Similarly since the poll asked about which channel produced most sales, NOT most profit. 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.
  4. 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! ;)
Analysis of the 2009 Poll

My analysis is influenced by reading widely in the 'trade press' and artists blogs and forums. Also influential are the observations I've made while viewing the very many exhibitions I go to see in London - only some of which have been reported on this blog in terms of specific galleries, exhibitions and artists.

Of the artists who responded to the poll:
  • 60% indicated that they generated most of their sales without the involvement of a gallery or art fair. Last year some 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. I have to say I'm not surprised is the trend is towards more sales generated by artists largely independently of the activities of third parties.
  • 21% of artists said their main sales came from commissions. This wasn't identified as a category last time (aklthough it should have been!). It seems likely that most of these artists work as portrait artists as this tends to be the main source of commissions. I didn't clearly identify illustration work commissioned for a fee as a way people sold art but it is possible that some artists have counted their illustration work (as opposed to sales of fine art works) in this category. Reviewing your website or blog to identify just how easy it is for people to commission your work might be an exercise that some artists will now think worth doing.
  • 18% of artists make their sales as gallery artists and via galleries. Getting to be a gallery artist is not easy and this source of sales is never going to be a significant source of sales given the wide range of artosts who read this blog and respond to the polls. However it is worth noting that the percentage of artists reporting gallery sales as their main source of sales has increased since last year!
  • Friends and family continue to be important - 11% of artists identified this network as generating most of their sales. However this is a smaller figure than last year when it was 16%. This in all probability reflects the general impact of the recession on levels of spending on non-essential items.
  • 11% of artists identified online third party gallery/auction sites as being their main source of sales - via eBay, etsy and other online sites. In theory - if everybody interpreted the categories the same way - these are sales where traffic is not generated by the artists' own website or blog
  • 10% of artists generate sales though renting a space - either at an art fair (5%) or in a gallery (5%). Renting a gallery is generating about the same level of response as last time. However sales via art fairs are way down when compared to last year.
  • Art competitions and Art Society Shows are very unlikely to generate significant sales for most artists - although it's likely that some artists may make an odd sale through this route. No artist generated most of their sales through this route - which is a significant decline on the response this got in 2008 (7%). Overall I'd say this is a picture of contrasts. From personal observation I've seen good quality and attractive art (dare one say decorative!?) sell well and established and well known artists also continue to make sales via this route. However overall sales appear to me to be down and there are some very definite thresholds on pricing which are influential. Large pictures appear more difficult to shift and I've seen an awful lot of smaller paintings this year. I've also seen some shows where sales were minimal - but generally have not reported them on this blog. I would not be surprised if some art societies have to start thinking long and hard about about the duratation and location of their annual exhibition next year. However - by way of contrast - the buying public are still turning out in high numbers for certain specialist genres (eg miniatures, botanical, wildlife). My overall view is that artists should never depend on such shows to generate major sales. However I do believe they might see more sales when art societies start to understand the work and website support involved in generating sales in the context of the current climate and frameworks used for selling art. It's such a pity as such exhibitions could generate much more income for both artist, art society and the gallery where the shows are held if they got to grips with their websites and the support it requires. One suspects it's more a question of not knowing what's involved and not knowing where to start rather than a total disinclination to make a move.

I've revised my conclusions from last year and reiterate them - with revisions below. The comments on the change from 2008 are indicated in italics.

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. (same as last year) This applies whether you are an individual artist or an art society or other art group which aims to sell art
  • 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. (Gallery sales as a gallery artist have increased while sales via art fairs have decreased) Well we all know what happened about two weeks after this post last year! The global economy went into a banking meltdown as a result of the credit crunch and many countries entered a recession. It seems likely to me that artists selling art at art fairs decided to cut their costs in various ways - including how many art fairs they did or how far they travelled to an art fair. Gallery artists which are fortunate to belong to a gallery which is surviving the recession (and not all have) are possibly benefiting from the fact that there is now reduced competition for the purchasing £/$ which are still around
  • By way of contrast, the "less expert" or "less focused" channels or entities which do not market art as well as the artists themselves appear to be much less successful at generating sales. It's very interesting that once we focus on how sales are generated via online sites it becomes very apparent that HOW the artist gets people to their online third party site where sales are made is absolutely critical to making a sale. Sales by online galleries/auction sites independent of the artist's website or blog are minimal. Last year the situation was confused due to the way the categories were described. I believe that changing the designation of the categories has created a much clearer picture of how artists who responded to the poll make most of their sales. By combining the website and blog and indicating that sales should count if generated by the website or blog - even if the sale actually took place on another site - this has highlighted that an artist's own website and blog are now very important in generating sales. I'd also observe that some of the organisations holding exhibitions (eg some art competitions and some 'go ahead' art societies) now also recognise the importance of having their websites are now set up to drive traffic to an exhibition and support the creation of online sales. I've got some more questions about this aspect which I'll explore with those who are interested in a future poll.
  • 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 (same as last year)
For me the results of this year's poll are an emphatic reinforcement of the need to make sure that:
  • you are organised around direct sales and
  • you don't rely on third parties to make the sales for you.
Only if you are a gallery artist can you hope to make serious sales via third parties.

Below you can find the chart - and the categories - from 12 months ago.
Results of the survey run on Making A Mark - August 2008
(n = 55 responses in 5 weeks)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Do you agree with my analysis? I'd love to hear your views onbe way or the other.

Do you have any further comments that you'd like to share?

Making a Mark reviews......


Linda Blondheim said...

I do agree with you Katherine. I am less and less dependent on my B&M Galleries for sales, though I still show in a few. At this time my own weekly newsletter is the best marketing tool I have, which directs viewers and buyers to my web site or locally to my studio. I am finding Twitter and Facebook to be much more effective than my blogs ever were, so my focus is on my web site, my newsletter,FB and T for getting the word out online. In the real world, I have stepped up my marketing to a new level by hiring a publicist.So in summary, I think artists are wise to take on the marketing and selling of their own work directly, using more traditional venues like B&M galleries as a back up.

r garriott said...

A great post and poll. I might point out, that sometimes commissions come through galleries rather than direct to the artist. About 3/4 of the commissioned work I've gotten comes through a gallery or art dealer, and I never meet the end client. (And this is neither for portraits nor illustrations.)

Nancy Merkle Fine Art said...

Katherine--I really appreciate the depth you to which you have gone in your analysis. It confirms a lot of what my instincts have been telling me. One suggestion for your poll next year: The "Online Auction" choice implies that art sold online through a third party is mostly done through the auction process. I think the "auction" is losing its attraction for most artists who sell online through a third party. There are only a couple of sites that artists actually use the for the auction process--obviously E-bay is one of them. Ebay has been abandoned by a huge number of artists in favor of non-auction venues such as Etsy, Artfire, 1000 Markets among others. Changing the words "online auction" to "online venue" or something similar in the poll descriptions might garner a different set of results. Many artists seem to be very turned off by the auction route and have turned to alternative online venues. Or perhaps, you might add a new item "online venue--non-auction" and keep the "online auction" there just to see if it makes a difference. Just some thoughts. Thanks for sharing your research!

Making A Mark said...

Nancy - thanks for your suggestion. I think you might have been looking at last year's poll chart. If you take a look at the options in the chart at the top of this post (not easy, I admit, unless you right click and look at the larger image) you'll see I've already incorporated that suggestion into the 2009 poll.

I used the term "Online Gallery/Shop" to refer to the online third party sites and then had three options for eBay, Etsy and Other within that type of venue

Papierflieger said...

Thank you for that interesting post. I do agree with your trend analysis. It is encouraging that the net is not only serving as source of information for collectors, but also seems to gain more trust with real buyers quicker than I had expected.

What about the influence of the net as market on the works of artists ? We all know that small, so called daily oil paintings,were the first ones that sold on a regular basis from blogs. Are there other influences ?

Do artists still see the necessity to sell originals or produce them primarily for an "art market"? Isn´t there a shift to works on paper i.e. works that can be scanned and sold as print on merchandise of all kinds ? How many artists have plans to buy an A3 scanner ?:).
Artists find new markets, when the search for images is done via search engines. Especially when they blog, they are often ahead of static webpages,even professional stock agencies. Chances to sell a good scan for illustration purposes are up for artists!

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