With sales up 15 percent in 2017 from the previous year, the online art market continues to grow. Although established collectors have been slow to adapt to online art sales, a younger generation of buyers, who tend to view art collecting as much as a financial investment as a lifestyle activity, is shifting collector attitudes and behaviors. Young collectors use social media both to buy art and supplement their research on artists and trends in art. In theory, a shift in buying trends to the digital sphere could foretell a more democratic art market. Those artists who don’t have access to the elite art schools, critics, and galleries found in major art cities like New York, London and Berlin can find greater access to fans, critics and collectors and sell art online.
One of the main incentives for artists to sell art online is the potential of interacting directly with buyers. New Orleans-based artist Ashley Longshore, who has nearly 108k Instagram followers, boasts celebrity collectors like actress Blake Lively and Penelope Cruz. Due to these high-profile connections, Longshore has been able to maintain her New Orleans base and keep the profits from everything she sells.
Longshore has made online art sales through social media exceeding $30,000, but she is the exception, not the rule; the overwhelming majority of artwork purchased on the internet sells below the $5,000 dollar mark. Some artists shy away from online art sales, fearing that setting a low price point early in their career will prevent them from obtaining gallery representation later on. After all, high-end collectors do not simply buy art they like, they buy at high price points to gain prestige. Most artists, however – especially those who don’t live in big cities – are unlikely to see the high end of the market are more willing to take the chance and sell art online.
So how does one become successful at online art sales? What can artists do to maximize the potential of selling their art through digital online art sales platforms?
Where to place your work online
The website Artsyshark lists over 250 platforms where you can sell art online, but combing through the list can be a lengthy process if you’re testing each platform yourself. Cory Huff, a business coach for artists, has put together a list that compares over 170 sites for online art sales available on his website The Abundant Artist. The list compares features such as MozRank, which tracks the relative popularity of each platform among internet search engine rankings. It also includes statistics for processing and commission fees, smartphone optimization, ability to customize the design of your page and a host of other features.
If you want to get online quickly, you may choose to post your work to on an online gallery or portfolio platform. Of the popular online galleries dedicated to selling unique art objects, Saatchi Art is among the oldest and most widely recognized. Saatchi Art boasts over 1.6 Million monthly visits. It is free to post images of works on Saatchi Art, but for their services – processing sales and brokering shipping – they take 35% of every sale. Other online galleries, such as absolutearts.com, offer different membership levels that affect a portfolio’s placement on the site, exposure in featured portfolio areas, number of images allowed, visitor statistics and coverage in reports and newsletters sent to subscribers. Yet another subset of online galleries require an application and promote only a curated selection of works. Another popular option is DeviantArt, which unlike Saatchi Art is not a gallery, but simply a platform for people to discover new work and contact artists directly. DeviantArt claims to be the world’s largest online art community, with over 285 million pieces of art. Other boutique online art sales sites run the gamut in terms of visitor reach and services provided.
The downside of using a platform like SaatchiArt, DeviantArt or absolutearts.com is being locked into a predefined format. Having your own site gives you complete control over presentation and sales, but a poorly designed website can be difficult to navigate and impossible for search engines to rank. If you cannot afford a designer, choosing a website creation tool like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly or WordPress might be a good in-between option.
Develop an Art Marketing Strategy
The next hurdle to overcome and sell art online is getting noticed. The internet is no field of dreams. The idea that “If you build it, they will come” is largely a myth. A website does not work in isolation, but as part of a network of digital and analog channels that can drive connectivity and traffic. If you’re planning on driving online art sales – whether that’s directly through your website or on an online art sales platform – you should plan on developing an art marketing strategy to reach a solid customer base.
Host a blog: If you are a writer, articles that allow potential buyers to understand your influences, artistic style and technique can help them build an emotional connection to your work. Plus, the more posts you write, the higher your ranking will be in Google and other search engines. If you don’t quite have a grasp on how SEO keywords work, now is the time to get familiar. If you know what search terms potential collectors are typing when they search for art online, you can use more of these words in your posts to increase visibility in searches.
Connect with other influencers in your field: Interviewing collectors, gallerists, curators or even other artists can be a way to expand your network and enrich your art marketing efforts. If you are not a writer, you might consider creating a podcast or internet video series. Do you geek out about a particular art-related topic? Consider hosting a digital conference or pre-recorded interview series.
Email, email, email: Digital marketers still recommend email as the number one marketing tool. Why? Because most people are picky about where they give out their email addresses. Focusing on email means concentrating your efforts on relationships with people who have already demonstrated an interest in what you do. Collectors who buy your art are not only interested in owning a pretty or interesting object, they are also motivated by the way you approach making art. It inspires them. If you are able to convey your process in an engaging way through words as well as images, email can be a great way to build connections and direct people to exhibitions where they can see your work (and meet you!) in real life.
Facebook ads and Google Adwords: Purchasing ads is another strategy for artists to drive traffic. Succeeding with Adwords is about choosing the right keywords or phrase that will drive interested visitors to your site. “Oil painting,” for instance, is a huge category online and will return hundreds of thousands of sites, making it quite costly and ineffective to bump yourself up the search. If, however, you create blog posts with writing related to your work, you can use specific terms or phrases found in those posts to populate your Adwords. With Facebook, you can create ads that specifically target people with certain interests or who like certain pages, for instance, people who like other well-known artists who make similar work. Either way, these strategies take some upfront investment and trial and error to find what works. A side benefit from an online ad strategy is obtaining detailed analytics that can help you better position yourself with potential customers or clients.
Lastly, go where the people are
The single best art marketing strategy you can take to successfully sell art online is to get your work noticed on platforms that already have people’s attention. Social media is king in this domain, with Instagram taking the lead in driving online art sales. What’s more, social media offers artists the chance to cultivate previously untapped groups of potential art buyers, offering friends, family and people in your local community who might normally purchase a print at IKEA the opportunity to own a genuine piece of artwork instead.
Among one of the most valuable things that the internet can provide is information. Up until recent decades, many collectors have preferred to maintain a low profile, quietly amassing and cultivating their collections in private. The online art sales craze has turned this on its head, with private art collectors waging all-out bidding wars vying for works by coveted, well-known artists. The Larry’s List Art Collector Database profiles some 3,500 collectors and hosts collector interviews, giving insight into both what collectors want and where they go to view and purchase art online.
That’s good news for artists who want to take a proactive approach to getting in front of collectors at art fairs. Unlike the brick-and-mortar gallery that draws only the occasional visitor, fairs can reach 50,000+ people at a time. If you visit a fair, using sites like Larry’s List can help you understand where to find your tribe.
Stalking collectors at art fairs isn’t for everyone and posting, liking and commenting on social media can be a full-time job if you let it. As with any business strategy, the best strategy to sell art online is the one you can maintain. Be patient. Take some time and plan out your online art marketing strategy. And, most importantly, give yourself room to have fun and experiment.