Justin Anthony is the co-founder of Artwork Archive. He is an all-around arts enthusiast, budding art collector and sits on the board of CRUSH walls in Denver, Colorado.
Why “buy now” might not be best for your art business.
“Which shopping cart should I use?”
“Where’s the best place for me to sell my work online?”
“Why am I not selling more artwork online?”
Have you ever caught yourself asking one of these questions?
Artists spend countless hours researching, testing, and uploading to multiple sites or platforms all in hopes of getting someone to click that highly sought after Buy Now button. This pursuit can be stressful, time-consuming and expensive. But, it might not actually be the best path for your art business.
Here are a few reasons that the online sales chase might not be the holy grail of art sales.
Lost opportunity to build lasting relationships with life-long collectors.
One of the common themes we see when talking to successful artists is that a significant percentage of their sales come from existing customers. Existing customers tend to buy more expensive works, be more invested in your progress as an artist, and be first to jump on new works. They trust you, know the quality of work you deliver and are willing to invest in your career because of that.
For most, shopping online is a matter of convenience. It’s a way to find what you are looking for, make the purchase, and move on—it’s not about relationship building. Buying an artwork shouldn’t feel like you are purchasing another thing off Amazon. Quick fix and one-click shopping is great for some products and smaller priced works but is less optimal for someone looking to form lasting customer relationships.
Providing ways for potential clients to communicate with you directly and to inquire about a particular work gives you the opportunity to build a relationship.
There is a higher sales potential beyond instant sales.
We definitely aren’t advising against growing your online presence. Even though a percentage of art sales do occur online and those that do are typically at a lower average dollar amount, it doesn’t mean the internet isn’t a critical part of a modern day artist’s business.
Leveraging the web and social outlets is essential to growing your notoriety and network, but neither require a shopping cart.
The return on investment is higher in tried-and-true activities.
The endless hours spent trying out different shopping carts, uploading to countless sites, and trying to fight your way through an oversaturated marketplace could be better spent on tried-and-true tactics. Things like efficient contact management have been shown to generate more income over time than one-off online sales.
What does good contact management involve? First of all, contact management is about cultivating personal relationships with those clients. In order to do this, you need to first identify and collect your fans information to be able to communicate with them. This could be through a paper list at an art fair, a pop-up on your website, or over social media. Once you have your audience list, don’t be afraid to let them know what you are up to!
Let your VIP contact list feel special. Let them in on upcoming openings, shows, workshops or events that you are participating in. Show them your works in progress. These are the people that are already interested. Feed their curiosity and cultivate your relationship with them. People who feel more connected to you as an artist are more likely to purchase your higher-priced works.
It’s also not all about the digital all the time. In an age where everything is online, a paper mailer to announce an upcoming shows sets you apart. Plus, who doesn’t love getting mail? It’s the little extra touches that make collectors remember you when they are looking for new artwork.
Doubling down on what works is usually more effective than spreading yourself thin.
There is no silver bullet.
There is no “best” sales platform and any site that promises guaranteed sales and exposure is likely selling snake oil. It is so easy to get lost in a sea of options on those online galleries and paying for increased exposure rarely pays off.
You are your own best advocate, and you are ultimately the one responsible for your own career growth.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of outlets and opportunities that can help grow your business, but it does mean that you should be realistic about the fact that most of that growth is going to come from your own hard work.
Art isn’t a commodity.
There is something highly personal and tactile about an original work of art. A part of the artist goes into every inch of that artwork—your fingerprints, brushstrokes, and those tiny human details— that all gets lost when you can add a painting to your shopping cart the same way you add a phone charger to your cart on Amazon.
Online shopping carts for fine art keep the collector at arm’s length and makes them a consumer rather than a collector. And, while there’s some instant gratification for both of us, I’m not sure it’s a good thing in the long term.
Not having a shopping cart doesn’t mean you can’t sell your work online.
It's no secret that artists get discovered and sell their artwork on Instagram, the web, and many other outlets and sometimes those discoveries lead me to buy something. There has never been a case where the lack of a Buy Now button has prevented that sale. It just means that I actually have a chance to talk with the artist.