Selling art online may seem cost effective and easy. Especially when compared to the offline alternatives like trying to get gallery representation, an exhibition or paying to get into art fairs.
However, there are still costs involved in setting up an online art business. Yes, you need money, but you also need time and know-how.
So, how do you get started?
Let’s look at the options. There are three main routes artists commonly take. All have costs associated with them, either monetary or time wise.
- Do it yourself. Create your own website and social media following.
- Use online art marketplaces and third-party platforms like Etsy or Bluethumb.
- A combination of the above.
How do you decide what’s right for you?
Let’s explore each of these options in detail.
Option 1: Do it yourself. Create your own website and social media following.
To sell online yourself, there are two basic things you need. A website with ecommerce capability (meaning there is a way to take payment through the site) and a social media presence (Instagram and Facebook at least).
Even if this option seems a little daunting, it’s worth the investment. Especially the social media part. According to recent research, 1 in every 3 minutes online is spent on social media. Neglecting a presence on social media will mean you’re missing out on easy access to your target audience. It doesn’t matter who your audience is – everyone is on social. All the time!
Let’s start with your website, because there is no point promoting yourself on social media unless there is a way for people to actually purchase your art.
There are plenty of website builders to choose from. A quick search in google on “how to build a website to sell my art” will return dozens of results.
So where do you start?
There are some pretty big differences between these platforms though. Here a few things to consider when selecting a website builder:
- How easy it is to use
- Theme options and how much you can customize components (this is your styling, layout of pages, options for displaying products)
- Payment and checkout options
- Running costs
Platforms like WIX are more geared toward smaller ecommerce stores, whereas the likes of Shopify and Squarespace are more suitable for larger operations. So you’ll need to think about your scale before you make a decision.
Need a little help?
The other option is you pay someone to do this for you. A web developer specifically. They can build the whole site for you, even if it’s a WIX or Shopify site. Just make sure they give you access to the CMS (Content Management System) and show you how to edit pages and features so you can make changes yourself. You’ll want to be able to upload images of your artworks, adjust prices and descriptions as needed.
Now, what about social media?
Having a website is great, but how are people going to find it? That’s where social media comes in. This is your brand awareness and engagement channel. It’s where you can extend your reach and find new audiences.
Of all the options for social channels, if you’re only going to focus on one, it should be Instagram. Why? A recent study showed 65% of people say it’s their preferred social channel for art. And it’s easy to see why. Of the main social channels, Instagram is the most visual platform (other than Pinterest but that’s quite limited from a marketing point of view).
Even you if you end up getting gallery representation or market your art via online art galleries like Bluethumb, having a strong presence on Instagram is only going to add to your success.
So, spend some time exploring the platform. There are plenty of tutorials on how to grow a following and market yourself on Instagram.
Don’t take advice from just anyone though, any ordinary Joe can write a blog or make a video about Instagram successes and how to’s. Facebook owns Instagram, so a trusted source for online learning would be the Blueprint library.
Remember, there are no quick fixes here, growing a following takes time and can be very tedious.
One tip …
The basis of the platform is engagement. There is no point having 10,000 followers if they don’t view, like, comment or share your content. You will go further with a smaller but very engaged following. Start with the basics, share great content, connect with the right people and you’ll grow your audience.
Option 2: Use online art marketplaces and third-party platforms.
If you’d prefer not to manage the business side of sales yourself, listing on other platforms is an easy way to sell your work.
There is an array of art specific platforms (online art galleries) to choose from, as well as more generic marketplaces like Etsy. We’ve just chosen a handful of the more well-known platforms to look at here:
Founded in 2005, Etsy has been around a lot longer than most of these online art galleries. It’s a more generic platform selling a lot more than just art. There have been concerns from artists more recently though. Some believe the Etsy brand has been cheapened due to relaxing criteria, as it’s no longer a requirement that goods on the platform be hand-made or original/authentic. There are also much lower price points in terms of artwork, so some artists may not like their work shown amongst these ‘cheaper’ products.
On the positive side, the fees are much lower than the online art galleries. It’s only $0.32 for a listing, and this stays up for 4 months. They take 5% when you sell a piece, although this includes the shipping cost as well.
These guys are the largest online art gallery in Australia. Founded in 2012, Bluethumb represent more than 11,000 Australian artists of all levels. Only Australian based artists are permitted to sell through this platform. They certainly have a good reputation, are well established and invest a fair amount in marketing and PR. It’s free to join the platform and they take 30% commission.
Similar to Bluethumb, Art Lovers Australia is for Australian based artists only. And like the other platforms, you need to ‘apply’ to be a listed artist. Similar to the other sites it appears to be a quick application process where you submit a few images and descriptions for review. The commission they take on sales is 30%. This took a little digging to uncover, unlike other players who seem a little more transparent with information.
This one has been around since 2014 but isn’t as well known as the others. Their target market is artists who are “emerging and mid-career” from Australia. It doesn’t cost you anything to have a portfolio on their website, they will only take commission on sales. Like many of the other art platforms you need to apply to be part of their online gallery and the commission is 30%. This is starting to sound familiar right?
Arguably the worlds biggest online art gallery and based in LA, this is one of the most established players. They are obviously not unique to Australia like the others listed above and claim to have over 1.6 million monthly visits to their website (keep in mind this figure would be global). They keep a little more in fees, charging 35% commission on sales. Once again, it’s free to create an account, you only pay a fee when you sell a piece. You might want to look into shipping as they claim to handle shipping and you only pay for packaging. Would be worth looking into how this works locally as they are a US based company.
Option 3: A combination of the above.
By all means you can do all of the above, and many artists do. There are pros and cons to every approach, you just need to weigh up what works best for you cost and time wise.
It could be worthwhile listing on some of these platforms to help get your name out there initially. Then once you’ve established yourself a little, it might be easier to promote your own website and grow a social media following.
The main benefit of these third-party platforms (and what you pay for in your 30% commission), is the marketing these businesses do. They will be spending sizeable budgets on search marketing, display ads, social, email, PR etc to drive traffic to their website. They also have large databases of people who are art lovers and are actively looking and purchasing art.
Whatever route you decide to take, we’re happy to assist in any way we can. A great place to start is getting high resolution scanned images of your artwork. Especially if you plan to apply to list on some of these online art galleries, they won’t accept poor quality images.