How to Make the Best of Selling POD Art Online

Are you selling POD art online?

If so, you are in the ranks of 200,000+ visual artists using online POD services. For the uninitiated, POD is the industry acronym for print-on-demand (POD).

POD services were first introduced to the art business in the 1990s. They were met with outrage and massive backlash from a large section of the market. It was part resistance to change and new tech. There were also legitimate concerns about the colorfastness and longevity of the inks and substrates. Those problems are now corrected.

POD started out as an ugly step-child.

During the time POD came about, I worked for Decor magazine. It was the industry’s leading trade publication for retail galleries and frame shops. The entire editorial staff found the idea “computer-generated” reproductions abhorrent. They hated the term “giclee” when it was coined as a way to give “digital prints” an upscale cachet. Fast forward 20 years and POD is the norm, the use of “giclee” is almost passé, and Decor is out of business.

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Just because you are in the front, it doesn’t mean you are leading the herd.

Besides, the advent of POD services, the Internet helped the demise of Decor It also crushed its once dominant sister Decor Expo Atlanta tradeshow. Anyone who has been around the business as long as I have can attest to the magazine and show’s once greatness. It was both a shocking and sad thing to see it fall apart in a matter of a few years. Despite its dominance, it was not too big to fail.

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POD leveled the playing field for artists.

You no longer have to carry expensive inventory. You can have an enormous portfolio without the outlay of having to print multiples of every piece in it. In fact, you can avoid making reproductions and inventorying prints – that is the beauty of POD.

Even better, POD allows your buyers to get your art in the media and size they need. This is fantastic! Artists have been selling art prints for hundreds of years. It is only recent that artists could make work available on different substrates and a range of sizes. I’m still surprised artists don’t leverage this benefit more to their advantage. I think many are stuck with old school thinking.

Online POD Galleries Offer Opportunities

It’s interesting to observe how different people react to the same opportunity. POD galleries are a perfect example. A common complaint is artists get their images on a new site, but don’t enjoy automatic sales.

The problem is they have a misconception about how things work. They think one of two things:

  1. They are unlucky, or there are some “chosen artists” who get all the sales from the site.
  2. They think having images on the site is enough to make sales happen.

Both of these are wrong.

It’s the artist’s responsibility to drive traffic to their art on any site where it is displayed. An online gallery can only do so much. Yes, you may get the occasional sale without doing any marketing, but it will be “beer money” at best.

In almost 20 years working at Decor, I attended 10 or more art tradeshows every year. I sold booth space in most of them. The same dynamic applied. Those who marketed the best did the best.

At a Decor Expo show, it would cost thousands for booth space, shipping and travel to attend. I can understand how novices thought that was enough. They felt their expenditures were enough. They thought the show and other established exhibitors would promote to get traffic. They believed their share from total strangers wandering by their booth would be enough.

How do you think that line of thinking worked out?

I know you know, but I will tell you anyway. It sucked for those exhibitors. The smart ones soon realized it paid off and they did much better by inviting their own traffic to the show. The most successful exhibitors advertised. They sent postal mail and did outbound phone marketing. They did all they could to notify potential buyers and encourage them to visit their booth.

When it comes to having your art in an online POD gallery, there is no difference. You have to take the obligation to your success and start marketing your work. Be consistent. Multiply your messages to your best prospects. It will make an enormous difference in your sales.

Go Where You Get Your Fair Share.

You want to get paid fairly and as much as the market will bear for your work. That is normal human behavior and standard business practice. It is never in your best interest to allow someone else control of how much money you can make from your art.

Unfortunately, that is what almost all the POD online gallery sites are doing. They are paying a set commission or a flat fee per piece when they sell your work. The good news is FineArtAmerica.com (FAA) has no such restrictions. You can set any price you want over the base price of the POD item for sale.

More New Online POD Art Sites Pop Up All the Time.

I don’t lay claim to having knowledge of them all. I don’t lay claim to having details on the workings of the established POD sites. I am familiar with FAA because I’ve had an artist’s account there for years. Further, it has syndicated my blog in its weekly newsletter for the past several years. I’m grateful for the extra exposure it has provided.

Recently, the FAA blog published “5% Commissions: The Future of Print-On-Demand?” It’s a thought-provoking look at the POD online business. You need to read it.

The piece mentions FAA is the only well-known POD art site that allows artists to set their own prices. Knowing that I cannot see why artists would choose to work with any other site.

Why Let Someone Else Control Your Income?

FAA is working hard to become the “household name” in the POD online art industry. That is, of course, self-serving, but it is also a great for artists as well. If your art is on a POD site that has become the “household name” in the industry, then you know you are in the right place.

Do your marketing job to get your traffic to the name brand site, or any site. You will get more than your fair share of the business transacted on it. When a majority of artists promote the same site, good things happen. You get the proverbial “A rising tide lifts all boats” effect. In other words, your share of sales from the traffic you did not cause will increase.

Here Is an Excerpt from the FAA Post Mentioned Above:

Sellers need to help spread the word to other sellers.   You have to support each other and the companies that support you… or you’ll end up in a race to the bottom.

Just ask anyone who’s still active in the microstock world, and they’ll tell you that it’s a slow, relentless descent into lower and lower commissions. As long as FAA / Pixels.com continues to be a leader in the print-on-demand industry and attract the majority of buyers and sellers around the world, you don’t have to accept 5% commissions for your images.

You don’t have to let large corporations dictate low prices to you, and you don’t have to accept it when a dying company tries to drag you off a cliff into no-profit land.   You’ve got an alternative. I love the “set your own price” business model.   That’s why we’ve stuck with it since 2006.

I enjoy seeing our members earn thousands of dollars per month selling through our site.   If we become a household name like Amazon and become the first company that people think of when they think of buying art… then the “set your own price” model will prevail.   If a business like Cafepress becomes a household name, instead, then 5% is the future.

Here Is a Comment I Added to the Post:

There is no free lunch, only untethered opportunity. FAA is a tool. A pretty ingenious one at that. One where artists can list their works and allow consumers to buy them as reproductions. On an individual basis, it would cost an artist thousands of dollars and an untold amount of time to replicate the same options to make available from their website. When an order came in, they would need to fulfill it. That means thousands more in the inventory of substrates and framing materials. It also means having the technical expertise to make the reproductions faithfully, frame them expertly and ship them carefully — all promptly. Oh, and let’s not forget to bill and get paid, accept and process returns and a bunch of other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. 

The art business is like every other business in that it is only successful with customers. No customers, no orders, no business. Getting customers is necessary and every artist who wants to enjoy success has to find their own best way to develop them. They don’t grow on trees, they don’t come and buy impulsively on FAA or anywhere else. Expecting to be found on FAA is just like waiting to be found offline. It is not a realistic or practical approach to building a career. 

The good news is consumers are willing to buy from artists direct. They are ready to buy from artists from sites like FAA. But wait, it gets better. The tools for artists to find buyers, nurture relationships, communicate regularly and sell their work has never been more affordable or easy to use. In the 1980s when I started in the art business, a fax machine was a rare and expensive item. Art buyers had few options and rarely bought from artists direct with the exceptions of shows. That’s all changed. 

You can build a responsive email list of interested fans, followers and collectors with less effort than artists in the ’80s could cobble together a responsive direct mail list, and at a fraction of the cost. You can use that email list to sell your originals direct from your website and sell reproductions using a site like FAA to handle production, sales, and shipping. But you have to drive the traffic and build the interest in your brand. That’s your responsibility. 

Your art career is in your hands. You have more tools, and more opportunity to sell your art in different ways than any previous generation. Your success is driven by your ability to create awareness of you and your art. Expecting that this will happen without you doing the marketing is a ticket for disappointment and failure. 

If you make art that people want to buy and can do so repeatedly, you are in great shape. The next step is to take charge of your career, learn how to use the available, affordable tools to get your work to market. I would not question how, or why some other artist makes $10k per month on FAA. I would ask what I need to do to blow that away. If someone can make $10k, then it is only a matter of time before someone makes $20k. I would make it my goal to be the first or among the first to break that barrier. 

Find your tribe, develop a system of getting your message in front of them on a regular basis. Then test and adjust what working and get better, and you can have the success you desire on FAA and everywhere else your art has a chance to get sold.

I know these thoughts are either going to come across as valuable information or as phooey. If it is the former, I suggest get going — your career is waiting. If it is the latter, I recommend keeping your day job and accepting you create art as a pleasant pastime. There is nothing wrong in either decision. It’s yours to make. Be neither jealous nor condescending of the choices others make. Instead send them positive vibe for continued success in the path they have chosen. Carpe Diem!

The Only Way to Secure Your Future Is to Control It.

One of the things I love about FAA is it gives you control of your pricing. That’s not little, it’s huge. When you give up the ability to price your work, your only shot of making any real income is volume. If you are capable of running volume traffic to a site, why would you give it to a site that controls your prices?

I have advised artists on art marketing strategies since 1988. In those nearly 30 years, I’ve seen many changes roll through the industry. Control is the ONE THING I see as most important for artists today.

You Either Take Control, Or Else Someone Does It For You.

It is as simple and as harsh as that all at once. What can you control? How about:

  • Your pricing
  • Your marketing message
  • Your brand
  • Where you choose to display online
  • What social media you use
  • How you find your customers

I have written extensively about all those items in this blog. The last point, “How you find your customers” is the most important, in my opinion. If you have control of how you develop a customer base, you can secure your future.

Because I feel it is “Mission Critical”, I launched the Art Marketing Mastery Workshop. It takes an extensive, intensive approach to helping artists learn how to:

  • Market their work
  • Control their brand
  • Maximize their marketing
  • Increase sales as a result.

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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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