By Barney Davey
EBSQ is an online community for artists who want to take control of their own art careers… Our mantra remains the same since our founding in 2000: Support Living Artists!
Having always been a strong supporter of visual artists being independent as possible, I became an instant fan of EBSQ Art upon learning about it years ago.
In Internet time, ideas, companies and online communities come and go in the blink of an eye. If you think back about how much has changed since 2000, EBSQ Art’s longevity is simply amazing. It truly is a testament to its ability to evolve and add value to its members.
I recently had the opportunity to pose ten questions to Amie Gillingham, the site’s CEO and guiding force behind its great success story. If you are an visual artist and not already part of this vibrant valuable community, I urge you to consider joining.
1. What is EBSQ Art and where did it get the name?
EBSQ is an online artist community geared towards artists who sell or otherwise promote their work directly to the public. A lot of people wonder the heck what our acronym could possibly stand for. But actually, our name is a derivation of e-Basquiats which was what our earliest members were dubbed when they were selling on eBay at the turn of the century. EBSQ as a keyword became their calling card. Our artistic sensibilities have greatly expanded since our founding in 2000, but the name stuck.
2. What is the mix of art available on your site?
Our site leans heavily toward traditional fine art, but we also have a nice smattering of digital artists, photographers, jewelers, glass artists, and all manner of artisans. You’ll find everything from realism to contemporary cubism to fantasy and steampunk to Pysanky eggs!
3. Creating and selling art is an obvious part of the community. How well are your members doing using the site to get their work to market?
EBSQ isn’t a traditional e-commerce site. We’re actually more of a hub for an artist’s total online marketing strategy. We do allow members to make items available for sale either by providing contact information for the buyer or by using their preferred payment gateway on individual items, but we don’t have a site-wide payment system in place. So a lot of our metrics come from what our customers have reported to us.
Back in November 2010, we upgraded a lot of our site code and our Certificate of Authenticity systems was temporarily unavailable. We were actually surprised by how many artists were coming to us, desperate for COAs because they had a backlog of sold artwork to ship to their customers. While we’re quite sorry folks had to wait for us to get this feature back online, it was gratifying to know that both the service was so much in demand and how many artists were doing better sale-wise than they were the year before. Folks that are just starting out might have a rough time of it at first, but artists that have hung in there during the recession are seeing at least a small rebound in sales above and beyond the expected uptick during the holiday season.
We do see a shift in where our artists are making items available for sale beyond our website. EBSQ traffic has moved from being largely at eBay to largely at Etsy. Imagekind and CafePress have fallen out of favour and Zazzle has become the POD vendor of choice. And a lot of members are marketing their work directly on their blogs and Facebook pages. Our goal is to provide as much support as we can for our artists, regardless of their venue of choice.
4. Besides having an established online venue to showcase their work, what other benefits do artists enjoy with their participation?
EBSQ has a lot of the tools you’d expect from an art site in this day and age: bulk uploads, unlimited portfolios, Google Analytics-powered stats, social sharing tools, and the like. One rather unique feature is our digital Certificate of Authenticity. Artists have the option to print or email our COAs to buyers, who are then able to “lock” their COA. They can even transfer COAs if the work is resold and the provenance of the work travels with it.
Our community is the biggest unexpected benefit cited by our members. Not every member makes it to our forums, but those that do tend to stick around and get a lot more out of their membership than those that don’t. Especially in a down economy, it’s helpful to stay immersed in an artistic environment.
Another benefit unique to EBSQ is our extensive exhibition schedule. Currently, we run 3 exhibits every month. This year includes several juried exhibits as well as our annual benefit for the Susan G Komen Foundation. Shows are a great way to get involved, challenge yourself, and get your work seen. You can check out our 2011 exhibition calendar here:
5. Do your members volunteer to help keep the site functioning? Are they compensated for their efforts, or is it pro bono for the good of the site?
Our site is a mixture of paid staff and volunteer members. Our handful of volunteers serve as topic hosts/moderators on our forums where they’re already active participants and were already acting as unofficial community leaders. In some cases, we’ve had members serve as bloggers in exchange for membership. We think the knowledge and skill they bring to our blog is a huge asset and we’re lucky to have them!
6. How has online marketing changed since EBSQ Art was launched?
Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, YouTube, and blogging going mainstream have completely changed the rules of the game. Five years ago, these were optional venues an artist could use to gain a massive edge over the competition. Now, they’re practically a requirement in the self-representing artist market if you want to stay in the game.
7. How well do artists selling digital fine art reproductions do on the market?
I’ve found that artists who are well-established and sell their originals at a higher price point do MUCH better in the print market. When you can’t afford or otherwise lost out on a sought-after original, the reproduction becomes more desirable.
That said, artists who actively and aggressively market their reproductions do much better than artists who simply post work for sale at sites like Imagekind and RedBubble and wait for something to happen. But more about that later!
8. It has been a rocky road for many artists in the recent past, what is your vision or how do you feel about what will happen next?
I truly don’t have a clue what the future holds. And that’s kind of exciting! But I do know that artists who stay the course and keep creating and actively marketing their work through the bad times will have a leg up on those who packed in their dreams until it’s no longer a rainy day. Carpe diem
9. What advice do you give to artists for getting the most from their participation with EBSQ Art?
While this advice is true for EBSQ, I believe it also holds true for most, if not all, online venues, including personal websites. Don’t post and pray. Be active. Participate and update regularly. Engage with your peers and potential customers. And above all, don’t stop creating and posting new work.
Looking at stats for individual members, those that see the most traffic are active. They enter shows regularly. They’re chatty on the forums. They’re constantly on the front page because they’re always creating and adding new work. When we added Google Analytics to our toolbox for artists, members were stunned to see how much of their traffic was a direct result of their activity, particularly show entries.
I’ve had artists leave EBSQ, complaining that the site didn’t “work” for them. But more often than not, when I look at their portfolios, I see a lot of self-sabotage. In many cases, the artist uploaded a handful of pieces on their first day, didn’t bother to give them titles, dates, or statements, didn’t enter any shows, didn’t even fully complete their profile, and never engaged with the site in any way. Of course they’re not going to see success! It would be foolish to think otherwise. I don’t care how amazing your artwork is. Post. And. Pray. Doesn’t. Work. Period.
10. What is your elevator speech for why artists should join EBSQ Art?
EBSQ is an online community for artists who want to take control of their own art careers. We’re a hub where you can house your full portfolio, link to all of your online venues, easily establish the provenance of your work with our Digital Certificate of Authenticity tools, and connect with a global art community. We’ve been here for a decade, we’ve stayed small and kept a passionate focus on serving our community, and we still answer our own email. Our mantra remains the same since our founding in 2000: Support Living Artists!