Fine art is a niche product, which makes getting your art to market hard. That’s because only a small percentage of people ever purchase original art. The reasons why vary.
Aside from patrons and collectors who seek to find and support artists, art is most often a one-time purchase to fill an immediate need, such as complementing a design or filling an empty wall space. Spontaneous buying outside of shows is sporadic and unpredictable.
To the average consumer, buying new art is not a priority. Did I bum you out or scare you yet? If so, I’m sorry, that’s not my intention. Instead, I want you to have a firm grasp on the marketing and business trials you face every day as an artist.
Remember wherever you find difficulties you also find opportunities. For instance, you realize mass marketing is not possible, but by recognizing the attributes of your top prospects, you can focus on them exclusively. The result is you cut expenses while getting better returns from a smaller audience.
This may sound contradictory but stick with me. Despite fine art being a niche product, you have a vast potential buyer pool. Visualize who are the best prospects to buy your art. Start with people who have discretionary income. In the U.S., 20% of its 126 million households have an annual income of $100,000 or higher. From the financial perspective, you start with a target audience of about 25 million households. The income percentages in other developed nations are likely to be relative to that of the U.S.
Naturally, you will use other factors to narrow your prospect pool, but targeting people with money is where to start. It’s fruitless to market to those who can’t buy your work. When all your targeting is done, you’ll have a few thousand prospects who fit your ideal buyer profile. And, you can build a very successful art business marketing to them. That’s how you go from harder to easier when strategizing on how to sell your art.
Let’s get back to the question posed in the title of this post. At the most basic level, there are only two ways to get your art sold.
Before the internet changed everything, the latter method of using third parties was the only economical and practical means artists had to sell their work. Galleries wouldn’t touch an artist who also sold to buyers. They didn’t want or need the competition. And, outside of shows and fairs, it was expensive, ineffective, and cumbersome for artists to build a following who would source art straight from the artist.
The internet and e-commerce have decimated many industries. Decor magazine, where I worked for 15 years, had a glorious 125-year history publishing business advice to art galleries, artists, and picture framers. Then in the early 2000s, like most other trade publications, it went on hard times and was driven out of business. Tradition meant nothing in the face of change. Why wait a month to get updates when you can find what you need instantly on the internet?
The gallery business and the fine art print market have taken significant hits due to changes in consumer habits. With tons of useful information available, buyers are now confident and well informed. Many prefer to buy from the source rather than through third parties. E-commerce makes purchasing expensive, desirable things like fine art, furniture, and jewelry simple, safe and fun. Costco.com is one of the world’s largest diamond retailers. A recent search on its site found a Round Brilliant 10.03 ct VS1 Clarity; I Color Diamond Platinum Solitaire Ring for only $420,000.
The problem for galleries is most lack the resources, and often the interest in technology, to create competitive online sites. And, those who do try lack the scale to compete. That leaves a jumble of fragmented online galleries attempting to dominate the market. It will be years, if ever before any manage to become the Google or Amazon of the fine art business.
There are always opportunities, but some come at a cost to artists. As with physical galleries, you pay a commission for sales made through online art retailers. And, your work is in fierce competition for awareness on such sites. The larger they are, the more impossible it becomes to market the work of individual artists. There is no plausible, fair way to do this. So, the artist is left to drive traffic to the third party seller. And, as an unintended result, they unintentionally do the marketing for the site. Even worse, they are creating potential traffic to their competitors for free.
You can use social media to help build a fan base but relying on it as your primary way to sell your work is dangerous. Never grow your farm on land you don’t own. You want to own and control your distribution. As with online galleries, when you send traffic to social media, you risk losing sales to competitors. Even worse, you don’t own the relationship. That’s between the platform owners and its users. At best, you hope to access its users at a price you can afford. And, your messages are always displayed in a crowded, noisy environment.
There is nothing wrong, in fact, it’s a good idea, to use social media to gain awareness and drive traffic back to your site. Make it a spoke not a hub. Realize things can change fast with social media. Growing privacy concerns and intensifying competition make producing reliable results harder to achieve than ever. Rules can change, and you can find yourself locked out overnight with no recourse.
I’ve studied and advised artists for 30 years. So much is different now than it was in 1988. Galleries are in decline, and social media is all the rage. Consumer buying habits and e-commerce trends are favorable to artists. Combining those factors with accessible, affordable, easy-to-use tools to help you find and connect with buyers is what makes direct patronage possible.
Direct patronage happens when collectors take an active interest in supporting artists. They want to know what the artist is thinking and watch them evolve. They make multiple purchases and aid in other ways, including referrals and introductions to influential people.
I want to return to the question of how you get your work to market. I’ve studied the art business and how art gets sold for 30 years. Right now, I believe you need an intelligent mix of distribution methods to get your artwork sold. Ultimately, I’d love to see you become independent by building a robust, growing base of patrons and prospects who constitute the bulk of your original art sales.
I’m a realist. I know this won’t happen overnight. However, I am convinced direct patronage should be your foremost goal when it comes to how you sell your art. In the meantime, the practical approach is to continue to use galleries, publishers, licensors, social media and so on, to get your work to market. Just never let up on growing your list of those who know, like and trust you. Keep in touch with them so they think of you when the need or muse strikes them to buy art.
You have a finite number of original pieces you will make. A rule of thumb says the average artist can make 1,000 originals in a lifetime. That’s 33 per year for 30 years. Your mileage will vary. Applying 1,000 originals to direct patronage looks like this. If the average collector buys three pieces and you build a base of 200 collectors, you will sell 600 pieces to them. That’s nearly two-thirds of your total original art creation. Even 25 or 50 patrons can make a huge difference in your career.
The more you sell to your list directly, the less you need to sell through third parties. Direct sales and an active list give you leverage when you negotiate with third parties. You can afford to be picky and demand the best terms or walk away.
It’s your life and your career. You can decide what to do about getting your work to market. I hope you see the value of direct patronage. It’s how you take control, become independent and self-reliant. You will earn more per sale, and you will find building personal relationships have a snowballing effect on your business. You’ll feel a boost your outlook on your career.
I created the Art Marketing Mastery Workshop because I want you to experience the joy and freedom of independence from reliance on the capricious third-party sales system. Joining and using the workshop is like downloading my brain with 30 years of experience into yours.
You get lifetime access to the course material. You also get lifetime access to the private Facebook group where the members and I answer questions and offer support and inspiration on a regular basis. The cooperative effect is like getting access to an art marketing, genius mastermind knowledge base, and an accountability program rolled into one package.
Joining is the best choice you can make to grow your career in a sane, profitable, and sustainable manner. It’s backed by a full refund guarantee so you have nothing lose and everything to gain.
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