The reality is there are only two fundamental ways to get your art to market.
- You Sell It
- Others Sell for You
Read this article to learn which of these two options are best for your art career.
Under the “You Sell It” banner, you can include employees and those on your team. Otherwise, all your sales come from the “Others Selling for You” category. Of course, subsets exist in both methods.
The You Sell It method includes:
- Developing direct buying customers and collectors
- Selling at shows
- Selling through an e-commerce solution on your blog, website, or social media platform
- Selling to interior designers, corporate art consultants
- Selling at antique malls
- Selling to businesses direct
The “Others Sell It for You” method includes all other means of getting your art to market, including:
- Physical galleries
- Online art galleries
- Art print publishers
- Licensing agents
- Artists reps
- Auction houses
I’m sure I’ve missed some channels above, feel free to hit the “Comment” link and chime in with your thoughts and add to the conversation.
You Sell It.
When you sell it, you have more control — and as a rule, better margins. In direct person-to-person sales, you have complete control.
Some forms of the You Sell It method require you to follow other’s rules, such as an event organizer. With social media, you must meet the channel’s Terms of Service, which are stringent in some cases. When they come through an e-commerce solution you own, these are direct-to-buyer sales.
Others Sell It for You.
When others sell your art, you have much less, if any, control. A gallery may negotiate a price. A publisher can set limited editions numbers, sizes, substrates, and more. A licensing agent may agree to change colors, strip images from your work, reverse your pictures and more.
With galleries, both online and physical, you can, or may be required, to use your marketing to help drive traffic and stimulate sales. Unless your arrangement calls for you to ship your work, you most often don’t get the contact info for your buyer.
Most third-party channels don’t share.
In general, you can’t count on building a list when selling through most third-party channels. A furniture store is not going to share that information with you. They view their customers as their clients – not yours.
This does not mean you should avoid third-party channels. They do represent sales – sometimes substantial sales. You need to understand the implications and potential problems with third-party sites. In the natural order of things, they put their business needs above yours.
Your Job As an Artist.
It’s an integral part of your job as a professional artist to understand what the different channels are and how they work. You then need to decide which offers the best opportunity for you. No artist, especially those who are solopreneurs, has the time to pursue every distribution channel option.
Even with a staff, you would need a vast inventory, aggressive production, and a hefty budget to move the dial in every channel. I cannot name a single artist who is both active and successful in every sales channel.
If top selling artists need to focus on where and how to increase sales, then you need to focus even more to compete with them. – Barney Davey
It’s essential for you to make your best, smartest, most informed decisions about what channels to put to work for you. You also need a plan where you have buy-in on its importance. One you are eager to act on habitually.
What Is the Best Way to Get Your Work to Market?
The short answer is the one that pays the bills. It is, however, somewhat of a loaded question. The real answer depends on many factors. Too many to make blanket statements.
To a degree, it’s about what is working for you. If you are moving your inventory of art on a regular basis, good for you, that shows you have figured out something that is a struggle for many artists.
It Is about Control — How Much Do You Have?
You should pay close attention to how much control you have when you are enjoying success. If all your sales are from galleries or leads from Facebook, Pinterest, or some other third-party channel, you are at risk. None of those channels put you first. Any of them can just shut you down for no reason. You get no recourse when this happens.
While it’s great to have success with “Others Sell It” option, you should seek to balance the distribution, so you don’t rely just on sales from them.
Being wary of relying on third-party distribution is good. The more your future success is tied to them, the more you must maintain vigilance regarding using distributors.
I suggest taking a hard, honest, in-depth review of:
- Your goals
- Your capabilities
- What’s working
- What’s possible, and
- What’s at risk
You Have the Power — Way More Than You Think!
What you need to understand is you have the power. It may not feel like it if you are struggling with sales, but it’s true.
You may not feel the power because you have a fixable marketing problem.
If your art sells well when seen by enough qualified buyers and you aren’t selling, then you have a common, fixable marketing problem — not enough qualified buyers viewing your art. This problem is a likely reason why you don’t feel you have any power.
Listen to an Industry Expert Opinion.
The August 2015 issue of Art World News, (which is unfortunately not available online any longer) had an article from George Leeson, a 30-year veteran of the art print market. He is the owner of Image Conscious.
Founded in 1980, Image Conscious is one of the industry’s most successful art print/poster publishing operations. The article is a worthy read. For that matter, so is the entire magazine
In his cover story, Good-Bye ‘80–20,’ Hello ‘Long Tail’, article George makes this eye-opening statement:
But if problems spell opportunity, the new digital landscape has opened up all kinds of opportunities for all players. Artists have more power. Whereas before publishers were gatekeepers, artists now create their own websites and distribute their own work. Control—and margins—have shifted away from the publisher to the artist.
How Do You Get the Power in Your Business?
You have to realize selling direct to buyers, and developing collectors who buy multiple pieces is the way to go for most artists. When you eliminate the risk of third-party channels making disastrous changes to your business you gain control – you get the power George Leeson is talking about.
Your Two Best Options for Getting Power:
Actually, option two can roll into option one. Get a buyer at a show. Stay in touch via email and other communication tools, and develop a buyer into a collector who buys many pieces from you over the years.piece of art.
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