How to Sell Art Prints – a reader question answered

You are on the right path in setting up a Web site and accompanying blog. They are both integral components of a solid marketing plan for an emerging artist. Both are works in progress and investments in your future.

Question Mark.350px Occasionally, I get questions from readers that are good sources for blog posts. That is, they are general enough in context to help most who read this blog regularly. If you have specific questions, I also offer consulting in the form of hour sessions by phone or via email.

In either of these consulting cases, I urge you to first read my book because it may have the exact answer you need, or it will avoid you spending time in consulting on what you could have easily and more afford ably learned by reading it first. And, should we proceed from that point, you'll be better informed to ask better questions and get more from the experience.

I do have a day job and find it stimulating

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

Because I also work an 8-5 gig in the marketing department of a high tech firm to help with benefits and retirement income, (and because I like the diversity and the fun of working with a talented group of creative individuals.), I have limited availability for consulting, especially phone sessions. Accordingly, I don't actively market my consulting services. But, if it is important to you, I will find time for you.

Here is a great question posed to me via email:

My name is Kasie Sallee and I'm a young artist and mother. In the past year I've been focusing very seriously on my art with the hopes of building a career. I recently bought and read your book "How to Profit from the Art Print Market" and I truly want to thank you for writing it. The book is a treasure trove of information that I will be referring to over and over again.

In the past year I've begun a series of work, promoted my art through a blog, and very recently have set up a website. I have a question about the best path forward and was wondering if you had some advice.

My ultimate goal for the future is to license my work or to work with a publisher. My question is:

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

If this is my ultimate intention, will selling prints on my own, say through a site like Etsy, cause publishing companies to not want my work? I guess what I'm trying to say is will publishing companies want to work with images that I have already printed and sold?

Thank you so much for your time. I'm a long-time reader of your blog and I sincerely respect your advice.

Here is my reply

Dear Kasie:

Thanks for your kind words and question. You are on the right path in setting up a Web site and accompanying blog. They are both integral components of a solid marketing plan for an emerging artist. Both are works in progress and investments in your future. That is, neither are likely to immediately begin to return a substantial income right away. However, if both are properly maintained they will be invaluable components of your marketing efforts for years to come.

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

Your goal of licensing with a publisher is a good one. If you are thinking posters or open edition prints, you have to realize the income from such a situation is likely going to be minimal, especially at first. If you are thinking about giclees, your income could be more substantial as price points are far greater. 

As a way to broaden their lines, many poster publishers are now also offering POD print-on-demand reproductions. These are usually open edition and lower priced than limited edition publishers. Overall, it is a most challenging time for poster publishers with no real relief in sight. I think it will take more than time to revive the market.

Many poster publishers are also active in the third party licensing arena as represented by such tradeshows as Surtex and The Licensing Show. Surtex is where one would primarily find find companies seeking images for stationery, wallpaper, linens and so on. The Licensing Show tends to run to the animated and action figure images and less to fine art, but both can be important as sources of tertiary passive income for artists. The royalties are small and it can take a few years to make it worthwhile, but for artists with the right look, it can turn lucrative over time.

To be successful in getting a contract from publishers, you need to determine where your prints fit into the market, then determine which publishers are the best fit and most likely candidates for you to contact. It takes researching time, but it is just part of what you need to do to pursue appropriate publishing opportunities. Regardless of the outcome, the education will serve you well throughout your career. I think it was Yogi Berra who said, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." This is true of all of us. You have to make an informed conscious decision about what you want from your career and use it as a North Star to guide your underlying decisions.

To answer your questions about being on Etsy, or other online sites that can sell your work, I will say no, in general, it does not affect your ability to land a publishing deal. If anything, if you have some demonstrable success with online art sales, you will give most publishers more confidence they can move your images to their customers. That said, publishers are not going to accept you competing directly with them for the same images, if at all.

There are some high-end publishers you would expcect to look down their noses at artists doing business on Etsy, but if your research is effective, you would have ruled them out as unlikely candidates to approach anyway.

Some publishers will want an exclusive on the images they want to run. Others may want more exclusivity. You have to be aware of the quid pro quo to make a good deal for yourself. This means making negotiations with publishers. I recommend you read at least one book on negotiating, such as Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. A little studying now will help you to make better deals for yourself in every aspect of and all throughout your career.

A couple of caveats here. If you paint slowly, it could be a problem for you if you have to create a new line for a publisher who in most cases will expect to be fed a steady stream of images. The other is if in your researching, you find the publishers most desirable to you frown upon seeing your work online, you may need to reassess your online strategies and marketing efforts.

The best situation for artists working with publishers would be the publishers immediately finding a bevy of repeat buyers for your line. The more likely scenario is you have to grow into your role with a publisher learning along the way what its needs are and what its buyers needs are. Conversely, a good publisher will seek to understand how to best work with you.

I would hope you get a publisher that will allow you to publish your own work. In some cases, artists use a Nom de Brusse (alias) to avoid having a conflict with their publisher. There is no hard fast rule regarding any of these situations. You must keep in mind you need to do what is best for you. You have to know whatever you are going to invest your time, talent and energy into that you stand a decent chance of getting a reasonable return for your investment.

With that in mind, do what you can to further your career, to sell more work regardless of the source. In the end, it's up to you to make it work. Having a great publisher to help you get started is wonderful advantage and great learning experience. As with many, if not most, things in life it is not where you start, it is where you end up. That is, did you fulfill your dreams and talent potential? Making the right choices for yourself is a key to your future success and your own self-satsifaction.

You see examples of this all the time. The music industry is easier to relate with this concept because much of what happens is on a national or international scale. Think about song choices and how that affects an artist. No matter how talented, ultimate success requires making good choices for content, style and ability. It's the same with visual artists even if it is harder to judge how things are going for visual artists. They don't have the equivalent of Billboard Top 100 list to let us know who is moving up the charts and who is just treading water. Nevertheless, if you consistently find some artists tapping the zeitgeist and getting great results with a steady stream of print sales over the years, you can be certain they have not only an eye for art, but an instinct for what their buyers will want to own and display in their homes and businesses.

I hope these thoughts help others as well as you Kasie!  All the best to you,



Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use


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  1. Thank you Mr. Davey!

    Buying and reading and rereading your book has been extremely motivating to me. I subscribe to Feedblitz and look forward to each blast of information. This post, the “Convergent Media” post and just about every other post has had advice that bears experienced insight. I appreciate your support for artists like me and so many others.

    Thank You
    Brian Lee Boyce

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