Keep It Small – Keep It All – Sage Advice from a Smart Art Marketer

He could have done a lot of things bigger. I once asked him why he didn’t publish more and have a larger staff. He looked at me and said, “Barney, I keep it small and I keep it all.”

Back in the day, as the well-worn phrase goes, I repped Decor magazine. At its peak, it was a huge success with a fully paid circulation and producing monthly issues with tons of advertising. In many ways, its success mirrored what can easily be considered the Golden Years of the art print market. The business boomed along with so many others that fed off the Baby Boomers coming of age who appreciated art and wanted to decorate their homes with it.

One of my advertising clients was Edward Weston. No, not the famous photographer, but another person who shared the same name. He was an entrepreneur, art aficionado, art publisher and secondary art market broker and dealer. He published works by famous people, including actress Elke Sommer, one of the most stunning blondes to ever grace the big screen. Ed was perhaps best known as having one of the best collections of Marilyn Monroe photography. Sadly, he passed away last year. I miss him still. But, he lived a good life and to the hilt as well.                     

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He ran the smallest size ad, a 1/8th page unit, every month in Decor for decades. With his budget and income, he could have gone bigger. He could have done a lot of things bigger. I once asked him why he didn't publish more and have a larger staff. He looked at me and said, "Barney, I keep it small and I keep it all."

There is great wisdom in that little rhyme. It is something to consider when you are trying to decide what direction you want to take your art business, especially your art print business. In the current unsure economic client we are in today, it makes a lot of sense to heed Ed's sage advice. That is, the more you control the distribution of your work, the fewer hands it passes through, the more you will keep. It would be a good exercise to work out different scenarios so you can understand how the power of Ed's suggestion can work for you.

If you sell direct, you keep 100% less the cost of production and marketing. Any other intermediary in the chain has to be compensated. These would be galleries, online sites, publishers, dealers and art reps. I decided to self-publish my book, How to Profit from the Art Print Market, because it looked like the best deal for me. The spread between my net wholesale self-publishing and what I would get from net wholesale from a publisher was a ratio of more than 16:1.

I was confident no publisher could sell that many more books than I could on my own. Plus, I get paid much quicker than if I were with a publisher. This is assuming I would have been successful in finding one who wanted to take on the book. I believe I would have, but for me it just didn't seem to make sense to do the work of seeking representation and then get paid less as a result. So, in my own way, I've followed the advice I give artists, which is to self-publish if you have the means and marketing know-how. And, I've followed Edward Weston's advice too; both with no regrets.

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  1. I like the idea of “keeping it small and keeping it all.” But one key to your aricle is “if you have the means and marketing know-how.” Many of my artist friends, really, 95% of them, do not have marketing know-how, nor do they plan to. They put most of their efforts into creating art. Selling it is a complete other job – full time one, at that.

    My husband, the artist, and I teamed up to form our company about 8 years ago. We lost money, in the beginning, not knowing how to properly sell the thousands of art prints we had made. Since then, we’ve learned a lot, and found better ways to do things. But it was a learning curve, and the mistakes were costly!

    We work with galleries that keep a good %, but without their sales, we would get 0% rather than 50%. We found our best bet is to license the art, so that we are out of manufacturing and selling to retailers all together. It’s a great method of earning money without putting out any money.

    These are just my thoughts based on our experiences. Thanks for your articles. Keep ’em coming!

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