Online galleries have been a wonderful development for artists at all stages of development. There are artists making a decent living from online galleries – such as Bluethumb, Artlovers and Saatchi – but for most, it is an occasional source of income at best.
There are some things to understand if you are going to make a success of it.
- Understand the business model. For the most part, these are technology platforms that provide a way for you to sell art and reach people beyond your own networks. They take a percentage of sales (usually 30% or more), which funds their investment in technology, staffing, marketing and premises.
- Understand what the algorithms do. The more people look at your art and the more they buy it, the higher you will rank with the algorithms. This encourages the platforms to preference your art on their sites and in their marketing. That makes business sense. The platforms will not survive if they funnel visitors to art that is unlikely to sell.
- You provide the eyeballs. The only way to play the game is to direct your social media followers to your profile on the online gallery. These platforms rely on your social media following. If you haven’t built a healthy and enthusiastic following on social media, you will probably fail on the online gallery.
What are they good for?
- If your website is not e-commerce enabled, the gallery provides a safe and easy way to sell.
- If you get some traction with the algorithms, you will reach many, many more potential buyers.
- If you are new to selling, there are usually metrics that show you what pieces are generating the most interest.
- It is a great way to build confidence and learn about the business of selling your art.
- The platforms’ sophisticated online marketing will target people who have looked at your profile or fit the description of likely buyers of your work.
- You usually do not have to pay anything unless an artwork is sold on the platform - then you pay commission.
What are the negatives?
- If your art does not compare well to other work on the site or you haven’t optimised your social media, it could be disheartening.
- You lose some control over how your work is seen. The platforms’ marketing budget means their listing of you will appear first on a Google search and your own website will miss out on traffic and direct sales.
- You lose direct contact with buyers. The platforms discourage direct contact with buyers and will sometimes penalise artists that sell direct to a buyer that has also visited your profile on the platform. This can get nasty if they were your contact first.
- You may find that your work is offered at a discount when the platforms have a sale. They probably offer an opt-out, but you have to stay aware and take your profile offline when the sale is on.