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Searching for Options for Online Sales

Even before this terrible pandemic hit, Bogdan and I knew that we needed desperately to diversify our income to include online sales for our art. We've been selling photographs online for many years through I-Stock and in a more limited way, video stock footage through Pond5. Our experience with both has been positive, but underwhelming. For years I built up our portfolio, keywording each photo, and uploading each into the system until we had gathered approximately 1,000 images online. We were earning about $100 per month. Excited by this, I worked twice as hard to double the size of our portfolio to over 2,000 images. And we still made about $100 per month. At that point, I just thought; "To hell with it." and have not entered a new photograph for several years... and we still make about $100 per month.

As sad as that story may sound, there is a nugget of excitement there. The silver lining to the tale is that we're bringing in approximately $1000 each year for doing nothing at all. That passive income is what we desperately need to feather into our business as artists. How can we be selling art while we sleep, while we're traveling, and while we're busy making more art?

Honestly, that's partly what has revived my blogging and vlogging efforts. I know that in order for my art business to thrive, I must have many ways to promote my work. I need to have many streams of marketing that all lead back to me, and to my website.

I think it is imperative to admit that the preferred source on online sales should be my own website. If you haven't done so yet, get some sort of e-commerce plugin for your website now. If your website won't allow it, move to another platform today. There are loads of free website vendors, all of whom offer some way to have an online shop. It won't be the only answer to your dreams, but it will be one answer.

There are loads of online options for art sales, but they appear to me to fall into two different categories. The first is the online shop. That functions a lot like selling from your own website, but with an organization that has more followers, a larger reach, and where customers feel safer buying things. This type of site simply organizes your work, presents it for sale, and charges a percentage. Some of the sites do not exclusively sell art, but include it as a category of product they sell. That may mean that some of these sites diminish the appearance of quality, and may lump fine art in with cheaper decorative items, or crafts. That may be something to consider when looking at how you market your art over time. Is my work something that is a good fit for a home decor store, or would look good on a mug? Do I plan to try to market my work to a more exclusive collector who would be turned off by that level of merchandizing? No judgments here, but I know it's a consideration.

The second type of online sites are really just virtual galleries. They function much like any art gallery would, and may be associated with a brick and mortar gallery somewhere. These sites may well have a higher bar to entry, just to keep the quality and the exclusivity high for their buyers. That also may mean that far fewer people would see your work, but hopefully those that do are much more likely to buy it at a reasonable price. These sites may also be more restrictive about where else you can sell your work. The real problem here is that you can't sell the same piece of art on two sites, one at a discounted price, available on a t-shirt, and the other at a fancy gallery at ten times the price.

I need to say here that I'm not specifically endorsing any particular online sales platform. We currently have accounts with about 7 of them, and find it almost impossible to keep up to date with them. Several of them require you to post regularly to move to the top of the listings, while others don't. I'll be honest, I know one quite successful artist who had images stolen from an online platform, and reproduced on products without his consent and sold from China. He can't do a thing about it unless he spends tens of thousands to try to fight them legally. I do not know which platform created his problem, and I suspect that he doesn't know either. So buyer beware. That said, I know of lots of artists for whom online sales make up a substantial percent of their monthly incomes. Like so many things in life, you'll just have to find what works best for you.

So I've pulled together some of the options I've found for online art sales. The sample list below is far from exhaustive, and I certainly do not have direct experience with all of them. I've only included sites that deal with fine art, but there are others that are really specific to stock photography, video, and illustration. This list is meant to convince you that you do, in fact, have options for online sales apart from marketing your own website from scratch. Take a look, and let me know if there's any resources I might need to include.

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