Having been "around the block" on the Web for many years, I've made a number of observations related to artists, Web sites, advertising, seeking and securing new clients, and the Internet in general. I've read news papers and trade magazines trying to get a line on and keep apprised of this dynamic, sometimes elusive media called the Internet. My observations are only one data point, but I wanted to let you know my thoughts as we near the end of 2003, solidly into the 21st Century.
Many of you have had a Web presence for some time. You either own a site or sell through one of hundreds of web galleries (free and fee-based.) You have had to made one of following three decisions:
1. To use a Web site solely as informational; to update galleries, clients and potential buyers of new work, and to raise awareness about who you are and what you do.
2. Number 1, plus to offer free information in the hopes of having visitors return to your site frequently.
3. Number 1 and 2, plus to gather leads, persuade and sell directly to the public.
I will be addressing primarily number 3, since that is where most professional artists have questions. Technically, the Internet is still in it's infancy, but rapidly maturing through tools used to create and manage sites and an unstoppable maturing buying audience. And as many of you have already discovered, it takes more than building a site -- it requires solving the issue of attracting buyers, not simply page "hits."
The Web's main function is still as a resource for information gathering. You can find virtually anything you want to know about via the Web. Search engines abound and users are more savvy than ever in exploring for what the want and need. This hunger for information has yet to peak. Meanwhile, content-rich site owners are realizing there is very little income to be had through free information. Therefore, more and more, we are seeing sites motivated to charge for their information, particularly in news organization and professional related sites.
How are they accomplishing this? One news site for example, used offer completely free data and news. Over the last two years, they have slowly filtered access to readers by "tickling" them with a clickable headline and mere tidbits of news. Then when the reader wants access to know more, a subscription box pops up forcing the consumer to make a decision -- to buy or not to buy. This company is eventually going to be fee-based only, offering a mere amount of free news to motivate users to buy.
Higher-end art sites are beginning to do the same. To view the work of artists, potential customers must sign-in either to free or fee-based sites with a username/password or with complete personal information. One site which was among the premier art sites for some time has completely turned to gallery-only representation, rather than through direct wooing of clientele using artist listings. This business model is yet to be proved or show it is profitable. "Mum" is still the word when talking to most of the site leadership on their success rates.
But what of the individual artist who has worked so hard to succeed in selling direct? So what is happening now? Here again, most artist sites are visited not by buyers but other artists curious to discover what they can about marketing and measure their own representation against others. Artists too, are part of the buying public. But by-and-large, penetrating and grasping buyers is still a tough problem to solve.
There have been some successes. Individual artists have realized a few sporadic sales of originals; more for reasonably priced originals. Still others are faring much better selling reproductions. But overall, our business segment is sluggish at best online.
Does that mean we stop or quit what we are doing? Not necessarily. Nothing comes free or easily. There is a cost associated with being on the Web. We must pay for domain names, Web hosting services, and some designers and webmasters to create and maintain sites. Memberships with art organizations online generally are fee-based as well.
Artists have expressed to me their extreme dismay at the lack of real sales. You are not alone. Still others are generating a good measure of business utilizing online stores or auctions, which I'll discuss this in another article. Suffice it to say, these artists spend a good deal of time researching, learning, and positioning themselves over the long-term rather than viewing stores/auctions as quick fix niches.
My advice remains as it has since 1995: If you can stay on the Web, do so. If you cannot, do not. It's over the long-haul that independent artists will, little by little, shave-off a greater segment of buyers. Those who stick with it will be transforming art business as we know it and benefit artists who will follow as the Internet continues to change and grow.
Artists are by nature not aggressive when it comes to selling. We all need to ignite or intensify efforts to find new and better ways to stimulate buyers to visit and purchase our art. If we do not, who will?
In answer to that question, the solution remains "diversity." Many have been mislead into thinking that the Web can be a panacea for art sales. We have seen that it generally is not. To be truly successful, establish a diverse number of distribution channels for your work. We still need brick-and-mortar galleries, reps, and our own studio selling, unless or until the Web proves that it alone be a consistent primary source for art customers.
One other observation about the Web. HTML as most of you know has been the standard code used for years. But this is poised to change. Many sites are already making the move to XML via transitional XHTML. This will happen slowly but if you can begin now to learn or have your Web designer start modifying your sites to XHTML you'll be prepared for the next generation of Internet design and compliance.
Happy Painting...and Selling!
L. Diane Johnson NAPA PSA NAPPAP, is an fine artist and instructor with over 30 years experience. Visit her online gallery for more information or reach her via email.