by Carlo Wolff
A panel of experts in art sales explored an array of tools and options at the monthly Cleveland Digital Publishing Users Group meeting at the Garfield Heights Library.
Some 40 people gathered September 28 as moderator Linda Barberic of Keith Berr Photography led the panel through a discussion of popular online sales platforms, including Fine Art America, Zazzle, Etsy, Amazon and Society6. The wide-ranging discussion highlighted the pros and cons of the services, both for the artists and their customers.
The panel also considered how these services differ from selling in galleries, and how they can dovetail with a comprehensive marketing plan. The event covered such topics as what online platform is most appropriate for the art one wants to sell, how to determine which platforms to use, and how to prepare for art sales. The discussion was lively and often funny.
Keith Berr—and in particular, Mary Urbas, director of the art gallery at Lakeland Community College—stressed the importance of offline sales. Berr noted that he saves his best work for exhibitions and gallery sales but finds online sales helpful for distributing good-quality prints of work that has mass appeal. Urbas expressed concern about the quality of digital printing, noting there is no better way to assess the quality of a work of art than seeing an original in a curated gallery. She also dissed giclée prints, noting the popular artist Thomas Kinkade passed them off as originals by adding a daub of paint and so inflating their value.
While panelists differed over which online platforms deliver the most bang for the buck, all agreed that selling art requires business savvy. Keep track of everything and document it all, Berr said. Copyright your work, counseled graphic designer Kelli Swan; as she says in a handout, owning copyright means you can “create once, sell often.”
Decide whether you want to sell through Etsy, which makes selling easy but requires the artist to fulfill the order, or Society6 or Zazzle, which create and deliver products made from the artist’s design, suggested both Karen Sandstrom and Swan. Sandstrom is an illustrator and the director of communications at the Cleveland Institute of Art and uses both Etsy and Society6. Swan owns Cygnet Graphics Ltd. and sells her black-and-white graphite pencil drawings through Fine Art America and Zazzle. Barberic produces photo shoots for Berr and sells healing teas through Somatea.com.
John Popp, sales manager at Dodd Camera, also sells photography and photography products, through Amazon. Heidi Cool, who has 25 years of experience in web development, said artists should have their own websites, figure out what audience they are trying to reach, and blog about their work to gain visibility in a crowded online marketplace.
It’s not just about the pushing out, however, it’s about the connecting, Swan said. She advised artists to use social media to create authentic connections with like-minded groups.
Also, decide how much time you want to spend on the business side of your enterprise. Your skill might not be web design or social media management. “Hire people who do it better than you,” said Barberic.
A regular contributor to the jazz magazine, DownBeat, Carlo Wolff is the writer of Mike Belkin (Act 3 Creative); the author of Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories (Gray & Company); co-writer, with Eric Olsen and Paul Verna, of The Encyclopedia of Record Producers (Billboard Books); and is currently working on Designing Victory, the autobiographical memoir of Robert P. Madison, Cleveland’s first black architect, to be published by Act 3 this winter. Wolff has been a reporter for and editor of both mainstream and alternative daily and weekly newspapers, and a review of his is contained in Killed, a compilation of censored journalism published by Nation Books. Wolff lives in South Euclid with his wife, Karen Sandstrom, and their daughter, Lylah Rose Sandstrom Wolff.