I recently read a post from The Abundant Artist that hit home. Especially in terms of marketing my work on print on demand sites such as Fine Art America.
"Problem #4 – There’s a proliferation of art malls on the internet. Crappy companies that want you to list your art with them, but who probably won’t ever make any effort to guide the right collector to the right piece. Their business model is to list as much art as possible, and get as much traffic as possible, then hope that they match up. I like to call this the “spray and pray” method of selling art. In this situation, the artist benefits but little."
I've been selling my work on Fine Art America and Red Bubble basically as an additional outlet for my work that is primarily focused on the stock photography market (commercial buyers) and rights managed work for the publishing industry (book covers, album covers etc). I wouldn't call FAA a "crappy site" because it does what it does very well. It provides an easy way for artists to post their work and it has an efficient system in place to process orders with high quality prints and framed art. But the crappy part is that these sites don't do anything to promote the artists. That part is up to the individual.
I put my work up on FAA but don't do a whole lot to connect with collectors other than this blog and putting in descriptions (some are little short stories!) and connecting with other artists through discussions and portfolio reviews.
The reality of these "art mall" sites is that their business model is to sign up as many people as possible. Unlike a traditional gallery, they are not concerned with their reputation of selecting art only with providing quality reproductions. In other words they let anyone who considers themselves an artist in so you have a wide range of quality, everything from an artist who takes a year to produce a painting to someone who takes snapshots of their hamster with a point and shoot camera.
For the serious artist trying to get notices is like a drowning man shouting to an airplane flying above the storm.
My strategy for selling my art on FAA has been a lot like selling on micro stock sites. Since there are millions of images in the stock portfolios, one must produce in volume. So on FAA I've been uploading a fair amount of images and I'm up to over 200 at the moment just to get noticed.
The downside of this approach is that its difficult to have meaningful collections of related work. I have galleries set up but there isn't an overall consistent theme. I produce work that I like and treat it the way I think it should look . I tend to treat each piece as and individual work without a lot of though to the overall group.
I guess my thought is people search these sites by subject not by artist. If I were to mount a show of my work, I'd edit down a group of images that had a more cohesive look and make one of those wordy artists statements that seem to be required.
Some artists in my group have more consistent approaches for example on photographer produces lovely textured floral images. Kim Hojnacki has nearly 100 of these textured floral images.
Another fine artist on FAA that has a consistent look is Pedro Gili. Pedro's photography uses a lot of shadow, low key and vignettes as well as a rather consistent use of boarders to produce a portfolio that looks like all the piece fit together.
My approach has been a lot more shotgun than these two. I have my dog series with my faithful model Tiki as well as the book "the Quotable Westie" that supports it, but I cover everything from vintage cars to Vermont farms in my portfolio. The consistent tread in all of these approaches is that not a whole lot sells anyway.
The problem basically is the law of supply and demand. Too many "artists" not enough buyers. Its the same thing that makes Ebay hard to make money on if you have a commodity product. Too many sellers, not enough buyers. EXCEPT when you truly have a rare and valuable item. Then you have no problem finding buyers and collectors.
So what is the solution? Darn if I know. And I'll tell you if anyone actually figures out how to really sell art online, they certainly won't tell anyone! But a clue from the Ebay model would be to produce artwork that is first exceptional, second is rare and third is desirable.
You're not going to find a lot of success producing the same type of product that everyone else is shelling, or a low quality version of a popular subject.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on this!