A few weeks ago I was asked to list out the pros and cons of running your own artist website compared to joining a bigger online gallery with other artists.
It’s a good question, and I’m going to share my opinion in just a moment. . . in the interests of full disclosure however, I need to mention that earlier this year I co-founded a company called foliotwist which provides artists with their own easy-to-manage websites—and I intentionally chose the "artist website" route because I believe personal artist websites can be much more effective than online galleries.
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So I’m obviously a bit biased. :)
But no matter what my personal or professional preferences may be, there ARE pros and cons to both methods of selling art online.
Here are a few reasons why you may want to choose one or the other:
Artist Website: Pros
1. There’s less direct competition from other artists
When a visitor lands at your personal art website, they’ll ONLY see your art—no other artwork will distract them, and if any sales are made, they’re going to be yours.
2. Having your own domain can be a powerful marketing tool
Putting your website’s domain name on your business cards, brochures, fliers, etc, is one of the easiest and most effective thing you can do to promote your art online. And when your domain is your actual name, it also looks pretty darn professional.
3. Your personal “brand” will become much stronger with your own site
Instead of your visitors seeing a gallery logo above your artwork, they’ll just see your name and your brand. In a way, this levels the playing field by giving you the same branding opportunity that any online gallery has.
4. You’ll have much more control over your website than a gallery
Want to add a page explaining your commission work? Or create a newsletter sign-up form for interested visitors? On your own site you can do whatever you want, whenever you want (as long as you know how of course).
5. Links to your website help promote YOU, not an entire gallery
When another website or art blogger links to one of your works of art, your entire website benefits slightly. If you’re part of a big gallery, the same thing happens—but since you don’t own the entire gallery, it helps you a little less.
6. There’s no commission fee when you sell art from your own site
If you own your own website there’s no middle-man. You may have to pay a small credit card transaction fee, but it’ll still be much better than 30-50%.
Artist Website: Cons
1. Unless you’re a programmer, a good art website will NOT be free
You’ll either pay thousands of dollars upfront for a custom website, or pay a small amount on a monthly basis for something less personalized.
Adding an integrated payment solution so people can buy art directly from your site can be especially costly, although with PayPal that cost comes down quite a bit.
2. You’ll probably need to research web hosts and domain registrars
If you’re planning on running your own artist website it’ll help to have a little of "tech" knowledge, or at least a willingness to research hosting companies and domain registrars to find the best deals. It’s not all that difficult, really, but many artists just don’t want to deal with it.
3. People won’t visit your website unless you promote it
When you join an online gallery you’ll get some exposure just because you’re on a bigger site—but on your own, all of the marketing and promotion is up to you.
Online Gallery: Pros
1. It’s usually very easy—and often free—to join an online gallery
Most big online galleries have a simple, quick signup process. Just enter your name, email address, possibly a few other details, and you’re done. You can start uploading your art instantly, too.
2. Online galleries will accept credit card payments on your behalf
Accepting credit cards for payment is a MUST, but it can get costly if you’re trying to do it on your own. Letting the gallery take care of that stuff is always a good choice.
3. Some galleries provide features you couldn’t have on your own
Want to sell prints of your art? How about frames? You wouldn’t be able to set that up by yourself, but a few innovative online galleries like Imagekind, RedBubble, and ArtistRising have made it possible.
4. You’ll never worry about web hosting or domain management again
For many artists, this is the big one. If you don’t want to mess with hosting or anything else, then an online gallery is a really easy choice.
Online Gallery: Cons
1. You’ll always be sharing space with other artists
The more artists that belong to your online gallery, the harder it will be for visitors to find your work in the first place. . . and the more likely that they’ll drift on to someone else without purchasing your art.
2. Your URL will be less professional and harder to remember
Most online art galleries will give you a URL like “yourname.galleryname.com” or perhaps “www.galleryname.com/yourname.” The worst ones don’t even do that, and settle for something like “www.galleryname.com/index.php?id_artist=49854.”
3. It will be harder to rank well in search engine results pages
Google and other search engines place more value on top-level domains than any other kind of web page. (A top-level domain goes between the "www" and the ".com" and it’s used as the home page of most websites.)
Since your URL will be something like “www.galleryname.com/yourname” you’ll immediately have a harder time ranking against top-level domains.
4. Your fate will be permanently tied to the gallery
If you’re running your own art website and your hosting company goes belly-up, you can always find a new host. Your art website will look and function exactly the same as it did on the old host.
But if your art gallery dies, you’ll have to begin again from scratch somewhere else. . . and not only will you have to re-upload your images, but any high rankings you had in the search engines will be completely wiped out.
5. There are more limits at an online gallery than your own website
Whether it’s image limits, page limits, design limits, or something else, online galleries tend to have a lot more restrictions than individual artist websites.
6. You’ll probably have to pay a commission if you sell your art
Most online galleries follow the traditional gallery model by charging a commission fee. Some are very low (7.5%) but others are just as high as real-world galleries (30-50%).
So which is the better choice?
Truthfully, there’s no absolute right or wrong answer to that question. Some artists prefer having their own website, and some like being a part of an online gallery more.
The right question to ask is which one will work best for you . Try a few of the online galleries, test out a couple artist websites, and see what works well with your personality and your art.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way to know for sure.
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