Not so long ago, artists were asking me if they really needed a website. But in a very short period of time, everything has changed—art is no longer confined to brick and mortar galleries, and online galleries are now as common as computers.
As a result, artists are more frequently asking me how many websites they should be on. Here’s a recent question I received, and my answer:
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“I have my work featured on several high profile online galleries. I also take advantage of blogging, social media and linked in artist groups. While I have had no direct sales from my online presence, I have been contacted several times regarding my work (art students, a licensing agency, vanity galleries, and a few shady characters). Would it be necessary or helpful to have my work on as many different websites possible? There have been a few free offers to join and also ones that ask for annual fee.”
The truth is, online galleries are are far from equal when it comes to quality of service or selection of artists. Some have systems of selection that resemble a jury process; others accept any artist who applies.
If you are in an online gallery with thousands of other artists, you are likely to get lost in the crowd. Stay away from the sites that promise to be the largest online gallery in the world. Many of these sites make more money from artist listings than they do from art sales.
Secondly, keep in mind that no third party website is a replacement for your own website. With your own website, you control everything, you own all the content and you decide how you want to present your artist brand to meet your goals. When you become part of another website, you defer to their brand and how they present you and your work.
That said, online galleries can be a good way to extend your reach to get extra exposure and sales in the same way as you might have more than one physical gallery exhibit your work.
Thirdly, before you invest a lot of time and money in any online gallery, do some research. Entry fees, commissions, marketing and support services all vary from gallery to gallery, so read the terms and conditions carefully. The fine print on some of these sites says that they can do whatever they want with your images. Make sure you understand the agreement, and know what rights you retain and what rights you are giving to the website.
Aside from browser research, it’s also a good idea to make direct contact with artists listed on the site and learn from their experiences so you can either benefit from their wisdom or save yourself a lot of time and trouble by not joining in the first place.
Here are some great questions to ask (either of the artists on the site, or the website’s customer service department) to help you make an informed decision:
• Does the website attract the right audience for my type of work?
• How many artists do they “represent?” Will my art be lost in a sea of artists or will I be highly visible?
• Does my link on the website go directly to my own work, or to a general page with lots of other artists?
• Is there a search function where people can find my art, without having to be a member of the site?
• What results have artists already on the site had, measured by traffic and sales?
• What kind of marketing will the owners do to make people aware of my art?
• How am I notified of inquiries and can I follow-up directly with potential buyers?
• Will I receive reports of sales and revenue collected?
• How often will I be paid?
• What is the owners’ experience in the arts community and reputation with the Better Business Bureau or credit rating services like Dun & Bradstreet?
• How much will it cost to participate, in time and money?
• What text and images do I have to provide?
• Is there a “brick & mortar” gallery connected to this virtual one?
• How will participation in this online gallery support my other marketing efforts?
If you do decide to join several online galleries, keep a record of which ones are showing your art, which pieces are included, what sold, and for how much. Don’t count on the site to do this for you or you might end up with missed sales opportunities or unpaid revenue.
I’m always happy to review a particular gallery or offer specific suggestions one-on-one (that’s what I do with my current clients) but in most cases a little research and the questions listed above will give you all the answers you need.