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September 3, 2012

Why so Many Artists don’t Sell Online?

by Marina

While visiting San Francisco for the UX Week 2012 conference, I stumbled upon an interesting art gallery in the Fisherman’s Wharf. They were featuring an amazing landscape photography by an award-winning photographer Rodney Lough Jr.

I have to say I was blown away by his work – striking images of landscapes with vivid colors… all I could say is “wow, I love his work!”

One of the Photos from Rodney Lough Jr. landscape photographer, SF

Very quickly the sales guy found me and started telling me why I should purchase his work. I was about 15 mins away from catching last tour bus from the Fisherman’s Wharf back to downtown San Francisco, where my hotel was, so I wasn’t ready to make a purchasing decision at that time.

Naturally, I asked for the photographer’s website, where I could see more of his work and maybe purchase online later.

Photos from Rodney Lough Jr.

The sales guy gave me his web address, but warned me that all artwork online is priced 3 times more, compared to the prices you can get in the gallery. He even showed me a scale of how artwork is priced. “Why?” – I asked, surprised. Well, you see, the sales guy continued, “we want to discourage people from buying online”. “Why?” – I asked again, now completely shocked, but very interested in his answer.

Basically, they don’t do returns and if you buy online, they believe, you might not really understand what you are getting and then would want to return it.

I’ve noticed even before that conversation that artists have an interesting take on everything web.

Arts and (No) Crafts

We hear this phrase “Arts and Crafts” a lot and we assume that that the two “Arts” and “Crafts” go together. Well, as I discovered, there is nothing further from the truth – Arts and Crafts don’t go together, and Artists and Crafters don’t mix. In fact, the two groups want nothing to do with one another!

Since I started my business 4 years ago, which was suppose to be an online venue for selling arts and crafts, I was trying to convince local artists to join the site. Nothing worked! Free accounts, special promotions etc. Even today, 4 years later, we only feature about 400 items of original artwork, which is nothing compared to about 3,000 of handmade jewelry and other items posted on the site. Even good friends of mine, who were into painting and photography, would not join the site.

What it boiled down to is artist’s reputation! Artists are very particular where you showcase their work. They had difficulty agreeing to placing their work in the same company with knitted baby booties or laptop bags made of recycled seat belts.

So big name artists would definitely not sell on sites like Ebay. They need their own space and a lot of attention to their art. Some even say they wouldn’t sell their art on the site that features other artwork at prices lower than $500.

This kind of thinking actually applies to the offline world as well. Many artists selling at the “One of a Kind” show in Toronto are not thrilled showing their work next to crafters. The two groups, apparently, don’t interact much with each other at the show and artists pretty much look down on crafters. At least, that’s what I was told.

Selling Online is Selling Out

Many artists I spoke to over the years, don’t even have online presence, which is mind boggling for me. They just don’t believe in online!

Some believe, you have to see their work to buy it and that online photos would not give their work any justice. Others don’t want to bother with the online and see it as too much work. They are doing ok selling their artwork through galleries and rely on art shows to sell their work the old-fashioned way.

As Joanne Latimer said in her post Would Picasso have sold online? – “The Web is shaking up the art world. But some see it as selling out.”, referring to artists who believe that selling online is “a shopping mart for the masses. High art is relationship selling,” says Barrie Mowatt of Vancouver’s Buschlen Mowatt Galleries. “Online sales is for the Costco and Zellers market.”

I wonder if it will take the whole generation to change this kind of thinking. What do you think?

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