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4 July 2013

Where to Sell your Art Online - a review by Jaiq Carter

Where are all the Art Collectors?

By Jaiq Carter

I’m an artist, I have paintings ready to sell, I even have a website, swanky business cards and a strong brand identity - yet I’m finding it hard to drive buying traffic to my virtual gallery. Where are all the art collectors? Buying and selling art online is now a huge industry; Rebecca Wilson, a Director of Saatchi Gallery, was  recently quoted saying they sell more art in a month online than most bricks-and-mortar galleries do in a year.

I post links to my Facebook page, tweeting like a noisy bird with the rest of Twitterdom and pinning my heart to my sleeve via Pinterest’s groovy boards. I’m networking my little bobby socks off trying to get that all important bite but it’s just not happening... what can I do next?

Well of course the default online selling site is the hugely popular, virtual auction mansion, Ebay. I personally hate it because it screams “bargain hunter” and I’m just not so comfortable with that tag against my artwork. However, I have read about successes in art sales on Ebay, with a few artists even able to develop a cult following. It’s just not for me.

Hearing a lot of hoo-haa about the selling site Etsy, I decided to give it a go a few years back as I kind of like it’s arty crafty ethos of selling lots of original artwork and quirky handmade crafts. Posting items for sale is simple and there are many upsides to this selling site; there’s no joining fee, it’s cheap to list items and you can pay to feature a specific item if you wish.

The downsides are that Etsy’s marketplace is a glut of sellers all vying for the attentions of a minority of buyers. It attracts lovers of craft over art collectors and, as it’s also predominantly US based, buyers are not interacting with the site at the same time as you. Sales are very slow for most sellers and I’ve personally wasted far too many hours during my two year/two sales membership creating “treasuries” and exploring “circles” to count Etsy as a truly positive business asset.

I have decided that I need professional help from a specialist online arts directory, so I turned to the only respondent worth asking; Google! I type “online art galleries” and start to sift through page 1 of the results; here’s a review of my trawl of the top 7 hits, excluding the featured adverts.

Top listing goes to ArtGallery.co.uk a vibrant, busy site which boldly declares its position as “the place to buy original art”. I do a little surf around the galleries; there’s a Premier Artists Gallery, a Featured Artists Gallery and a Bestselling Artists Gallery plus an A-Z. It hits me quickly that this site represents a lot of artists; there are 51 featured in the Premier Gallery alone and 29 pages of “Bestseller” listings. It’s sounding a little like Etsy... The upside is that it is free to upload three images and costs just £30 per year for the ability to upload up to 50 images. The downside is the hefty 35% commission taken by the site for selling and marketing your work. In real terms, this means that for a painting you have costed out at £600, to build the commission in means pushing the selling price up to over £1,000. If you decided to take the hit, it would cost you £210 per £600 painting, leaving you just £390. That’s without shipping, insurances and other charges. Good sales reputation but an individual is easily lost in the crowds, plus 35% is a high fee. 6/10

In second spot is ArtistsInfo.co.uk, a “Global Art Directory” set up by a visual artist and an arts agent. The first thing I notice is that I’m not bombarded with hundreds of images of artworks like the previous page. There’s a slick slideshow of single images and as I scroll to the bottom of the page there’s a listings section that categorises artists by location, presumably to encourage buyers to go see the work “in the flesh” as opposed to just on a screen. Nice touch!

To be represented on this site is by invitation only, (gulp!), but after watching the friendly embedded YouTube video calling for artists, I feel confident about clicking the “Get Listed” button. The site requests I email 2 images of my work and a short artists biography to the selection team. I received a positive email in return inviting me to list my work on Artists Info. Friendly? Check. Simple to navigate? Check. Appealing to buyers? Check. So what’s the catch? Do you know, I’m not sure... It costs a one-off administration fee of £49.99, which is a relatively small cost for the high end search engine optimisation and specialist software that operates this site.

There’s no huge glut of artists fighting for sales, just a well laid out format which links collectors directly to artists, commission-free. There are loads of benefits, like the reach of 80,000 people per week, a swish online arts magazine and a top ranking YouTube arts channel. Artist testimonials tell me how this site has increased sales of their work and put opportunities for awards and travel in their path. All in all, Artists Info seems to be a great, affordable service for artists and a simple, personal buying experience for the collector. A veritable matchmaker of a site for artists and collectors. 9/10

Featuring third on Google’s results list is the OnlineArtGallery.org.uk which, reading the bumf, has been created by a website design company. My first impression is that it doesn’t look very professional. The background image is of black ash wood and the logo is poor; old fashioned and unclear. There are plenty of spelling mistakes and spacing errors. The site also hosts banner ads, a big old no-no if you ask me, especially as the ads are for insurance and website design. The last thing you need is for your potential buyer to be distracted away from a sale by life insurance! It costs per batch to submit artwork to the site; £25 buys you 20 uploads. There’s no commission to pay as the site claims to just link artist with buyer, however when clicking a link to buy a piece of work, I’m taken to a form which asks for all my details and tells me the artist will be in touch, an unnecessary barrier if you ask me, why not just link directly to the artists website or email address as on the Artists Info site? Filling out forms has to be one of my top five most annoying gripes of shopping online. Forms, banners, recurring expenses - Grrrrrrr; 2/10

Scrolling down the results page I almost miss the fourth ranked site as its URL is similar to the one above. TheOnlineArtGallery.com is the home of Rippington Art, an attractive interface representing over 1,000 artists and designers. There’s no fee to list artwork or create an account but the site says there’s a “modest” commission to pay when work sells. I’m always nervous when costs are not immediately transparent as how will I know if this is the right platform for my work if I don’t know how much I need to build into the price? I had to request the artists’ terms and conditions by email as they were not on the website. A huge red flag appeared over the issue of who owns intellectual property; all work sold on this site must be “free of copyright restrictions” which means anyone can reproduce your work in any format. The real crux of the copyright condition becomes apparent when you then read buyer T&Cs, they state; “Title and ownership rights shall remain the sole property of us” the words ‘touch’ and ‘bargepole’ will be in my most frequent descriptions of this site to fellow artists. Disappointingly anti artists’ rights, secretive about costs. 1/10

LondonArt.co.uk is usually ranked on all the top “where to buy original art” lists. Its look cashes in on the Young British Artists genre and gives off an air of cool, branded, urban elitism. Representing over 2,000 selected artists, London Art boasts that it is the UK's largest online gallery. I trawl the site from end to end but there is no link I can find to submit work for selection, in fact there isn’t any obvious information at all about how to submit work, the costs or the commission charged. Hmmmm... I don’t follow it up, my reason? If I work hard to make it so they can find me, buyers will probably already be finding me. “If your name’s not on the list you can’t come in.” 5/10

Sixth in line to the top spot is GalleriesOnline.co.uk which is a free online community offering member benefits such as gallery creation, blogging, events info and the forum. The site looks lacklustre but I click the “benefits of joining” button anyway. Offering several options for the buyer, it takes far too many clicks to get to the details and prices. Despite its name, this site works better as a community chatroom rather than an online gallery. It looks like a seventies charity and even gratefully accepts donations. Doesn’t do what it says on the tin (unless it’s a collection tin.) 4/10

Ranked seventh on Google’s results page is the highly regarded SaatchiOnline.com; “Discover art. Get discovered”. As expected, it lives up to its parent gallery’s renown and expertise; it is very clear how to buy art and very clear how to sell art. With a 30% commission rate it is a little on the steep side but you can’t help feeling a sense of being in safe hands, (no dig at founder Charles Saatchi’s recent assault charge intended). With a long standing reputation as a champion of undiscovered artists, the site is appealing. Add to this an estimated 73 million hits per day and sales topping £100m per year and you almost sign up to the service until you remember the thousands upon thousands of artists, art students and even school groups that are listed on the site, all showing work, all wanting to be discovered. A great site with excellent credentials but difficult to find the artistic needle in this huge success of a haystack; 7/10

So, if I were Google, my spiders would re-rank the top seven online galleries like this:

1. Artist Info | www.artistsinfo.co.uk | 9/10 - matchmaker of the artworld

2. Saatchi Online | www.saatchionline.com | 7/10 - huge haystack, small needle

3. Art Gallery | www.artgallery.co.uk | 6/10 - represents the masses & costs a fortune

4. London Art | www.londonart.co.uk | 5/10 - elitist and impenetrable

5. Galleries Online | www.galleries-online.co.uk | 4/10 - great to chat to artists

6. Online Art Gallery | www.onlineartgallery.org.uk | 2/10 - unprofessional

7. Rippington Art | www.theonlineartgallery.com | 1/10 - Rippington? Rip-off

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