Working with Online Galleries

Showing your art online with an Internet Art Gallery

“Bj., do you find it positive to show online with the Internet Art Galleries, what are my options, how do I choose and what about sales?”

The very first time I did a seach-right after I finished my first website, I found only a handful of sites that had anything to do with art. As one of the pioneering artists on the Internet, I knew the day would come, when there would be thousands of pages of website links on search engines. Well, that day has come. All the avenues I take to display my work, i.e., my personal website, my eBay stores/auctions, the brick-and-mortar galleries, distributors, the over 40 online galleries that represent my work and many others, creates a network of expose that consistently spider-webs outward-introducing my art to the entire world. The most important thing to remember, when you are deciding rather or not to sign with an online gallery is the promotional value, which is tremendous! As a consumer, you know… that you can look for something, but if you can’t find it…you can’t buy it. You may give up, or you may buy something similar that you do find while shopping-depending on how readily available the item is. Art is everywhere. So, for the art buyer, the later is more likely to happen, unless it is a specific piece they are looking for.. For there are two types of art sales…customers that buy your work-just because they like it. And the second…are customers that buy your work-just because it’s your work. It is similar to car purchases and many other industries. I.e., some consumers will simply buy the car that they are attracted to-no matter who the maker is. While other consumers will only buy a Chevy, or American-made models. They will scout through the options of that maker, until they find one that they are attracted to. This is the ‘loyal consumer’…the one you want to earn. But first, you need to introduce yourself.

Now the only real rule that I have for marketing proposals of my work is this…if a business wants to profit from my work, I will entertain their proposal. However, if a business wants to profit from me or my occupational title, I will kindly decline. For there are two kinds of representors out there-ones that make legitimate income from the product you produce, and ones that make money from their very own producers. I.e, a hundred years ago, I was a model and owned/operated a modeling school and agency. Unfortunately, I found the later to be the case from many disillusioned hopefuls with stories of broken promises and drained wallets, as they came to me looking for legitimate representation. Agencies were charging them exorbitant fees just to sign up with promises of future jobs to re-coop those fees. Of course, they never made an effort to find the models work. They were paying their bills from the income earned on sign-ups. Now when it comes to Internet galleries…generally, you may not be immune to some costs-but, they should be ‘operational’ in nature. I.e., shipping, packing, and limited promotional/production costs, etc. This should be an easy decision for you. First, assume there is a sale. Then, it cost me this much, they get that much….is there anything left?

The real moral here, is that you have to do your homework on any proposed business venture. Because like it, or not, from the first moment that you decide to sell a single piece of your work, you are in business. Consequently, you have to remove all ego and emotion from the passion that drives us-as artists… to leave a clear, black and white, all-about-the-numbers business skill of thinking. This is why it IS difficult to self-represent and many artists choose to leave all of that to an agent, gallery, or other form of representation. That said, the initial hunt for a mutually advantageous business relationship-still requires the initial homework.

Now, if we concentrate on the question about options and how to choose an “Internet Gallery”, here are a few suggestions and words of advice:

Free websites without commission – These sites make their money, legitimately, through the use of banner ads, or the like. You will have banners at the top, sides, or bottom of your page-or the newest trend, which is pop-up, pop-under or pop-on-exit windows. These are a great avenue for getting your feet wet with your first website, or, just adding to your web presence-which in turn, raises your search engine standing. The more websites with mention of you, the more important the search engines think you are and give you higher ranking. This means that if someone searches for a keyword (topic) that is relevant to your website, your website shows up on the list. The thing to consider is this…is the link to your website on page 1000, or the first 3? Because, statistics show that most searchers will give up, after the first three pages of links. *Note here: If the website you are considering doesn’t have a Google ranking of 4, or more, it will not show up on the search lists and consequently, will not improve your ranking importance to Google. There are two ‘turn-offs’ here to your visitors. First, your website address is going to be so long that no one will remember it, i.e., http://members.freeweb.pleaseclickonthebanners.com/bjdecastro/. Or, your visitors will be so annoyed by the advertisements, which is how the websites make their money, that they will leave before they see your artwork. Again, this is how I got my feet wet and it is a great way to learn what you are going to need and want-before, you make the dive into your own domain, i.e., http://bjdecastro.com . These are also a good avenue for the artist that doesn’t want to sell, but only show and inform.

Free websites with commission – Now these sites are-for the most part, legitimate online galleries that will often only display work by artists that they feel fit into the style of work they represent, or qualify on some skill/career level. In my experience, these sites are ran professionally and expect professionalism from the artists they represent. They should have the standard commission rate, which varies from 15% (rare) to 25%-30% (average) to 35%-40%(highest). If you are paying the higher commission rate (and I do/have), make sure that you are getting your monies worth. Usually, these galleries offer more exposure-perhaps, brick-and-mortar as well. And, they often carry the weight of promotional expenses/materials, which can be a large expense. Here again, I must caution you to put your ego aside and check them out. It can be very tempting to jump into a business relationship that will end badly, because your “I’m going to be famous” voice just reminded you that your work won over a jury selection! With the less than honorable companies, that ‘jury’ could simply be the person depositing your check in their bank. The best case scenario is that they sell a lot of your work and they do earn their money. Unfortunately, many of these online galleries go out of business every year, because it is difficult to sell artwork online without that emotional, face-to-face connection, between the buyer and the piece, which happens in a brick-n-mortar atmosphere. In fact, I have a folder on my desktop full of ‘down’ sites-some notified me and others just left me with a ‘404’ (file not found) moment. On the other hand, there are online galleries that do well. Providing the site fits in this category of Free websites with commission and has a true ‘no up-front cost’ agreement, the only moment of risk for you will be at the close of sales. Use common sense and don’t ship, until payment is received-or, make sure that a ‘escrow’ type service is available. (*This applies to all your online business-regardless who makes the sale, including yourself.) An escrow service holds the product, collects the money, then makes the exchange. Some hold your funds for an approval period for the buyer. There are ‘bad guys’ in this business too, so investigate. In fact, eBay has just succumbed to only recommending one escrow company, until they find another that deserves their confidence. So basically, with legitimate Free websites with commission you have nothing to loose if they don’t sell, or go under, but you will gain in exposure. And if they do sell for you, and if you are careful on the execution of the sale-then, it’s a win-win.

Websites charging fees with or without commission – These sites generally fall into the two categories I spoke of earlier…representors that make money off of the art, or representors that make money off of the artist-or in some cases, both. You need to be careful here. Do your homework. Look at every line of the contract (there should be one) and on every page of the website. Email the other artists represented and be honest with them, as to the purpose of your email. I get these requests all the time from fellow artists, who are simply doing their own homework about a site that they have found me affiliated with. I don’t mind and I also, answer honestly. Literally, sit down with a pad of paper and do the numbers. Make sure that you figure in the cost of your time for what they want to charge you to do themselves. Perhaps, the time it would take you to learn how to do it in the first place x (what you are worth an hour-and you are worth $ per hour) would be much more than what they are charging. Plus, you get to paint! For myself, I learned on my own everything there is to know about writing code, operating and maintaining a website-well, because I am a nerd. It fascinates me. Personally, it’s like painting is my job and my computer is my hobby. However, it is not easy! It takes a lot of time, patience and there isn’t much room for error. So it might be better for you to pay someone else to do it. Again, you have to do the math, because some of these sites will charge you so much that you could never hope to re-coop and come out ahead of the game.

In conclusion, I have been very pleased with the partnerships I have made and find that if I am careful with my consideration, I suffer nothing when the poorly-planned websites go under-yet, continue to benefit from the successful ones with a growing network. I will admit to being bitten once, but it wasn’t for lack of homework studies. In fact, with it being a brick-n-mortar gallery about a thousand miles away, it surely received the most dedicated research. However, one must remember that when you do business with any company, you are dealing with human beings…people capable of making good business go bad. It happens. Because of planning, my loss was easily swallowed-lesson learned. As with all my business decisions, I had made a risk list. This is a ‘worse-case’, which you then use to decide what you can live with. Then, you either negotiate, agree to, or hold it back. In the end, I got all of my un-sold pieces returned, but had to pay for a few repairs. Don’t let me scare you here. Every business suffers loss sometime. The smart business-person just plans ahead for it, limits the loss and then re-coops, if possible. My only hit had nothing to do with the Internet. There is no need to be afraid of the web. Learn it. Use it and watch your business grow.

I hope this helps…bj