Wednesday, February 09, 2011

choosing your online markets

I remember the days when online art-based markets were still starting up, and how exciting it was for me to find sites who wanted to represent my work. That was well over a decade ago, and the options were not nearly what they are today. Now, I get showered with emails from people launching online boutiques featuring handmade work who want to sell my work on their site. To be clear, I'm talking about sites that want me to drop ship single items for them when an order comes in, not buy wholesale from me and then sell on their site. It made me think about why I say "yes" to some people and "no" to most. Here are three things all artists should carefully evaluate before committing to any online market:
  1. Design. Do I like how a site looks? When I am looking at an online store, I appraise it the same way I would a bricks and mortar store. The first thing I want to see is a store that expresses an aesthetic that reflects my design sense and will showcase my work well. Many sites look as if designer (probably the owner) used a template, giving sites a stale, dated look. It's on par with a boutique opening in an old Gap store and not changing the fixtures or display units. I also look at the other artists who are on there. I want to see work that reflects a high level of artistry and design that will elevate my own items. Sometimes when I check out these sites I see work that is in whole other world of craftsmanship and taste, which makes me wonder why the owners would think I would be a good fit for their store
  2. Marketing. If a website launches and no one knows it, has it really launched? For an e-commerce website to be successful, a strong marketing plan must be in place. Twitter, facebooking, and networking with bloggers is a good start, but what else is in the works to get the site noticed? Marketing shows the level of commitment the owner has to the site and whether they have the time and the money to back the site up while they find their customers.
  3. Pay to play? I don't think so. It rubs me the wrong way when a new e-store expects artists to pay to be represented on the site. Again, it's like opening a store, a store in a strip mall way out on the edge of town, and expecting your vendors to pay your rent. Why do I say way out on the edge of town? Because that's where most e-commerce stores are located in the public consciousness. There are some sites worth paying for, but with so many sites that are virtually free and get tons of traffic, there are only two reasons to pay for web representation: great exposure and/or great sales. I know site owners will say that their time and effort is worth something, and to that I say taking a percentage of sales is totally fair, up to 50%. I'm not handing money over to any website owner unless they have already proven themselves in the marketplace, and that takes their time, their dedication, and most importantly, their money. One online store asked me to be on their site and pay over a thousand dollars for the privilege. I refused, and they came back and said they would have me on the site for free. The sad thing is, I know other artists who foolishly paid the money!
You may wonder why careful vetting is important when you just want exposure and get your work out there. No matter where you are in your career, it pays to be choosy. Every single e-commerce site you sign up with takes precious energy. You have to send in current images and keep them updated, you have to check on the site to see how it's doing and keep track of communication, you often have to keep marketing materials that go with each order, and all of this takes up vital RAM space in your brain. If the site is successful and brings you sales, great, it's energy well spent. If the site brings you no sales, it's a drain on your valuable resources, resources that could be spent marketing your work on your own site.

Monday, February 07, 2011

baby, it's dark inside

I've been back in the studio after taking the month of January off. Friends keep asking me what I did in January and I'm like, "That's a good question. I have no idea." Aside from some pretty papercut projects and a clean studio, there is little evidence that I did anything. I went sailing, which is what this image on the left is. And should I have done anything beside just enjoying life? When one lives in a culture where time is considered money, laying around for a month could be considered an act of subversion, unless of course you are actively engaged in a vacation. That's okay. It's actually amazing how a whole day can be taken up with going to the gym in the morning, then having lunch with a friend in the afternoon. Poof, day is gone. The fact that I can use up a whole day with two activities like that is what tells me that I was actually born for a life of leisure.

Speaking of leisure, one thing that did happen is I bought a king-sized bed. My husband and I have been sleeping on a full for almost 15 years, and every time we stay at a hotel, I realize exactly how much space I'm missing out on at night. After much hemming and hawing, research, and procrastinating-- king size beds are expensive-- the bed was installed on our craigslist king frame. The only bed I've ever bought before in my life was a futon, about 22 years ago, which was cheap. Very cheap. In Oakland, and I'm sure in every city across the country, there are always futons up for grabs on the sidewalks. And in other places where you don't expect to find futons, like the park, floating in the lake, and by the side of the freeway, where I can only imagine they sailed from the back of some schmo's truck. Not that I would ever put claim on a street futon, I'm just saying that you can. They are everywhere.

The bed is ridiculously large, and to clothe it, I had to literally buy acres of sheets. The bed is so huge and takes up so much of our room that it is a little silly, and there is part of me that's asking why anyone needs a bed so large that a family of four could live on it. Comfortably. But when I get into it at night I stop asking those questions. I had a hard time sleeping on it at first because I'm used being right up against another body all night, and now it's like I'm adrift on a sea of bed, and I would wake up not knowing where the hell I was. Or where Andrew was. But like a lady of leisure who gets used to doing nothing all day, I'm now sleeping just fine.

Except for the other night, when I woke up at 3 am with the thought that I had totally forgotten an order, a special order in a special color that was to be a V-Day gift for someone. With that thought comes a surge of adrenaline, not a good thing at 3 am. The adrenaline gave me enough energy to start thinking about every other little thing I might be forgetting, and how screwed up it is that I'm forgetting orders at all. Which led me into thoughts about the way things should be instead of the way they are, and how the way things are is whittling me down to a business-minded craftsperson instead of an artist. Oh yeah, it got dark. By 4 am I was tossing and turning on my luxurious bed, convinced that any life was better than the one I had. By the time I fell asleep again around 5, I had dreams that I was running my studio out of my grandmother's bedroom... man, I don't even want to get into it, but I was a complete wreck by the time I woke up. I jumped up to check on that order, and as it turned out, not only had I already made that piece, I shipped it out back in December. You may think that would make me feel better, but I just questioned my sanity even more, and wondered exactly how much longer I would need to work before I can take another month off.