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.