The digital age has created unprecedented opportunities to sell your art online. Having your art available on your personal website or online art marketplaces like Etsy, Saatchi Art, or Artrepreneur has made it so much easier to reach potential buyers and collectors across the globe. To capitalize on this access to sell your art online, you should understand the benefits and issues of the different types of platforms so you can decide which is best for you.
Personal Store vs. Online Marketplace
Many artists would probably prefer selling their art through a personal website since no other artists are on the site to compete against you for views from potential buyers or collectors. Since it is your site, you have a lot of control over how it looks and feels, so you can more easily develop a recognizable personal brand (i.e., use of fonts, logo design, color schemes, etc.).
Plus, you don’t have to pay commissions or fees like you often do with art galleries or many online marketplaces. For example, a site like Saatchi Art can take as much as 40% of a sale (although some sites. including Artrepreneur, take no commissions on sales of original works). Online marketplaces also provide limited options for visual customization or categorizing your work. There may also be restrictions on the number of works you can sell or even the types of work the site will accept.
More importantly, on an online marketplace, you compete with thousands of other artists for attention while you are the only one selling on your personal website. You are the star featured front and center on every page.
At first glance, a personal website seems the better approach, doesn’t it? There are also significant downsides to selling your art through your website that don’t exist when selling through an online art marketplace. Both methods for selling your art online have pros and cons, so here are a few things to consider before deciding which is best for you.
Development Time and Costs
Building a personal site can take significant development time to get up and running properly. While website-building platforms like Shopify or Wix have made creating sites much easier, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Most platforms use templates to help you get up and running quickly, but any customization of the look and feel will probably require some coding knowledge. Also, only a handful of templates are useful for displaying artwork and portfolios, which leaves many personal art sites looking too similar or basic.
On the other hand, platforms like WordPress are more robust, with thousands of templates and plugins that can help you tailor the design and integrate special features, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools or signing up subscribers to your newsletter through email marketing services like MailChimp. Unfortunately, WordPress has a steep learning curve, so hiring a developer to build and maintain the site may be necessary.
Many developers will also charge a monthly maintenance fee to maintain and update your store. Future changes may also require paying the developer additional fees. If you hire a developer, be sure that the process of adding and removing art is simple and can be done by you without the help of the developer. Additionally, there are many hidden costs, such as hosting fees, purchasing of templates, domain fees, and more.
On the other hand, online art marketplaces have simple and intuitive setup processes that can get you up and running in minutes without a lot of hidden fees or the need to hire a developer. Uploading or removing artwork and changing the artwork details is pretty straightforward, but you won’t have much control over the look and feel. As well, some online art marketplaces only allow works over a certain price and may have high sales commissions, increasing the costs of membership over time. However, those costs must be weighed against the access to a larger market of potential buyers and collectors.
Online art marketplaces may be less customizable than personal websites, but they are easier to set up and manage and don’t require hiring a developer to customize or maintain the site.
An online art marketplace will be a more streamlined experience for the artist and the customer. Plus, the shorter development and maintenance time required when using an art marketplace to sell your art online will leave you free to create new artwork, not paperwork.
There are several robust e-commerce solutions for personal websites. Features that both sellers and customers expect when online shopping, such as secure credit card transactions, customer account logins and guest checkout, one-click refunds, inventory and order management, email templates, and customer notifications, are generally available from most e-commerce solutions, but the breadth of features depends upon the platform.
WooCommerce for WordPress is one of the most feature-filled e-commerce solutions with dozens of add-ins that can enhance the user experience and make it easier for you to manage sales and connect with customers. The downside is that WooCommerce is more difficult to deploy and maintain than a simpler platform like Shopify, but depending upon your sales volume and inventory, hiring a developer to build a WooCommercce site is probably overkill. Even with Shopify, you will have to set up a merchant account to process credit and debit payments from customers, handle shipping and returns and provide reporting tools for your taxes.
An online art marketplace’s sales and payments are often simpler and may not include all the features you receive through a merchant account, but for many artists, the available features are sufficient to sell their work. In most cases, the art marketplace receives the payment from a customer and then deposits the payment into your bank account using third-party payment processors like PayPal or Zelle after the artwork has been delivered to the customer. Advanced features, such as inventory management or tax reporting, may be limited, but those reports should be available through the payment processor.
Marketing and buyer traffic
“If you build it, they will come” is an adage with no relevance when talking about the internet. There are hundreds of thousands of artist-based websites, all vying for traffic, so getting a buyer to visit your site is no easy task. If you have a significant social media or online presence, you can use those posts to drive your site traffic and generate sales. If you are a relatively unknown artist, you will probably need to use paid advertising or use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques so that your artwork will show up in Google’s Search results.
With SEO, you are trying to convince a search engine that your artwork should appear in the search results for a particular query. For example, let’s say you are looking for “fine art Cuba photos for sale,” so you place that query into Google. Google then returns what it thinks are the best pages that answer the query. There are hundreds of factors that Google looks at to decide which results are the best answers to the query, such as the title of the page, the depth of the content, the expertise of the author, and the type of site (I.e., blog vs. e-commerce). It also looks at other indicators, such as the amount of traffic going to the site, the number of pages on the site, or how many other pages on the web link back to the site (backlinks). In essence, if many people go to the site and use it as a permanent reference on their pages, then people must think the site is a good one.
SEO aims to optimize your website pages, so Google or other search engines are most likely to think that your site has the best answer to the query. Google will put the best answers at the top of the results. The higher your pages are in the results, the more likely it will be the one the person searching clicks on.
Unfortunately, SEO is difficult to master, with a steep learning curve and significant time allocation to achieve results. More importantly, some factors, such as the number of site pages or backlinks, cannot be optimized well for a small personal site. On the other hand, online art marketplaces have the staff, expertise, and resources to build a proper SEO strategy. Take the query we discussed earlier, fine art Cuba photos for sale.” Look at the top results of that query, and you’ll find sites like Saatchi Art, Artrepreneur, ArtPal, FineArt America, Amazon, Wayfair, and other large shopping sites. So while it is true that you are competing against many other artists in an online art marketplace, your personal website is also competing with thousands of other art sites for traffic. At least with an art marketplace, the SEO is handled for you, along with paid advertising, to ensure that potential buyers see the available work.
For more on SEO, see “Seo: A Primer for Artists.“
To sell your art online, consider your credibility
Given the proliferation of scammers on the internet, potential buyers are often wary when making purchases from personal websites. After all, a buyer doesn’t know that you are who you say you are, that your site is legitimate and safe, or that you are the true owner of the works displayed in your online gallery. How do they know you will send the work on a timely basis and that it is shipped properly? How do they know that should there be a problem, they can easily return the item and that you will refund their money?
Buyers are more comfortable when they know the seller is a verified business. The buyer wants to know that their purchase is secure and, should an item arrive damaged or not arrive at all, the process for returns and reimbursement is hassle-free. Unfortunately, overcoming this obstacle in a personal store can be difficult unless the buyer knows and trusts you.
On the other hand, online art marketplaces are business entities that are perceived as less risky since they are larger in scale and have the processes to deal with customers’ purchasing issues. To give a buyer confidence that their purchase is secure, online art marketplaces typically hold the payments (in escrow) until the transaction is complete and the buyer is satisfied.
If problems arise that require a refund, the payment is available to be returned since it had been held pending proper delivery. Knowing the payment is secure and easily refunded will make the purchaser more comfortable with the transaction, especially if the price is high. Your personal store probably won’t have an escrow option. Using PayPal or a quality credit card merchant can make the transaction more secure, which will go a long way toward making a buy comfortable, but the refund process is often laborious.
With an online art marketplace, knowing the payment is secure and easily refunded will make the purchaser more comfortable with the transaction.
Managing Multiple Platforms
Deciding whether to sell your art online through your personal store or a marketplace depends on your artistic and financial goals. For example, do you want to earn your living entirely from online sales? Is it one of many revenue channels you have, or are you hoping for some extra cash once in a while? Based on your financial goals, how much of your resources can you afford to spend? The more work you sell, the more you have to fulfill purchases, satisfy buyers, and account for your sales. Successfully selling art online, if done yourself, could lessen the time you have available to create work.
Of course, no rule says you cannot sell through your site and place your work on multiple marketplaces. The more platforms that sell your work online, the greater the chances it can be seen and purchased by potential buyers.
Managing your art on several platforms also means ensuring that all your work and branding are consistent across each platform. All the work should have the same titles, descriptions, and prices. Change the artwork price on one platform, and you’ll need to change it on all the others.
To make things more manageable, you may want to limit the number of sites where you sell your work. You should also think carefully about the information you provide for your profile and each of the works, such as titles, descriptions, and prices, so you won’t have to go back and make changes later.
To decide which platform or platforms are best for you, list the features for each site and mark them on a sliding scale of importance, such as ones that are critical, nice to have, or are not needed to sell your art online. Consider the amount of art you expect to initially add to the store, how much additional inventory you will be adding regularly, and how many pieces you expect to sell each month.
If an online art marketplace or website builder solution doesn’t have what you need, you can cross it off your list. Then evaluate the nice-to-have features against the pricing and complexity of getting your store up and running to finalize a list of sites you will use. Then give each a try to see how they work for you. Then come back and check out our other marketing articles to help you drive more traffic and engagement to your sites.
What are your experiences selling your art online? Which platforms or features do you prefer? How does having your own personal store impact how you sell your art online? Share your feedback!