Guest Blogger: Liz Crain
Let's be plucky and candid about the costs of offering your art for sale online.
To plunge into the Web’s round-the-clock marketplace is both daunting and compelling. It's delicious to imagine prodigious sales allowing you to “Quit Your Day Job” so you can ship hoards of orders in your Dr. Denton's and then glide into your studio to make more.
Well, that is the sizzle promoted to us by online art marketplaces! And it could happen. Are you clear about what might be involved?
If you've looked into sites such as ArtFire, Artful Home, Etsy, Luulla, Ruby Lane, TrEmbu, eBay, you have a taste of the possibilities.
Regardless of your experience, my mission is to rip through the veils of illusion that obscure the real costs of online art selling and to make sure these costs are in line with your expectations.
TIME: How long does it take you?
No doubt about it, creating and managing your online shop will take chunks of time. How much depends on your learning curve, market sense and enjoyment.
Aside from making and offering your best art, online selling demands adept presentation. Your digital images and words need to serve in lieu of the real objects and require excellent photography, lively and accurate descriptions, market-savvy pricing, effective tags, and realistic shipping fees.
How long does it take you to create listings and manage them? How often do you “fluff and fold” to keep things current?
Do you tweet, pin, post and blog about your shop's activities?
Do you spend time on the boards, blogs or teams? Do they require additional activities?
When you sell something, how much time does it take to correspond, package and ship? Follow up? Handle damages or returns?
Translate your hours into a dollar amount. After a reasonable learning curve, do your sales cover it?
Don't forget, it's time away from the studio, too.
After several years of my own Etsy tweaking and tilting at windmills, I can confidently tell you that what consistently sells are my ceramic face and skull jugs. More interestingly, they always sell East of the Mississippi to collectors I couldn't meet any other way, since I'm in California. Nothing else I've listed, plain or sublime, has done well enough to justify the time involved. One guess what's in my Etsy Shop!
TEMPERAMENT: Do you have the stomach for it?
Aside from Time, there's affinity, a.k.a. Temperament. They go together. If you enjoy it, you'll probably spend more time at it. More time likely means greater effectiveness leading to increased sales, which makes for even more affinity.
Do you enjoy shooting and editing your photos, writing snappy catalog-style copy, creating the best pricing, tagging, promotion, shipping and customer service?
Do you like experimenting, tweaking and checking Shop Stats?
Are you happy with online communities, customers and communication?
Are you able to maintain a separate inventory for your online venue?
If you're cool with all of this, great!
But it's not for all artists and there's no problemo in skipping online selling in favor of other opportunities that hold more charm and meaning for you.
Since 2009, when I opened my Etsy Shop, I've run the gamut of personal wrangling, from overwhelmed and petulant to overjoyed and even smug. My temperament is such that I will keep poking at it until it behaves for me, but I don't necessarily recommend my approach.
I had a lot of newbie fantasies to lose, too. A valuable side effect of my mistake-riddled persistence is I've learned to shoot great photos, write about my work colorfully yet realistically, define my niche and spend the least amount of time to be viable in it. Nothing can take that away and the skills are completely transferable!
MONEY: Ready for the accounting part?
Alyson offered a post entitled What is Your Art Business Costing You?, which helped us clarify the total cost of each venue. Online selling is not any different and deserves the same frank cost/benefits accounting.
Here's a list of possible expenses:
- Site membership/Monthly fees
- Item listing/Relisting fees
- Ad and promotion fees
- Sales commissions
- Payment processing fees
- Team dues and fees
- Shipping materials
- Postage and insurance, if not paid by buyer
- Cost of damage and returns
- Cost of free swag tucked in with purchase
- A dollar figure reflecting the time you spent to create an active shop
It helps to understand the depth of the pool you're plunging into. Research the online venues you're interested in. Compare features and fees. Find reviews.
Etsy won't say, but reasonable guesstimates suggest over 300,000 sellers, more than 13 million current listings, and over $3 million in sales each month. Did you do the math? That averages out to 23 cents per listing or $10 per seller.
EXPECTATIONS: What do you hope to gain?
What do you expect from entering the online art marketplace?
How much time are you willing to spend?
Does your temperament fit what would be required of running an online store?
Does the projected income make it worth your while?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, research and experiment to discover them. The clear-eyed results will rip through any veils of illusion.
About Our Guest Blogger
Liz Crain has been selling her ceramic art on Etsy since 2009. She specializes in expressive character face and skull jugs.