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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Online vs. gallery sales

The mechanics of selling are changing, but common courtesy (I hope) will never go out of style.

Headlights, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I wrote about the inevitability of online sales. Until now, I’ve avoided it, preferring to sell the old-fashioned way. But more and more professional artists are embracing the idea, and I doubt it will go away anytime soon.

A professional artist sent me the following comment:

I still want to be in galleries, but only a very few that I have a great relationship with. The appeals of online selling to me are these:
  • No framing, you ship only when you sell, and you can charge for shipping or not (free shipping on small paintings is a nice thing to be able to offer your subscribers);
  • You can offer a painting on multiple online venues at the same time, as long as you remember to remove or mark them sold everywhere;
  • It's a nice way to be able to offer a sale without offending your galleries.
Commercial scallopers, by Carol L. Douglas
Most galleries have contracts with their artists that limit their sales in the local geographical area. Artists should respect these agreements, not just in their letter but in their spirit. If you think being an artist is a dicey financial venture, consider the costs to run a bricks-and-mortar store selling artwork. If a gallery has taken you on, you owe it the courtesy of supporting its marketing efforts.

Online marketing is, in fact, a good way to do that, but as with everything, you should talk with your galleries first. Some have specific rules about cross-listing with selling websites. Avoid putting yourself in the position of retrieving a painting from a gallery because you sold it somewhere else. Your gallery deserves a commission for work it’s showing.

A lobster pound at Tenant's Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas (courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery)
Artists occasionally do dumb things that undercut their relationships with galleries. Showing at other venues in violation of their contracts is one thing. Undercutting prices in side deals is another. Even worse is saying disparaging things after a few glasses of wine at openings. Alcohol and business don’t generally play well together.

You, the artist, ought to be more of a salesman for yourself and your work than anyone else. “Be relentlessly positive,” is the best motto I can think of in sales. If you’re doing business with a person you don’t respect, what does that say about you?

The new sandbar, by Carol L. Douglas
This same logic extends to social media. There is no distinction between your identity as a person and your professional identity as an artist; you are one and the same. “I was just being funny,” is never an excuse. People read your Facebook posts.

Yes, galleries and artists need each other, but there is a power dynamic at play, too. It shifts depending on who is more successful, the gallerist or the artist. In general, we need galleries at least as much as they need us.

I doubt that will change as we buy and sell more across the internet. There will always be makers of merchandise and sellers of merchandise. The names of the relationships may change, but common courtesy (I hope) will never go out of style.