Selling art online – the basics

The opportunities for selling art online increased because of the Coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, selling art via the Internet has been a popular method for selling art for a while now. From your own website to social media presences, to renowned online galleries, the Internet offers artists a multitude of opportunities to present their works to aglobal audience, gain exposure, and increase the value of their own art. In this article you will learn what you should consider when thinking about how to sell your own art online. You’ll need to invest some time, but you’ll be able to give yourself the possibility of benefitting from online sales!

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Why sell art online?

Galleries, exhibitions, and direct sales to art lovers and collectors are still the most important ways for many artists to sell their works. In these offline sales channels, potential buyers can see the art physically, and not just virtually. This also allows the artist to be present and for them to be able to answer questions on a personal level.

The main advantage of selling art online isn’t a trade secret. People can get information about a work of art at any time and from practically any place in the world and, if they want to, can buy it immediately. However, the rules of the art market also apply on the Internet. You should generally ask yourself the following questions if you want to master the best way to sell art online:

  • Who will buy my art - what does my (potential) audience look like?
  • How much are my buyers willing to pay for my art?
  • Which platforms (online and offline) can I best sell my art through?
  • Which direction do I want to take my art in - independent of the trends in the art world?
  • What are my goals in relation to the art market?
  • How would I like to present myself as an artist?
  • Who will take care of the marketing of my art - myself and/or others?

Even if art prides itself in its originality, as far as art marketing is concerned, you should look at how your successful colleagues are going about their business – literally! When it comes to art selling platforms, the answer to the question of “online or offline?” doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive, even with art. Normally, it’s a matter of finding a mix of online and offline activities that suits the artist and their works.

If you are a budding artist thinking about making a living from selling your work, it may make sense to create a business plan. In our article on e-commerce, you’ll find some general tips on how to sell successfully online.

Selling art online – pros and cons

Pros

Cons

Not fixed to a location - reach a wide range of potential buyers around the world.

Works of art cannot be viewed “in person”.

Not time-dependent - art can be viewed and purchased around the clock.

No direct, personal contact between buyers and artists.

Financially independent - a dedicated website helps you sell your art directly to collectors without having to pay commissions to galleries.

Partly time-consuming - anyone who wants to sell art online has to deal in depth with the sales possibilities of the Internet.

An artist’s website as a central contact point

If you have the inspiration to sell your own art online, creating a personal artist website is a good place to start. Your own website will provide you with an independent starting point for all online activities in the art market. For art that you sell directly through your website, you won’t need to pay commissions to galleries or art platforms. All proceeds from the sale remain with you! Unlike social media or online art platforms, you can determine the appearance and style of your website under your own steam, too.

So, which basic elements, functions, and what content would a good artist’s website have?

  • Home page – The first impression and overview of what awaits your visitors.
  • News - Information about exhibition openings, events, and other current events in which the artist is involved (that’s you!).
  • Online Review – the most important works are presented, for example, in the form of image galleries.
  • Biography – Description of your artist’s career and education.
  • Style direction/aesthetics section - information about the approach and your aesthetic philosophy.
  • Contact - not only for potential buyers, but also for possible partners such as galleries or for journalist inquiries.
  • Online store - for example, original paintings, sculptures, prints or other products to sell online.

It is important to remember that even the most well-designed website will be useless if it cannot be found on the Internet, so you should make your website well known – that is to say put search engine optimization (SEO) to work. Image SEO will play an important role in most artists’ websites.

How to sell art online – the best way to sell art online

There are several ways to sell your art online with your own store:

  1. The IONOS website builder kit MyWebsite offers comprehensive services to design an artist’s website with an online store quickly, easily, and affordably and get it on the web. Just opt for the eCommerce Website Builder. Alternatively, you can choose the website builder first to create your artist website and then add the store feature later on.
  2. Think about a suitable web address and register your domain. Our article on “Domain Registration Tips” can help with that.
Domain Check
  • .com
  • .art
  • .auction
  • .gallery
  • .org
  1. If you don’t want to design your website and store yourself, the professional MyWebsite Design Service from IONOS might be a good option.
  2. Perhaps you already have a website on WordPress? With the WordPress plugin “WooCommerce” you can simply add an online store. IONOS has a special WooCommerce Hosting deal for your website. That way, your website and store will always be reachable.
  3. If you don’t want to create your own online store for your art, there are also other solutions. With the IONOS Social Buy Button you can easily sell your art through your social media profiles. Or complement your existing website with the IONOS ConnectaStore solution. That way you can use the IONOS eCommerce app to easily manage your sales from your mobile device.

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How to sell art online via social media

One key way to get the word out about your artist’s website - and as a consequence, sell more art online - is through social media. Yet platforms like Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest are far more than a means of sending potential buyers to your website. Social media can play a crucial role for artists when it comes to communicating with fans on a regular basis and therefore staying in touch with your target audience.

If you want to sell art specifically via social media, you have to focus on potential buyer groups. Even on social media, many artists stay in their own bubble - which is usually made up of other artists and other individuals in the art world. Looking at this from a purely sales-focused perspective, other artists won’t just be your colleagues or inspiration, but will also be trying to sell their own art. And relatively few artists buy art from colleagues!

The fact is communicating with other artists via social media won’t bring in the bucks. Nevertheless, a social media presence is also important within the scene if you want to sell art successfully on the Internet. Consider the following factors:

  • Regular contact with people interested in art and potential buyers via social media.
  • Conversions from social media to your own website - and hopefully more sales that way
  • Digital images within and outside the scene
  • Keeping up with the latest activities and trends on the art market
  • You’ll have the possibility to network quickly over long distances and to start joint initiatives - for example in the form of joint exhibitions, co-operations, joint projects, etc.
  • Social media can be used for market and competitor analysis, especially to identify potential buyers and provide them with content on a regular basis

Which platform is the best way to sell art online?

Which social media platform works for which artist depends primarily on the type of art, the group of buyers, the strength of the competition on these platforms and, finally, how much time an artist invests time in social media.

Anyone who wants to actively sell art via social media is generally well advised not to operate exclusively within their own “bubble”. Within the USA, the following platforms have been particularly influential for selling art online:

  • Facebook as the world’s largest social network.
  • Instagram as a high-reach network with a strong focus on images.
  • Pinterest as a global platform with a high proportion of art-savvy target groups.
  • Twitter as a relatively “elitist” platform that has set - and continues to set - trends in this area, for example with the launch of #MuseumWeek in 2014.

Those who are already present in digital spaces should also look at YouTube or TikTok as potential platforms. In addition, smaller platforms are constantly emerging that are popular in specific scenes. Much of social media is still trial and error, so you have to test a certain platform or a method - if you are successful with it, you expand it further. In doing so, it is important to have staying power, because success often only comes after some time.

Storytelling – Connecting art with stories

A key advantage of artists using social media is that they already have unique content from their artwork. They only need to prepare it for their social media profile. Good photos of artworks play an important role here, but not the only one. It is crucial that the photos don’t just get posted without a caption. In this context, storytelling means embedding the artworks on display in the context of a story.

For example, how the art was created, the inspiration behind it, and so on. Of course, this can also blur the line between “digital” and “analog” art. Content is successful if it reaches many potential buyers – in other words if it is shared or liked as often as possible.

Further information on this topic can be found in the article Social Commerce - Increasing Sales through Social Media.

Online Galleries und Platforms for Art

Online galleries with a lot of competition

Online galleries generally function according to the same principles as physical galleries. They give artists a framework in which they can present and sell their works. How do you find the right online gallery? The following tips can be helpful in choosing the right gallery:

Take your cue from the best. There are some internationally renowned online galleries, for example Gagosian, that represent artists worldwide. Being exhibited by these galleries as a complete beginner is difficult and rarely happens. However, by looking at the websites of these galleries, you will get a good overview of what is currently in demand in the art world.

You can also find several well-known galleries via Art Basel – one of the world’s most important art fairs. Saatchi Art allows almost anyone the opportunity to display and sell their art. Almost anyone can offer their art for sale and set the price of the works independently. However, the competition is strong, and the level of artistry is also relatively high as a result.

Marketplaces for selling art online

Stay realistic. As mentioned above, you should basically be clear about the aesthetic direction you want to take. Are you striving for success on the global art market or is it enough for you to occupy a niche with your art? It doesn’t always have to be the best - apart from top galleries and renowned platforms, there are a number of large online marketplaces where art can be easily sold.

Good examples include Etsy, arguably the largest online platform for crafts, Storenvy or Zazzle, where you can share designs for posters, among other things. For more information on selling arts and crafts, see the article selling crafts online.

Stay flexible and creative

Be creative when choosing your online platform. If you aren’t bound to a specific online gallery for a certain period of time, test a wide variety of platforms. This may include marketplaces that are not apparently related to art, such as hobby-focused websites.

However, your target market can be a mystery. For this reason, when selling art online, using very successful online marketplaces such as eBay or Etsy definitely has its upsides.

Note

Some online galleries and art platforms charge artists upfront listing fees. These are not always trustworthy options. Especially if the fees seem very high to you, the fees are not transparent, or you have to commit to regular payments, you should act cautiously.

NFT Art as a new hype

The opportunities that digitization offers artists go far beyond marketing artworks online. Even if you create “traditional” fine art such as paintings, graphics, or sculptures, keep an eye on the artistic opportunities that digitization brings.

The latest hype is NFTs - Non-Fungible Tokens. NFTs are crypto certificates from blockchain technology. They allow a digital work, such as an image stored on a computer, to be clearly assigned to a specific owner. In purely technical terms, this image can still be reproduced or shared on the network as often as desired, but the owner of the image is reliably identified by the blockchain technology.

The basic principle is similar to that in the analog world. Anyone can hang a picture of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” in their living room. However, everyone knows that the original is housed in the Louvre in Paris. While the original painting in the Louvre is expensive, the living room alternative – which shows the same thing - can be had for relatively little money.

Meanwhile, digital NFT images are being sold for several million dollars. A collage by Beeple, for example, went for almost $70 million at auction - a collector was willing to pay that much for it. Even if the artistic value of many “typical” NFT images is disputed among art experts and it is far from clear how long this hype will last, Blockchain technologies like NFT will have a huge impact on how art is sold on the Internet in the future. Platforms such as Rarible, Open Sea or Nifty Gateway are already specialized for this purpose.

Summary and overview: Selling art online

Basically, selling art online is about a successful mix of different platforms and measures - each of which has its justification. For almost all artists, it is advisable to coordinate these online activities with measures on the “analog art market”, such as exhibitions in galleries.

Own website

Social media presence

Online galleries and platforms

Advantages:

+ sole control over design and content

+ independent starting point for all activities on the Internet

+ direct sale of art, e.g. via own online store - no commissions

Advantages:

+ Very easy to get started

+ Trends easily identifiable

+ Networking with like-minded people

+ Good for image building

Advantages:

+ visitors specifically interested in art

+ with well-known galleries very good environment and image

+ help and support in selling the pictures

+ depending on the name and popularity of the online gallery, high prices or high earnings possible

Disadvantages:

- Search engine optimization necessary so that the website is found by the right people on the net

- Effort needed in creating the website

Disadvantages:

- Time-consuming

- Targeted sales activities sometimes difficult

Disadvantages:

- Difficult as a beginner to be exhibited by good online galleries

- Commissions up to 40 percent common

- Beware of dubious providers on the market

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