In case you missed us yesterday, we’re discussing the numerous ways an artist can sell their art prints online and I’ve come up with 20 to share with you, placing them in one of 5 groups: Storefronts, Marketplaces, Production Houses, Curators and Communities. Yesterday I rambled on about Storefront options: Big Cartel, Storenvy and self-hosted websites. Today we’re moving on to sites like Etsy and eBay. This is a bit of a long one, but lots of things to say here, so have at it.
Marketplaces – Pay the Cost to be the Boss
A simple way to define an online marketplace is a website that provides you everything you need to start selling no matter how limited your resources. Even if you only have one art print to sell; as long as you have some photos, creative verbiage and a Paypal account, you can start selling online with these options below. There are, of course, pros and cons to going the marketplace route, but the biggest upside is the rapid delivery to market. The downside are the fees that can stack up quick if you’re not careful, making your profits slip. These are my thoughts on a few of the more popular online marketplaces.
Make no mistake, when it comes to online marketplaces for independent sellers, eBay is the king, far and away. Although I don’t have any personal experience selling art on eBay, I have sold plenty of other things on there in the past. From what I have seen of other artists, it’s an incredibly difficult market to be in.
When I asked a few people I know who have sold on eBay, there seems to be a resounding sigh and grumble about the site. In the last few years, eBay has moved their focus more away from the interests of their sellers and more toward the consumers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because your consumers should have a lions share of the influence, but eBay has made the space unbearable to a large segment of sellers.
Aside from the lack of support for sellers, the fees you can amass from trying to sell on eBay can stack up pretty quick. With a fees for listings, add-ons like gallery photos and bold headlines, extended or reduced sales timelines (yes, they charge for both) and then taking a sizable cut for when the sale actually goes through, you can almost feel their hand in your proverbial pocket. Add onto that the fees you get from Paypal for running the transaction and also if you use them to create a shipping label; it’s no wonder artists cringe at the idea of being on eBay.
On top of all that, the consumers on eBay are not the type looking for high-quality art at a reasonable price; they’re more likely trying to find cut-rate art at a low price point. Of course not every consumer on eBay is like this, but its fair to say a good amount of consumers are bargain hunters. You might know someone who shops at both Walmart and Bloomingdales, but they are the exception, not the rule.
eBay is still the marketplace juggernaut and you have the possibility of hitting hundreds if not thousands of more eyeballs with your listing there than you would anywhere else, but you need to adequately weigh your expectations against all the factors above. It could never hurt to try, and you might be successful. Just go into it slow and steady to make sure you don’t lose more money than you can afford.
If eBay is Goliath in the marketplace world, then Etsy is David, but this is the post-epic battle era. The giant is on his heels and David stands victorious. The problem with defeating your nemesis is you run the risk of becoming just like them.
I’ve sold on Etsy for years, with reasonable success. I’m far from The Black Apple, but I’ve sold enough to be able to speak to the subject with reasonably accuracy. I feature artists from Etsy on Fresh Rag often and I openly confess my unabashed affection for the site, but Etsy is not without its own set of problems. However, no marketplace is going to be 100% perfect in your or my eyes. For any problems Etsy has, there is a multitude of positive things happening at the same time.
For instance, getting your items available for sale is incredibly easy and quick. In a near future post, I’m going to break this down to a science for everyone, see how quickly I can get an account started and an item up for sale along with some insight. In the interim, just know that it’s hella-fast, almost scary how quick you can be up and running and accountable to Etsy for a bare minimum of $.20 cents (cost of a new listing).
Because Etsy is a marketplace specifically for handmade goods, art being a large portion of that, you are among friends (and competitors). Etsy gets what you’re trying to do and they’re goal is to give you the best possible place to sell your goods to a world of people you may have never had a chance to sell to before now.
People shopping on Etsy know what they’re looking for and willing to pay for it. I’ve done experiments with my prices in the past and I can say with certainty, as long as you don’t price yourself out of the market, people will pay the amount you ask for your work. I have never had anyone ask for me to sell them something cheaper unless they were going to buy multiple pieces, for which I gladly agreed, but I still dictated the value.
Etsy also has a large community for support. There is a massive knowledge base, both from Etsy and the fellow sellers, waiting to be gleaned. The community forums are massive and if you have a question, there is a high likelihood it’s been asked and answered before. The Etsy blog is also filled with tons of information and inspiration. In fact, no other marketplace I know of puts as much time and energy into the support of their sellers… and buyers. Where eBay falters in this, Etsy excels in creating an adequate balance between the two parties.
One of the biggest and best features of selling on Etsy is the vast amounts of traffic. They have established themselves at the top of the heap for handmade goods and people use Etsy as readily as they would Amazon for books or iTunes for music. Put your work up on Etsy and someone who is looking for work like yours is bound to find you. They also index to Google, so the traffic comes from outside sources as well as internal. Etsy search is not perfect, but its ever evolving and as it grows and gets better, so will your shop as long as you’re doing everything you can to keep abreast of how to make your shop better, stronger and faster.
Etsy will also kill you slowly with fees if you’re not careful. I have friends that rack up fees in the hundreds every month, but it also means they are selling quite a bit. You have to keep in mind your profit margin at all times. If you have a fairly tight margin, your not going to have as much flexibility, but once you know what you should charge, and what you’re comfortable walking away with, it’s easy to come up with a budge of how much to spend on listings, product quality, shipping, and fees.
I personally recommend Etsy for anyone looking to sell their art, but especially newbies. In the future, even if I run my own storefront, I may very well put work up on Etsy because why miss out on an opportunity to get the work in front of every possible eyeball.
I’ve lumped these 3 sites together because I have the exact same thing to say about all of them. They are all valid options for selling art and each one has it’s own personality. They all have things they do well and some not so well. Etsy could take the occasional lesson from each of these sites. Even if you were hosting your work on Etsy, there’s no reason you couldn’t do the same on these 3, or any other marketplace similar to them, for which there are many.
There are two main difference these sites have from Etsy that keep me from using any of them. The traffic to your shop and the community behind them. Nobody can touch Etsy’s traffic and search capability; there’s just no two ways about it. Each of these site have communities, but not nearly to the level of information and activity that Etsy has available. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to discuss questions and issues with these sites in the Etsy forums. That alone should give you all the information you need about which site dominates.
I’m not dissuading anyone from using any of these sites. I think each of them are great in their own way, but I would never personally use one as a standalone option. If I’m selling art on Etsy only, I may also use one of these others to post up some listings just in case there is a customer I may be able to reach that I couldn’t before.
Etsy isn’t the only game in marketplaceville, but it is the best, in my opinion. There is no saying that you couldn’t forge a multi-prong attack using 2 or more of these sites in order to get your art in front of more people. Just be mindful of the time involved in loading multiple listings to multiple site with multiple fee structures. It could get expensive real fast and you might spend your time maintaining your shop more than you’re creating.