New Art Marketplace in the Works
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Well it is almost a year after the pandemic hit and we are finally making the online gallery a reality! For many years, I tried and tried to come up with new products and services like printing on fabric, making greeting cards and designing books, but honestly these services were all very costly in both time and money and didn't profit enough to make them worthwhile. Just a few months ago, I finally realized that it wasn't new products we needed, I just needed to re-focus on the reason we are in business - to help artists sell their art and educate the world about our process. For years, many artists asked me to help them create a website. I had to decline because it takes a great deal of time to make a website and I was focused on creating products and running Archival Arts. Now I am laser focused on creating an online marketplace for our artists. But if I am going to do this, it has to be good.. really good! It has to be easy to set up a gallery, easy to order, and efficient so the buyers get Archival Arts quality prints in a reasonable amount of time. The question is, "How is everyone going to make enough money to make this marketplace a success?" Well, here is my plan:
1. There has to be something that separates us from the rest of the online galleries. Most galleries online send orders to the closest printing service to the customer. That means artists never know who is printing their art. That is insane! How can you build a brand for yourself if you are not controlling your print source? That is where MDArtGalleries is going to be different. Every print ordered on the site will be fulfilled by Archival Arts. In addition, this marketplace will be uniquely a community of artists from the MD/DC/VA area.
2. You as an artist need traffic coming to your web gallery so people will buy. I don't have a list of buyers to give you, but collectively, our hundreds of clients are buyers and have buyers. This is where I am hoping we can jump-start sales on the site. If we can initially crowd source buyers to come to the site and create some excitement, it will give us a good rating with the search engines and give us a head up over thousands of websites that are stagnant because they don't have enough new content or enough traffic. Archival Arts will add your new scanned art to your private gallery so you can easily add your new art to your public gallery! This will ensure fresh art is added to the site on a regular basis.
3. There are lots of galleries online but many of them just don't handle proportions correctly. Buyers need to be given accurate information so they are not surprised when they get their art. If an original piece of art is 12x24, you can't offer an 8x10 standard size. It needs to be 1-2 proportion, like 5x10 or 6x12. I am personally designing a module that will offer sizes directly based on the size of the image so all sizes are accurate. If you want to offer standard sizes from odd size originals, you will be forced to crop the image before it is offered for sale on your gallery. This is a very important aspect of selling art and most online galleries don't have this problem solved effectively.
4. Most importantly, this marketplace needs to make money for everyone involved. If you have ever tried to create your own website, you know it takes a great deal of time, energy and money to create a site, and even then, you still need to do marketing to bring in customers, figure out packaging & shipping, update the site, figure out sizes, pricing, discounts etc. etc.. All that work still doesn't guarantee you will make sales. In addition, if you pay a service, like we are creating here, there is still no way to know if you will make sales. The reality is, some art is not going to sell online no matter who is doing the marketing, so if you want to try selling your art, you want to spend the least amount of time and money testing the waters. If sales start to happen, you need to have a system ready to handle the sales as they come in. MDArtGalleries is going to do a lot of the set up for you so you have a professional sales platform and a back end fulfillment solution that is going to have consistent high quality and good packaging. We can't do this for free because we are doing most of the heavy work, but you will be able to test your art in a marketplace that is professional and is a community of your Maryland peers in a fair market where everyone has an equal chance to sell their art. If it works, great! you make money and you don't have to spend a huge amount of time taking orders, ordering prints, packing, shipping.. allowing you more time to create your art and find more buyers. If your art doesn't sell, you haven't spent thousands of dollars creating a website to find your art just doesn't sell. MDArtGalleries wants to help you get your art out there and see what happens.
5. So that brings me to the the final issue. How much is this going to cost? After going through hundreds of survey questions, most artists want us to sell their art and take a percentage of the sale like art galleries do. To be honest, that model is not practical. And here is why. I have to spend upwards of 50k to put together a website that is efficient, simple and is linked to Archival Arts for fulfillment. It is a very big investment and taking a percentage of sales alone is not going to pay for putting the site together and monthly upkeep. We need to crowd source money to pay for the site and then charge either a percentage of sales or a monthly fee for maintaining the site, fixing bugs, helping with problems etc.. I wish I could give everyone a free website and just take a percentage but the reality is, not all the art is going to sell, and I can't take all the risk. You as a gallery owner need to take some risk and put some work into your sales. My job is to try and get you started with as little risk as possible and make us money with a good business plan. So instead of everyone paying thousands of dollars putting together a website on their own, we are hoping our artists will be willing to pay $300-$500 up front for their gallery and then pay a small percentage per sale.. maybe 15 or 20% Try getting a professional website with order fulfillment for less than $500! It is a really good deal, and a small risk to see if the business model works for you. You are basically getting a $50K e-commerce site for a very small cost. You can even buy a domain and point it directly to your gallery if you want. The gallery is yours!
This service will give your buyers a very professional way to buy your art and they will come back and give referrals when they see the quality. Moreover, everyone involved will be sharing buyers. Instead of you trying to drive your own buyers to your private website, everyone's buyers have a unique marketplace to come to so they can browse yours and other styles of art. It is just like having a community art show where all the artists invite their friends and family, only the friends and family can go home and tell all their friends about the experience - that is available 24 hours a day.
With good news always comes bad. :(
Unfortunately, there are some things that we will not be able to offer on MDArtGalleries.com. Since Archival Arts is making this website, it is our goal to keep the quality to a standard that is very rare on the internet. This means we will not allow our artists to offer products on the site that are not printed by Archival Arts. If we allow t-shirts, bags, shoes, coasters and other products that we do not print, it will give an unfair advantage to some artists while also lowering the standards of some of the artists who choose not to offer these products. If you currently offer these products on another site, continue to do so, and you will have an opportunity to link to that site on your MDArtGalleries page as long as you don't violate the rules we decide on. We want all of our galleries to have an even playing field so everyone can track whether their art is marketable on the site. In addition, we are very apprehensive to allow artists to upload art that has not been scanned by Archival Arts. We will consider it, but if we find that people are photographing art with iPhones and uploading low quality images, we will have to restrict the galleries to images photographed by Archival Arts. Again, quality is what will make this site unique. We don't want to be an Etsy.. that service is already available! The main idea behind MDArtGalleries is to give buyers a unique opportunity to shop for authentic archival prints from local artists.
When will all this happen? We are hoping to have the private sites available by late Spring, where you will be able to order prints from Archival Arts, download images and see previous orders. Then, we will be working on the public site which should be available hopefully by Fall this year. Fingers crossed!
I hope that answered a lot of questions! Post more questions in comments and I will try to answer as many questions as I can as things develop.