Over the past couple of years I have explored the possibility of selling prints of my photography through online art galleries. So far this process has not resulted in any sales. But it has been interesting and informative to learn how these various galleries operate. I am sharing the journey I have taken in the hope that it might be helpful to others.
The first online service I tried was Smug Mug. I don't remember how I discovered them. I was with them for a couple of years. They are international and have groups for their members all over the USA if not in other parts of the world. They have a fairly sophisticated series of tools for setting up photo albums.
I was attracted to this group because, unlike Flickr, when you right click on an image you cannot download it to your computer or print it. My thinking was if someone can download an image for free, why would they buy it. When I first joined SmugMug their prices were reasonable and they offered a couple of different photo labs for processing and framing. I was very impressed by the work done by Bay Photo in Santa Cruz.
But then last year they increased their prices. They are really tailored to commercial photographers who have clients before the first shutter click. I learned a lot about the world of commercial photography from going to the monthly meetings of the local Smug Mug group. But I also realized that this was not the type of photography I was interested in pursuing.
Somehow I stumbled upon Galiara which has a physical gallery where I live in San Francisco right in the heart of San Francisco's downtown museum district. They also have an online presence. I thought "Great a local gallery." They don't guarantee you will be exhibited in their gallery and for good reason--in my experience they could care less about the artists. They are basically a rental space that uses fees collected from artists to subsidize their costs. I had been informed that Galiara was probably a vanity gallery. But I had to find out for myself how they work. I did not renew my contract after my first 6 month trial.
Then I saw a notice posted for a Pop-Up exhibit, "Pancakes and Booze," that was going to be at the Galiara space. I thought "great--an opportunity to see what this gallery is like in action." "Pancakes and Booze" is a business that goes all over the country doing these pop-up exhibits, twice a year in San Francisco. You pay a fee for each piece of art you want to display. You keep the proceeds from any sale. I was doing prints in 16" x 20" frames. The guy next to me, who paid the same price per image, was doing 60" x 40" paintings. He had three times the wall space I had for less money. There were so many artist participating that the walls were wall-to-wall art. The opening night event was extremely well attended, I would guess largely by friends of the artists. It was wall-to-wall people. I didn't make any sales but I did create a Zombie Bride costume for a Zombie runway show during the event. I am now using an image of this costume in the print, The Son Also Rises, with several more images to come from making this costume. I enjoyed that part of the process.
I can't recommend Galiara so I have not included a link to their website.
Through a SmugMug meeting I was introduced to a local group of professional photographers affiliated with Professional Photographers of America. At one of the PPA meetings there was a photographer who held a workshop. She mentioned that she displayed her work, but did not sell it, through Blue Canvas. She was represented by a gallery who did not want her to sell online.
As Blue Canvas was free and I was ready to drop my SmugMug account, I checked it out. I was impressed by the website. They also publish a magazine that prints selective work of the Blue Canvas members. One of the guiding lights of Blue Canvas is an art professor who was looking for a way his students could get their work out into the world. From my perspective it seems like Blue Canvas is sort of a Facebook for artists. It is nice to have the support of other artists. But the bottom line is how many artists buy the work of other artists? It also relies heavily on advertising for its support with B&H being one of the primary advertisers.
Somehow I stumbled upon RedBubble which is also free. I was drawn to it when I saw a message from a photographer who was commenting on how he had just sold some cards through the RedBubble site. That sounded interesting and the site was also free and they do not rely on advertising. So I signed up for it as well.
As it turns out RedBubble had a local event not long after I joined so I was able to meet some of the people from the company in person. I actually had an opportunity to talk to the CEO. I asked him "How do you support your site without advertising and without charging the artists?" He said, "We sell a lot of product." So in addition to prints, framing, and cards, tell sell t-shirts, hoodies, i-phone, and i-pad cases. I have yet to sell anything through them but I have noticed that Red Bubble attracts a lot of graphic artists whose work, I think, is more appropriate to t-shirts and hoodies.
During the exhibit I am participating in May 10 through May 12, 2013, Different Perspectives one of the other people exhibiting, Kate Brown, mentioned she was going to post our event through her Fine Art America, FAA, account. I asked her about this service and was impressed enough by what she had to say, I checked it out--and joined--hence this blog.
While I am still very new to this site there are a variety of things that impress me. FAA has a wider range of paper and print finishes than any other web service I have used. There are also more options for matting and framing. The process of creating a card allows the use of more variety of image formats from 4x6 to 8x10 with landscape and portrait orientations. The fact that you can add text inside the card is something I have not seen elsewhere. The services that are offered to the artists are great. I also like the fact, given my website design abilities, I have been able to merge my website Wild Side Photography with the website features offered me by FAA.
But I suppose what I find most impressive is that it is a site that encourages galleries and collectors to join. It is interesting to view the daily sales. In a recent email, they said their goal is to become the "Amazon" of Fine Art. I wish them the best of luck in this endeavor and plan to stick around and see how successful they are in this endeavor.