According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report of 2017, the online art market rose 15 percent to $3.75 billion in 2016. When you consider that the global art market value is said to range anywhere from $12 billion to $56.6 billion, it’s safe to say that the online art business has plenty of room for growth.
Studies show that by 2021, it could be worth about $9.14 billion. This is great news for artists and crafters who are thinking about starting to sell their work online.
There are a variety of platforms available for selling and marketing your work, depending on what you make and how you want to run your business. But, how do you choose the best one? Read the fine print. Pay attention to costs and fees, and keep in mind that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Remember that even if art is your passion, building an online business takes some planning and investment.
Amazon Art: Selling on the shoulders of giants
Amazon is the world’s leading ecommerce platform. Each month, about 183 million people visit. For this reason, the Amazon art section offers tremendous opportunities for artists who are interested in exposing their works to more people from across the world.
And what exactly can artists sell via Amazon Art?
A lot, as it turns out. This includes:
- Mixed media artistic works
But, you can’t sell 3-D works or sculpture.
Think through their pricing options. If you are an individual seller who sells less than 40 pieces of art a month, then the Individual Amazon account (which charges $0.99 per item, per month) may be the way to go. If you are sure that you can sell more than 40 pieces a month, then the Professional Account is the better option at $39.99 a month.
But, keep in mind that those prices aren’t all-inclusive. Amazon may also charge you “referral” and “closing” fees on items sold, and if you’re fulfilling orders yourself (which you most likely would be as a smaller business), Amazon will charge shipping fees on your behalf and then give back flat shipping credits.
Amazon draws a huge amount of traffic, so it can help you gain exposure. But remember, Amazon is a monolith, and their platform isn’t specific to arts. It can help you move product, but it might be harder to build a repeat customer base.
Etsy: Put a bird on it
In the third quarter of 2017 alone, Etsy had a profit of $106.38 million. It’s designed for artists working in a wide range of media—jewelry, clothing, shoes, home décor and accessories, prints, photography, mixed media, artistic wedding décor, glass art, illustrations and drawings, wood artwork, sculptures, and more.
Before you get started, read the fine print on the costs associated with selling via Etsy. These include:
- $0.20 listing fee
- A 3.5 percent transaction fee based on item price
- Advertising fees (optional)
- Shipping fees (you’ll package your work yourself, and decide whether shipping costs will be included in your base price, or if you’ll charge separately for shipping)
- Payment processing fees
Etsy’s relatively low costs for listings make them a good option for beginners, but many established artists use them as well. The platform has grown a lot, so you’ll have to think through how to make your products stand out and if you want to pay to promote your products on their site.
One of the benefits of selling on Etsy over Amazon is that people on the site are specifically looking for arts and crafts. Plus, if a potential buyer clicks on one of your listings, it’s easy for them to make their way back to your online storefront to see what else you’re offering.
One of the downsides? Etsy has received some criticism in recent years for being lax about removing sellers that clearly are selling imports—neither handmade nor collectible. Sometimes sellers are competing against mass-produced products, which are inevitably cheaper.
Bplans offers this how-to guide for selling on Etsy, and this recently updated article on how to avoid common mistakes that can derail your Etsy success.
CustomMade: Bid to create completely original work
Do you create custom jewelry? How about one-of-a-kind furniture pieces? Do you deal with beadwork, tapestries, leatherwork, or glasswork? Or is creating unique musical instruments like violins more your thing?
The CustomMade model is that they allow prospective buyers to create listings for custom, one-of-a-kind art pieces that they’re looking for. Artists and artisans bid on the work, and the client decides which artist to work with.
To use CustomMade well, your bidding skills must be top-notch. You should also keep in mind if you’ve never done custom work, it can get complicated for makers. It’s not nearly as easy as creating something, taking a picture of it, and selling it as is. You might find yourself creating multiple prototypes before you land on a version that is what your customer actually wants. Keep in mind the extra costs associated with making those prototypes, and make sure you bid accordingly. Don’t sell yourself short.
Craftsy: For selling patterns
Craftsy is not a platform for selling finished artwork. However, it is an opportunity to gain exposure for your existing art-selling site and sell patterns, so if part of your work is creating and then marketing patterns (think quilts or crocheting) for the DIY crowd, Craftsy might be a great fit for you.
Craftsy focuses mainly on:
- Textiles: sewing, knitting, crocheting, and quilting
- Cooking and baking
The beautiful thing about Craftsy is that it can be a source for earning a “passive income.” This is because you will not be selling a finished product. Rather, you will be selling the patterns or tutorials that will help your audience create that finished product for themselves. As a result, you can sell one digital pattern repeatedly to different customers.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to have a Paypal account to sell patterns on Craftsy. One of the benefits of selling on this platform is that you’re exposed to an audience that is there to learn more about doing a specific type of craft, so they’re primed to purchase patterns. Also keep in mind that Craftsy is actively promoting their own project kits on the site, too.
Zazzle: For designers and (a few) makers
On Zazzle, designers can sell their artwork to customers who choose whether they want it to appear on a variety of products—shirts, business cards, posters, mugs, and more. Zazzle allows designers to set their own royalty rates, which can range anywhere from 5 to 99 percent.
If you sell your designs on Zazzle, they take care of manufacturing and shipping. Zazzle has over 30.6 million global customers each month, so there is a lot of potential for exposure. They offer a fair amount of information on their site for designers looking to get started.
They recently launched a platform for makers, or artists who want to sell custom, complete products, instead of selling their designs and leaving the manufacturing to Zazzle. It isn’t as easy to figure out the nuts and bolts of becoming a maker on their site; in part, that’s because the maker platform is still pretty new, and it’s only open through direct invitation or by filling out an online application.
Here’s a link to their current maker FAQs. Keep in mind that one of their stipulations for makers is that items must be custom made and have at least one customizable option. Zazzle doesn’t charge you to list items, but they do charge a commission on sales.
Creative Market: For graphic designers
Creative Market is a platform mainly for graphic designers, photographers, and web template designers. Buyers visit Creative Market for stock photographs, graphics, logos, fonts, templates for email and websites, magazines, cards, stationery, and more.
Sellers set their own prices and the platform takes a 30 percent cut of every sale. Creative Market says their 2 million members offer a wealth of opportunities to grow your design business. They host work from around 25,000 artists. Their commission isn’t cheap, but depending on how well you price your items and the volume you’re able to move, it might be worth the investment.
Displate is a little like Zazzle for metal posters—art printed on metal sheets. Instead of reprinting artwork on paper, canvas, or t-shirts, Displate prints are only printed on metal.
Registering on Displate is free. You get to set the commission that you get from the sale of each of your artworks within certain conditions—each size Displate has a base size, so anything above that price is your commission. In general, this platform is probably better for those who are interested in selling a larger volume of reprints over time. The manufacturing, packaging, delivery, and customer service are handled by Displate.
Art Licensing Show: If doing the detective work is worth it
If you are interested in licensing your designs, and have little interest in manufacturing or creating one-of-a-kind items yourself, Art Licensing Show is an interesting option to consider.
Art Licensing Show is a platform that gives artists the opportunity to license their artwork to manufacturers. Artists create a digital portfolio that corporate art directors can browse. They then pay to use your images on an annual basis. There is a free option for artists who want to list their designs on the site, but it is limited.
Their pricing structure offers an array of choices, but it isn’t super easy to find on their site. Their paid subscriptions start at just over $200 per year. The takeaway? This could be a great opportunity if you have the time and interest in navigating their site and process for getting started.
Houzz: For home goods and decorative items
The interior designer’s industry is worth $14.9 billion. For artists and craftspeople in this industry, there is money to be made, if you know where to look.
Houzz offers a platform for selling backsplashes, one-of-a-kind lighting fixtures, beautifully sculpted furniture, beddings featuring your design work, chandeliers, floor rugs, futons, wall décor and so on. Basically, if you can imagine it for a residential property and create it, you can sell it on Houzz. You can also pay the site to advertise your brand to its audience.
It’s worth noting that Houzz has 40 million visitors a month. That is a large potential client base right at your fingertips. But interestingly, it’s pretty difficult to find seller account pricing options on the Houzz site. Their payment reports section in their FAQs clearly show that Houzz is taking fees from sales (which appear to be 15 percent), but they don’t articulate their fee structure. If you decide to investigate Houzz, make sure you’ve read the fine print before you get started.
CraftFoxes: A social option
If you are looking for a smaller marketplace where craftspeople can socialize and discuss ideas, then CraftFoxes is a great place to start. Their site gets about 100,000 views a month.
It’s not just a sales platform, though. They also have an instructional blog, and it’s free to set up an account that functions a little like a social media platform, where you can post your own patterns and projects and connect with “friends.” There are fees for listing items for sale, though. Each listing is $0.10 and expires after three months. They also charge a 4 percent fee for each item sold.
Finding the right platform for launching your art or crafts business will take some legwork, but these options should at the very least help you get a sense of what you should consider in terms of pricing and functionality.
It’s also totally possible (and desirable for many) to build your own website with a shopping cart solution, so that you have full control over your online shop. Keep in mind that either way, you’ll want to make a plan for how to get the word out about your shop.
And don’t forget to keep an eye on how other people are pricing and displaying their work on each of these sites, so you start to get a sense of how to price and photograph your own. Whatever way you choose to start your online arts or crafts business, remember that the details (and the fine print) are incredibly important.