As an art photography teacher, art mentor director, and marketing pro with four decades of successful marketing and advertising experience, I know that if your art photography prints are not selling, then I doubt it is about your creativity.
Most art photographers who try to sell their art photography prints fail. They have created images with innovative points of view, powerful emotions, and cutting-edge visuals. Their print editions are professional at every level, their work marketable, and yet they find few buyers for their photographic prints. Try as they might, it seems they could not sell wheat in a famine, let alone their artwork.
Conversely, some photographers understand the fine art sales process, consistently sell their work, and earn annual six-digit incomes doing what they love. Unfortunately, these skills are not often taught to art photographers. Thus, I am writing a series of posts to help art photographers develop a better marketing presence for their work. We begin with an overview of the Six Steps to Sales Success.
Selling Art Photography is a Process
No doubt, marketing and sales activities can often be complicated and ‘wonky.’ Professional Marketers do significant research and data collection, what-if analysis, A&B testing, and use gnarly software to design and manage marketing campaigns. But you don’t need to be a pro marketer to sell your art prints. From your computer, you can do essential buyer research, choose specific marketing channels, select the relevant marketing platforms, and execute a marketing plan to bring in buyers for your artwork.
If you’re motivated and are creating imaginative, innovative art images, then you can sell your photographic prints just as others have done.
Let’s take a brief look at the Six Steps for Sales Success.
1. What Are You Selling? (Know Thy Work)
You cannot build an effective art print marketing plan around a scattershot collection of images. You need a collection of related works, usually a series of 12-18 images or less, if you are marketing work through your own online store.
No matter what you offer for sale, beautiful landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, street photography, still life, etc., you will need to define your work and why you pursued this theme. If you do not understand your work, it will be challenging to identify a Target Audience, the correct market platforms, and the other essential steps to creating a successful marketing plan.
Know what you are selling, and then seek out the target audience who will appreciate and pay for your creativity
2. Who Are You Selling You Work To? (The Target Audience)
First, you must honestly examine your art photography collection or theme and ask yourself who would want to own your art prints and why. Let me illustrate with two brief examples.
Let’s assume you have a theme collection that explores the cultural and environmental impact of the declining Salton Sea in CA. These images depict deteriorating graffiti-strewn buildings, dead fish, vacant streets, and other images that display man-caused and climate change damage. Viewers connect to these images due to your aesthetic emotions and innovative point of view. Moreover, maybe your work demonstrates various influences, such as Richard Misrach’s Desert Cantos, which dealt with man’s careless intervention into the landscape.
It’s unlikely that this work will sell on a mass merchandising site like Etsy or Amazon or with a fine art portal such as Saatchi Art. It is unlikely to attract buyers visiting an art affair that is open to the public browsing for home décor art, and there would be little interest from most corporate art buyers.
Your target audience is the socially conscious art collector and galleries that serve them because your work can change the perceptions of these specific environmental conditions and perhaps stimulate action. Some of your images may find a home in ‘Fine Art’ magazines, enjoy presentations in academic and public museums, and other niche opportunities.
In a second example, the art photographer is creating amazing flower images that are bright and colorful but unique because of their whimsical point of view. Your target audience (TA) is most likely at the upper end of the home décor market and some corporate art buyers. There are brick-and-mortar galleries that cater to collectors seeking unique perspectives, and perhaps your still-life flowers show influences from Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower series.
3. Where are You Selling the Prints? (The Platforms)
A marketing platform is a tool that links art photographers and consumers and builds awareness, engagement, and community. The first goal of an effective marketing platform is to enable the art photographer to build relationships with the target audience. The second goal is to allow photographers to convert their prospects into collectors/owners. Are you marketing your art prints on your website, selling via an art fair, mass merchandizing via portals such as Etsy and Amazon, or brick-and-mortar galleries? Of course, you can sell your work on multiple platforms, but it is critical to understand how the various platforms work and choose the ones visited by your TA.
4. How Will You Reach Out to Your TA?(Media Channels)
A media channel is a communication path between the photographer and their target audience. It’s how the artists will advertise and describe their work to prospective owners using media channels that match their target audience. For example, a gallery may use direct email, social media, and google advertising to promote a new art exhibit that reaches an audience interested in this work. An Art Fair may promote the fair itself with broadcast media, press releases, Google Display advertising, and other venues to attract visitors. However, individual exhibitors must choose channels to deliver collectors to their exhibit area. Not all media channels are appropriate for all TA’s, so it is critical to research demographics, costs, and return on ad sales before selecting channels.
5. Art Print Price Points (Your Value Exchange)
Buying art is usually an emotional and comparative decision; thus, pricing is difficult for art photographers and prints. I will cover pricing in detail in a future blog, but for this overview, consider these metrics:
Auction Art Market— These are the big art houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and many others who work with art from famous painters, photographers, sculptors, and others. Many of the works they sell have been previously owned and are back on the market, wherein they will usually sell for more than the original price due to rarity. Buyers in this market are well-educated art collectors or use consultants to guide them. They may buy a piece or pieces for their artistic appreciation, but it is also an investment decision because artwork at this level often has a better return than other investments.
Price points range from high six figures to multiple seven figures.
- The Emerging Growth Market— Art photographers in this market sell their work through professional galleries in major markets. However, the pandemic decimated professional art galleries, and many galleries have shifted to an online-only business model or left the market. Most galleries in this market have an established collector base that they continue to nurture and grow, and an excellent example is the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, California https://bit.ly/3OOPM1Q, which exhibits a mix of emerging growth and established artists
Price points in this market are sensitive to location, gallery reputation, artist recognition factors, and economic conditions and range from several hundred dollars to mid-five figures.
- The Online Gallery Market – This is the fastest growing segment of art print sales. It has three main components:
- Artist/Seller Website— The artist sets the prices for their work, manages the client attraction functions, and print order fulfillment. Price points vary widely, and order management may affect pricing from under hundred dollars to several thousand. This is an excellent resource for emerging growth and new artists with meaningful, innovative collections. See Tim Laman.
- Online Mass Merchandizing—Sites like Etsy and others offer art photography prints that address a cost-conscious home décor TA. Price points start under fifty dollars and rise depending on size and substrate.
- Online Portal Website— These sites charge you to display your work in most cases. However, you set your pricing, and the customer finds your work through an onsite search with a filter option. Price points range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Your work competes with similar pieces in the filter stack. See Saatchi Art.
6. Create a Marketing Plan That Sells
It has been said that failing to plan is planning to fail, so it is with selling your art photography prints. Creating an art photography marketing plan requires time and can be complicated. So, we are developing a free, easy-to-use, fill-in-the-blanks template. Please standby, and we will notify you when it is available to download.
We’ve touched upon the steps to sell your art photography prints successfully. In future blogs, we will explore each of these steps in detail to help you identify your target audience and select platforms, channels, and price points.
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