Have you ever thought of art as one of the best-selling products ever created?
If you aren’t paying close attention, it's very easy to assume that because most artists struggle, art is a product that is rarely bought or sold.
Or that it’s more of a luxury item.
But unlike most products, art is in nearly every single home and business you walk into.
Also unlike many products, art has a continual stream of new demand as people redecorate, move, or build new homes or places of business.
Think about it – anywhere you go, you're likely to find art there. In a single day, you're likely to come across a dozen pieces.
By all accounts, this multi-billion dollar a year industry should be phenomenal to participate in. Lucrative for everyone involved, especially the creators. Right?
Even though billions of dollars of art is being sold, most fine artists and photographers struggle to earn decent money. Few break out and truly “make it.” Reaching high levels of success is more the exception than the rule.
So if art is everywhere, and it is an all-time best-selling product, just where is all of that money going, if not to the creators?
Surely, someone must be getting rich.
They are. But that someone is not the artist.
When you have a multi-billion dollar industry, with a product that is this lucrative, inevitably people are going to come in and take advantage of the situation.
It's a capitalist reality of almost every industry, but, the truth is, when it comes to art it seems to be more lopsided than any other.
Over the years, it has been the non-artist-owned art galleries, the art publishers, and more recently the print-on-demand online art marketplaces (like Etsy), who have been raking in the cash and playing the situation to their advantage.
This is evidenced by the fact that many of these companies sell tens of millions, and some hundreds of millions of dollars of art per year.
So, how'd they do it?
For one, they created a layer of businesses on top of the artist, all designed to capitalize on the artists work as much as possible.
They extract value from the artist’s work by taking high percentages of sales, owning the customers, and using the artist’s name and talent as the primary way to grow their own businesses.
The end result is that their businesses become wealthy, powerful and successful. Unfortunately, after all this value has been extracted, there is little left that the artist can use to build a successful business of their own. Every bit of juice has been squeezed out of the grapefruit.
The artist is left struggling, which leads them to become even more dependent on this layer of businesses, and the cycle repeats itself.
It is so easy for artists to fall for the scam and get excited when they receive a payment from one of these middle-men for a sale that was made.
"I made a sale! I made a sale!"
It feels good, right? We don't blame you, but here's the thing:
Don’t fall for it!
What you are missing is that they not only took a high percentage of your sale, but they also took the customer. The customer is far more valuable over the long-term than the profit from one sale.
If you don’t have customers, you don’t actually have a business.
Acquiring customers is by far the most difficult and expensive part of growing a business. In a fair system, you would have the same right to receive customer information. Or, you should receive fair compensation for it!
Okay. So they got some of the money, and they got the entire customer — both of which would not have been possible if not for your artwork. They now have the key ingredients required to build a successful business -- money and customers.
Whereas all you got was money (after a very large percentage was already skimmed off the top).
Let ’s call it what it is: the money you received is technically just a contractor payment.
Your actual customer is the gallery, or the marketplace, or the publisher who just paid you for your service. Your customer isn’t the person who bought your art. That’s their customer. And that’s where the value is.
The end result of this rigged system?
Well, if you have to split most of your sales, and you never get to build a customer base, its going to be really dang hard to get anywhere.
And so under this system, artists have to work harder, sell way more art, and put in way more hours than they otherwise would have to, just to earn a decent living.
It all starts with these longstanding, so-called “industry norms” that get pushed down as if they are accepted truths.
It sounds something like this: "This is the way it has always been done, it's clearly working fine, and you just need to accept it."
Like how art gallery owners take 50% of the sale, yet they only take the art on consignment and don’t carry inventory, and sometimes force the artist to agree to other draconian measures that only hurt the future earning potential of the artist (i.e. you can’t have a website, or you have a non-compete and cannot ever sell directly to a gallery customer).
Oh and you’ll always notice, these restrictions are always things that will prevent you from becoming more successful — all because it will protect them from losing a sale here or there. In other words, you have to give up something that will clearly help your career while they give up nothing. Literally, nothing.
Or consider how online art marketplace websites promise mass exposure and bait you with potential customers. Just sign up, upload your life’s work in seconds, its all so easy, and the world will see your art.
Meanwhile they immediately Search Engine Optimize (“SEO”) your name to get free, easy traffic from Google searches for years to come. Yep, this means you're actually the marketer! You’re out there spreading your name, doing the best you can to grow your business, yet every time someone Googles your name they likely end up as a customer of the marketplace website rather than your own.
And then when you do get a sale, you get your contractor payment, but the customer information is restricted from you!
Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Next, consider how art publishers and licensors take 90%+ of the sale and force you to sign contracts that includes, but is certainly not limited to, giving up rights for certain images and other restrictions.
Once again, restrictions that always come at your future expense so that they can make the most money possible.
Many of these art publishers and/or licensors do hundreds of millions of dollars in sales annually. They make tons of money, and have big, well-compensated executive teams.
What about the artists they represent? Surely many of them should be rich too, right? Nope.
So what is the moral of this story?
The system is broken. It is designed to work well for the layer of companies built on top of the artist, but not the artists themselves.
This system — the layer of businesses on top of the artist -- controls the sales, controls the customers, dictates the terms, and directly produces the starving artist problem.
Before you read this article, you probably had some suspicions that something wasn’t right in the industry. Well, now you know what it is.
Here at Art Storefronts, we believe this all needs to change.
Allow us to share our guiding principle, our one true North:
We believe that artists should make the most money and extract the most value from their artwork. Period.
This is the basis of everything we do.
In other words, we believe that artists who sell well should get rich before anyone else gets rich off of them.
We believe that the layer of companies built on top of the artist need to be removed or there needs to be a dramatic change in the compensation structures and customer-sharing rules.
We believe that companies should be built underneath the artist, and serve as a platform for the artist to build a successful career upon. If your company does a good enough job at this, then you will be a small participant in the success.
All of this is within reach. Just take a look at the music industry. The same, rigged system has been going on there for years. Big publishers and record labels are the layer of businesses that have controlled musicians and extracted value from them.
But now, the musicians have a direct distribution channel thanks to the internet. They are slowly but surely becoming more independent. They are gaining more leverage, and as such, are negotiating better deals. Pretty soon, they may not need the middle-men at all. They can just sell their music directly to their fans and get 100% of the profit instead of 10% or less.
We support those musicians and can’t wait to see the day it all comes to fruition. The world is going in this direction and it’s only a matter of time.
So our mission is to flip the script the same way it is happening in the music industry, and help artists do the same thing.
But we can't do it alone...
It all starts when each individual artist makes the decision to start building their own business with their artwork, instead of building everyone else’s.
When you build your business on land you own, rather than land you rent.
When you start taking steps to control more of your sales, and own your customer-base.
When you — little by little — increase the percentage of business that runs through you directly, and lessen the percentage that runs through the middle-men.
This is how it happens. This is when the script will flip.
What is the best way for an artist to begin down this path?
We believe that the key career turning point occurs when an artist decides to open and run their own art gallery business online.
In order to ever free yourself of middle-men, you must establish a place where anyone can buy from you anytime, from anywhere, without the any of the aforementioned middle-men involved. You must market and sell directly to your customers. Opening your own art gallery business online is how you do it.
This is the art-industry equivalent to “unplugging from the matrix”. The day you finally woke up, realized that you could take control of your future, and did something about it.
When an artist has their own gallery business and owns their own customers, with each sale they further detach themselves from the establishment. They earn more money from every sale, and become less dependent.
It will take time to build your own art gallery business.
But know that every incremental step you make in this direction will be worth it, because it will lead you to the ultimate outcome:
An outcome where you profit the most and you extract the full value created from your artwork.
Can you imagine what this will be like?
We can. It will be awesome.
If you’ve been an artist for many years and have been operating within the current system, this will be a change. Just take it at a pace that feels comfortable for you.
Fortunately, thanks to the internet and technology, it is easier than ever to get started down this path, and we’re here to help.
Art Storefronts was established to help artists take control of their art career.
Together, let's reject "the way it's always been" and demand a new reality – one in which creators stand to gain the most from their creations.
Want to learn more about how we can help you create a future where you earn the most money from your artwork?