Niche marketing is all about doing something that no one else is doing, so that you’ve got the niche all to yourself. The Long Tail concept tells us that no longer is there only room for a few big sellers in a given market; the big sellers have a “long tail” that trails behind them, allowing all sorts of marginal niches to flourish. The Internet is what makes the Long Tail work, especially for artists. Prior to the Internet, there were only a few ways for artists to make a living as artists:
- Sell originals through one or more galleries
- Work as a commercial artist (graphic designer, fashion design, illustrator, paste-up artist, etc.)
- License images to “limited edition” publishers (prints and posters, sold mostly through frame shops)
- Teach art classes
And that was pretty much it. In order to make a living by your brush, you had to be extraordinarily lucky.
With the rise of the Internet in general, and Print On Demand (POD) technology in particular, the game has completely changed. As the tired cliche says, the playing field has been leveled. As an artist, you no longer need to be “discovered” by a gallery owner, or lucky enough to be one of the handful of artists a publisher prints each year. Nor do you need to “sell out,” painting schlock in order to sell. You can follow your bliss, paint what you must paint, stay true to your vision, and there will be a market for your work. Guaranteed. Why? Numbers. Sheer numbers. There are millions of people online, looking at–and buying–artwork, every day. If you are passionate about your work, there are going to be people who are moved by it, and need to have it on their walls, or on their computer desktops, or on their t-shirts. These people will find you, if you get your work online.
A case in point is Scott Listfield, a painter from the Boston area. Until recently, Listfield sold his work exclusively through galleries. Then, about a year ago, Listfield began selling prints of his work through the POD service at Fine Art America (profiled here). As you’ll read in the interview below, POD sales and displaying work online have become an important part of Listfield’s overall marketing strategy.
The common thread in most of Listfield’s is a NASA 60’s-era astronaut, fully suited up, lending the work a sense of surrealism that is, at the same time, humorous. As Listfield explains, “I paint astronauts and, sometimes, dinosaurs. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968, before I was born, so I don’t know if people really believed we’d be living in space in the future. In many ways, the year 2001 failed to live up to expectations. And yet the world today, filled with mini vans, Starbucks, iMacs, and Hip Hop videos, is strange in ways unimagined back when 2001 was still the future. The astronaut in my paintings is simply here to explore the present.”
We asked Scott Listfield about what his experience selling online has been like.
Q: What made you decide to begin selling prints of your work using Print-On-Demand, and specifically Fine Art America?
A: I had actually been looking for a way I could sell prints without dealing with inventory and the hassles of shipping for a while. When I found Fine Art America, it was exactly the type of service I had been thinking of. Actually, it was easier and cheaper than I had thought it would be.
Q: Are you satisfied with the sales you are receiving from FAA?
A: Definitely. I mean, I think a lot of it has to do with my own marketing (or dumb luck). Over the past year I’ve had my work published in a few national magazines, and I’ve been picked up by a bunch of popular blogs. It seems each time that I get a significant bump in traffic to my personal website, from whatever source, I also get a few print sales at Fine Art America. I have no idea how much of those sales comes from people who happen on my work directly on the Fine Art America site, although I do get emails and comments on my work from people who’ve found me by that route. But regardless of how it’s happening, I’ve sold more prints this past year than I ever guessed I would, and all that in a bad economy.
Q: Do you feel that print sales helps or hurts sales of your originals? (Some artists may feel that prints of their work competes with the originals for buyers.)
A: I’ve heard this question a lot, and I’ve definitely spoken with artists, collectors, and gallerists who have different ideas about it. My opinion is that I think it’s kind of a ridiculous argument. The audience for a $75 print is completely different than that for a $5,000 original painting. The vast majority of my audience can’t afford an original at those prices – I mean, I know I can’t. And it seems stupid to ignore the chance to A) make some more money, obviously, but just as importantly B) Get your work out there to those who appreciate it most. The same people who buy an inexpensive print might very well one day soon be able to afford a painting – or multiple paintings. I don’t really understand the attitude that this will somehow bring down the demand or cost of original paintings. If I were a collector, I would feel pretty darn good knowing I own a piece that I knew was selling prints like hot cakes. Now, I have had one collector ask me not to release prints of a painting she bought, and I have honored her wish. But I have had a few collectors of my work, completely unprompted by me, OFFER to loan me back my work so I could scan it and sell it as a print.
Q: Looking back, do you think you made the right choice, getting into print-on-demand?
A: Yes, I’ve made a decent amount of money, made fans of my work (without sizable amounts of disposable income) fairly happy, and hopefully my work is hanging on people’s walls around the world.
Q: Any words of advice for our readers?
A: Get your work out there. It’s not the fun part, but marketing yourself is the difference between getting a show and hanging your work in your basement.
- Marketing: 7 Places to Sell Your Work Online
- Marketing: A Review of Fine Art America
- Marketing: Where to Sell Prints of Your Work Online
- Marketing: Artist Websites on Fine Art America
- Marketing: Fine Art America Review, Part 2
- Inspiration: Helena Nelson-Reed
- Marketing: A Review of Online Portfolio Sites