Remember learning about supply and demand in high school?

Remember learning about supply and demand in high school economics? Etsy is free-market capitalism at it's finest, clearly demonstrating this theory. Etsy is a fascinating online market place where people sell their handmade or vintage items and supplies. Anyone can open a shop for free and list as many items as they want for $.20 each and Etsy takes 3.5% when that item sells. Pretty simple and straight forward.

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The Fine Artist's Dilemmas that when people hear 'handmade' they think of crafts, especially art world people. The art world is very snobby. Many people throw around names of obscure artists to make the person they are taking to feel inadequate in their knowledge of the art world. For fine art to be included in anything that is associated with crafts, be it an art fair, website, or other sales venue, negative assumptions arise with shocking force:

  • The artist isn't serious about his/her artwork if they are selling alongside "low brow" arts and crafts.
  • The artwork is cheap, that is why it is sold with crafts.
  • Something must be wrong with the art if no gallery wants it.
  • The artist does not have high aspirations if they are showing/selling there.
  • The artist is lazy.

And the list goes on. This list makes Etsy seem like a bad place for a fine art artist, like myself. But, as an emerging artist, I need to make money (after all, the bills need to be paid), build a reputation within the art world and potential collectors (buyers), and make good art. Those three things don't always work together and many decisions must be made after careful exploration of each area.

The dilemma arises because Etsy is potentially a great way to get my art in front of new people, which in turn can grow my email or blog lists, which in turn can lead to future sales or opportunities. Can you see the potential long term benefits? It is also a great place to sell inexpensive prints. The downside is running the risk of entering art competitions or approaching galleries who see I sell work on Etsy and being rejected for any of the reasons listed above.

The final part of the dilemma is that I have read A LOT of books and blogs on the business of art and with the exception of two blogs, NONE of them mention Etsy. They don't mention it negatively or positively. This complete silence on one of the fastest growing marketplaces for art speaks volumes to me. That silence tells me that either the "experts" have not taken the time to explore it (it is relatively new) or they realize it takes the snobby exclusive secretiveness out of the art world, shaking it to the foundation and allows anyone to be a financially independent artist. Time will tell which it is.

After taking about Etsy with my two friends since they opened their shops, I'm finally convinced that this is a risk worth taking, at least for one year. Next January or February, an evaluation determines it's success to decide if it is worth continuing. Here's why I'm doing it:

  • It is potentially a great way for my artwork to be seen by new people.
  • Selling prints is in my business plan as a secondary stream of income. My primary goal for the Etsy store is to sell prints of my paintings. Since they are open edition prints I can sell as many as people want to buy. The goal is to have a print of every painting available, slowly growing the number of items available until a strong presence is built, hopefully with repeat customers. The paintings will be listed as well, but I don't expect many to sell through Etsy because they are priced higher than Etsy's typical clientele spends.
  • I just bought a very, very nice new printer to make prints and need a place to sell them. Etsy seems great for that. Both my friends advised me that their $20-$30 items sell regularly; my prints fall in that price range.
  • When each print is mailed, it will include an 'About the Artist' page with my website and a stamped postcard that people can fill out to sign up for the electronic Newsletter and/or to receive mailings of future shows or discounts. This grows my contact list, which seems to be the best way to build an art business. People who want to stay in touch with you are most likely to buy from you in the future (or so say the "experts").
  • It is inexpensive, so there is little to no financial risk.
  • Galleries don't really want to work with artists until they have been selling consistently for 3-5 years. After all, they are running a business as well and want to make sure there is a market for the artist they promote. Success on Etsy shows that there is a market for my work for when I approach galleries in the future.

Will it work? Only time will tell, but I'm pretty comfortable with having made a well-thought out decision (including a lot of research on fine art artists who sell prints on Etsy). Don't forget to keep my prints in mind for your gift giving needs!

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