Several years ago I decided to open an ebay account to sell reproduction dog and cat prints at auction. My thinking on this was not that I would get rich selling low-end prints to pet lovers, but instead that I could use ebay as an advertising venue. I saw it as a way to get my artwork out into the world and reach hundreds of web savvy shoppers and devoted animal lovers. If I look at the adventure in those terms I would say it has been successful and I have just about broken even in the money I have spent. In light of yesterday's discovery of copyright infringement on one of my artworks at ebay I thought I would post what I have learned from my years of selling art at ebay.
• Great place to spread your branding.
• Easy to use interface.
• Easy to connect with really kind and wonderful pet lovers and art collectors that may not find you any other way.
• When you are actively selling on Ebay you get to see what is out there and when you have a devoted following they will let you know when they see someone selling your work illegally.
• You expose your artwork to people that can easily purchase your artwork, scan and resell. Often these digital rip off printers are located in other countries and can be hard to track.
• You will receive tons of e-mail questions from buyers, no matter how specific your terms are spelled out. Things like: "can I get this in a smaller size", " can you do a custom work of my Lab for $10", "do you have any prints of 3 legged Norwegian Chihuahuas", " can I get this print with a different colored background" , "can I use your art in my child's school newsletter" .... and the list goes on and on. If you have the time to respond and respond "thoughtfully" to these sort of questions you can turn maybe 1 in 100 of these requests into an actual life-long client.
• Ebay raises their selling fees every year making it harder and harder to make a profit.
• Lots of competition in the animal art niche.
• Ebay is like a big garage sale and if your goal as an artist includes breaking into elite and high profile national art galleries you may be watering down and cheapening your brand by selling at auction.
• Then there is the question of if you are watering down the uniqueness of commissioned artwork by adding client work into gift & print lines. That is always a nagging issue commercial pet artists deal with. Many of my clients enjoy seeing their art in our gift lines, but I may not be hearing from the ones that don't.
I would have to add that you have to work very very hard to break even when selling at ebay and yet many independent artists do very well and manage to work out a system that allows them to to turn a profit. I have made very little money on the items I have sold at ebay and yet I would have to say that overall I think the effect on branding for me has been a plus. I can not recommend ebay to artists nor would I say that it is not worth a try.
Will I keep my ebay shop open? I am really not sure at this point. The fraud listings have been quickly removed by the seller after my partner informed them of the infringement. The story goes that they were a part of a large purchase the seller made and they were unaware of the infringement. I suppose we will have to give them the benefit of the doubt, however we will be checking their auctions weekly now.
Resources & additional reading links:
Ebay's veRO program
NPR story: Online Art Fraud Nets Growing Number of Victims
Great Post On Wet Canvas: Being successful on ebay...year long study