Selling Art Online Is Hard Work

Fifteen years. That’s how long I have been displaying my artwork online. I have sold and shipped hundreds upon hundreds of art pieces all over North America, Europe, Oceania, and Asia. As wonderful as that sounds, it has always been a struggle to be seen in this factory-made mass-produced world. It wasn’t always so difficult. There was a time when it was easier to be noticed, when people valued quality, artisan crafted goods. They could see that value and were willing to pay for it. Now though? Not so much.

What Happened To The Mom & Pop Shops?

Decades ago, when the Walmarts of the world started moving into towns, the local ‘mom & pop shops’ struggled, eventually closing. They simply couldn’t compete with the discount prices and discounted service. With the popularity of online shopping, it was only a matter of time before the mom & pop shops of the internet would likewise fare the same. Venues such as Amazon, Alibaba, Home Goods, even Walmart, to name only a few, have not only changed the way consumers shop, but have shaped their expectations. They offer assembly line factory made goods of standard quality, and they sell it cheaply, and ship it free, if not nearly free. Many consumers are no longer concerned with craftsmanship, supporting artisans and the art of handcraft skills, or quality that will last a lifetime. Most are concerned with inexpensive, instant satisfaction, and easily replaceable when it wears out. Why spend $40 on a hand-carved wooded cook spoon when you can go to World Market and get a factory made wood spoon for $6? And if that $6 spoon breaks, oh well, no big deal, after all it was only a few bucks. I’m guilty of the  same kind of thinking. Some of this can be blamed on the economy. But not much. Many are indeed on tight budgets. Yet I know a number of people that would rather drop $25 at Starbucks for drinks and food that will basically be in the toilet in an hours time, than spend $25 for a piece of original art that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Over-Saturated Markets

A huge factor in all of this is the problem of over-saturation in many markets. There is an insane number of small-time crafters offering the same thing. So now not only are they competing against the big factory-made mass-produced (who can make goods cheaper and quicker), but they are up against their fellow artisans. The only thing they can do is compete in pricing. In trying to beat out the prices of each other, it creates a race to the bottom. This only further promotes consumers expectations of getting items for cheap, getting a good bargain. The venue Etsy is a prime example of this. When Etsy first opened it’s doors, it was a place for quality, uniquely crafted goods, and vintage finds. Factories were not allowed. Yes the prices were high, but not unreasonable for something created by hand with skill, who’s quality would last forever. Then several years later Etsy allowed resellers to have shops there. Etsy encouraged factories, they told sellers that they didn’t even need to physically touch or make their products. They could simply design it and have it created and dropped shipped from an overseas factory. Once Etsy opened it’s doors that wide, it was as if they opened the floodgates. And resellers of cheaply made goods poured in. Now, nearly every market on Etsy is over-saturated.

The DIY-er

The popularity of DIY has certainly had a huge impact on online sales. With the influx of video tutorials that will teach you how to create just about anything, many are opting to DIY  more than ever. And with the large number of online supply shops, materials are no longer hard to source or purchase. You can order supplies, watch a YouTube tutorial and be creating in a matter of days, all from the comfort of your home, in your pajamas no less. Sometimes weekly I get asked where I get my supplies, or how do I make my miniature dioramas, people telling me that they want to make them too.

The Curious Case Of Google & Social Media

Lastly, there is the internet itself. It a ‘pay-to-play’ environment. If you don’t have the money, you’re out of the game. There is only so much SEO one can do to get their site, their goods, seen. There are algorithms, ad space competition and corruption. Sure I could pay Google for advertising, but because their system is based on bidding and paying for certain keywords, most of the bigger sellers/companies have already scooped up those words and hence are priced so high, I could never afford them. So back of the line I go. Social media is another tricky world to navigate. It takes skill, insight and a whole lot of time. There again, one can only promote via social media just so much.

So What Does This Mean For Boondocks Workshop?

The last few years I have seen first hand the steady demise of the online OOAK (one of a kind) crafter. My art is no exception. Gone are the days of having to spend 2 hours each weekend just packaging up orders to be shipped. Now, I see a sale once or twice per year. Yes, you read that right, Per Year. Just a couple of months ago, we made the hard decision to take down all of Aaron’s photography prints that were for sale. Why? Because all of the above. Inexpensive mass-produced wall art can be found in grocery stores now. People with a great cellphone camera and a free photo editing app fancy themselves professional photographers. And now with the availability of online prints, all one has to do is snap a pic, apply a few filters, upload it to a printing company, and in a couple of days they have a framed, ready to hang print sent to them. Sales of his prints dropped to zero last year, so we took them down. Now my artwork is following suit. I have a few more clay pieces to finish, but after my current supplies run out, I will no longer be offering many of my pieces anymore. As of right now, we are keeping our site up, and may offer a watercolor painting here or there. The main reason: it used to be that my art paid for itself as well as the running of this site. Now I am taking away from my family finances to purchase supplies and keep this site going, all due to the situations outlined above. Secondly, it’s an emotional letdown as well: it takes weeks, sometimes months, to create an art piece, then there is time and skill photographing it, then writing up a listing on the site for it, time spent promoting it, and then it just sits there safely tucked away in storage, waiting to be purchased, for months on end. I create each piece with much joy and love, hoping that others will also receive some joy from them as well. So it bothers me greatly to see them stored away in a dark drawer for so long. I just can’t do it any longer. Fifteen years was a good run, and I met many wonderful people through my art. I am forever grateful to those that have supported my art. Thank you!