How to Successfully Sell Contemporary Art Online: What can we learn from the first virtual art fair

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The art world is still buzzing with comments about the first virtual art fair to hit cyberspace, which happened over the week of January 22-30, 2011. In the past, online art galleries have focused their products to the poster and print markets—leaving us to wonder if fine art buyers would shop online (and buy) high-end art. The VIP Art Fair proved that exhibiting, selling and buying fine art online is possible—and with that paved the way for future virtual fine art exhibitions and fairs.

In this post, I’ll be going over what we’ve learned from the VIP Fair and talk about how we can use some of their successes and practices to grow sales in your art business.

Just in case you missed the VIP event, here are some highlights.

Background: Titled the VIP Art Fair (VIP standing for “view in private”), this event launch was not the first of it’s kind. It was however, the first to include 140 prestigious contemporary art galleries (all who jumped on board at $5,000-$20,000) not wanting to miss the opportunity to be a part of what some are saying “a future trend in selling fine art”.

The VIP Art Fair exhibited artworks priced ranging from $5,000 for work by emerging artists to more than $1 million for works by superstars including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George, and Louise Bourgeois.

Did the VIP Fair sell any art?

Despite some technical difficulties during the first 48 hours of the launch, the fair was considered a success, boasting the sale of several top-priced artworks, including the sale of a Pablo Picasso plaster maquette within the first hours of the opening (for cool $15 million).

Other galleries reported art sales in the $1,000-$25,000 range. With only a few reporting that they did not sell any art.

Did the art world come to see?

The VIP Fair had 41,000+ registered visitors from 196 different countries, and recorded that artworks were viewed over 7.65 million times.

“It’s an incredibly seductive way to look at a lot of interesting art. It’s all in front of you. You can sit in your nice chair with a glass of wine or whatever and have a civilized time of it.” Toronto art dealer Jane Corkin

“This kind of endeavour is something that makes complete sense and should be welcomed and embraced by collectors.”

VIP critic, Colin Gleadell noted “The fair has firepower because it brings together the best galleries for the price of a few magazine ads”. Also noting that most dealers see the fair as a means for expanding their contacts. Given the smaller price tag to dealers, the VIP art fair was still good value by my books.

With the costs associated to producing a physical art exhibition or participating in a trade fair growing every year; combined with the dwindling number of exhibition spots at contemporary galleries, emerging-artists (especially) are in desperate need for new exhibitions venues and storefronts for selling art.

The VIP Art Fair was a huge success and has set a precedent for selling art in the future. I hope we will see more like-opportunities for artists very soon.

What can we learn about selling art online from this event?

While we are waiting for online art fairs to become available to emerging artists and non-dealer represented artists, we can improve and strengthen the way we sell art online.

Taking into account some of the positive and negative comments from the online VIP Art Fair, I have assembled a list of 5 tips to help you re-develop your online sales channel.

5 Hot Tips to help you successfully sell your art online

1. Create an online art gallery (shop) that is easy to navigate

Fine tune your artist website or blog. Gone are the days of “vanity” websites, the site that is only a portfolio with no means of purchasing or building a relationship with your potential buyer. An easy user interface is paramount in keeping your visitor engaged in your artwork. Simple pull-down menu’s, safe e-commerce (eg. Paypal) and updated contact information.

2. Offer several ways to communicate with you—including by telephone!

The VIP Fair made it possible for potential buyers to interact with the dealers verbally (instant messaging, Skype and phone). Direct communication is the key to selling art. Many artists choose not to include their telephone numbers on their website—this is a big mistake. Selling your art is about building trust and forming a relationship with your potential customer—they will not buy your expensive artwork without knowing a bit more about you.

Tip: To avoid telephone inquiries in the middle of the night, be sure to include your business hours and what time zone you are in. If privacy is a concern, use Skype or purchase a voice automated IP (a phone number that uses your internet connection). There are several VOIP service providers that offer this service for about $120/year.

3. Ship Everywhere

Offering to ship your artwork worldwide expands your audience and potential customers. Do your homework in advance to investigate approximate shipping costs to your nearest continental neighbours. Have an action plan for crating your work and keep basic packaging material on hand. Set up accounts with international couriers such as FedX, UPS or DHL. Understand cross-border customs and duties, and know where to find the necessary forms to include with your art, so that your shipment get’s there smoothly. (Your courier can help you with this).

Insurance for shipping your art is your responsibility and can be purchased through the courier. I recommend paying the extra dollars for insurance as there is a 20% chance your art will be lost or arrive damaged.

Tip: Offer to ship artwork unframed or unstretched. Heavy-duty shipping tubes are the most cost effective and can be purchased from a wholesale packaging company for about $10-15 each. A good test for durability is—if you think you can stand on it—it will probably survive undamaged.

4. Keep your online gallery up-to-date and test drive it often

Give your collectors a reason to come back often by uploading new artworks often. Fine tune your artist’s statement and biography and keep your CV current. Have a place on your site that lists current and up-and-coming exhibitions (a blog with an RSS Feed is good for this). Be sure to make a mock-purchase to insure your e-commerce is fully operational.

5. Market your website extensively

a/ Social media should be at the top of your list for getting maximum exposure and spreading the word (outside your immediate social network). You need to make the “ask” to your friends to post a comment about your art on their Facebook wall, “Like” your fan page in order to help you expand your reach.

Tip: Start your social media campaign with Facebook and perhaps Flickr (or another photo-sharing site). Twitter is somewhat less important (for now), as it becomes more valuable when you when you are exhibiting more often and have a need to spread “hot news” fast.

b/ Take advantage of all the free artist listing websites (vanity sites). Don’t post every image you have, 2-5 images are enough to get a buyers attention and drive them to your website.

c/ Be sure your website includes an RRS feed-to email (eg. Feedburner, link to how to use Feedburner for SEO), an opt-in newsletter (eg. Aweber), and the common social media sharing links.

d/ If you haven’t read my popular post “The Secret to Selling More Art is Market Domination: Be Everywhere”, it’s full of valuable marketing tips related to this topic.

I hope you found this post about selling contemporary art online and online art fairs interesting and helpful for your art business. If you would like to learn more about the VIP Art Fair please follow the links below.

VIP Official website

One Art Collectors Point of View www.

Weekly World News about the NYC Art Fair

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