If you’ve decided to start selling prints of your work, you’ve found there are a lot of options, from print-on-demand websites where your work is part of a larger marketplace and orders are fulfilled by the website, to customizable platforms that you can make all your own. Art Storefronts attempts to offer the best of both worlds.
Print-on-Demand Versus A Custom Website
Is Art Storefronts the right platform for you? Before we answer that, let’s take a look at the differences between print-on-demand (POD) and a custom website.
There are a number of POD websites out there, including Fine Art America, Zazzle, RedBubble, Saatchi Art, Society 6, and more. With these websites, while you’ll have your own profile page, your work is also listed as part of the parent website’s marketplace. There are pros and cons to this setup. One big positive is if you manage to be listed near the top of the search results, your work can be found by people who aren’t even aware you exist. Ideally, however, you’ll do some marketing to drive traffic to your own profile. Another pro is most PODs offer a wide variety of products so you can offer everything from prints to beach towels and more. The major downside of a POD website is that the customer is not yours. You are simply licensing your image to the website to print the product the customer ordered. This means that unless the buyer contacts you directly, you have no ability to reach out and build a relationship with that customer, encouraging repeat sales.
A custom website allows you to more fully present your work in your own way. You choose the look of the site, what products you offer, and your work is not part of a greater collection of work from other artists and photographers. The biggest plus to selling through your own website is that your customers are yours, enabling you to build relationships and encourage repeat buying. However, you are solely responsible for driving traffic to your site and fulfilling all orders.
Enter Art Storefronts
Art Storefronts was founded in 2013 and launched their first website in 2014. Their goal? Providing artists and photographers with an all-in-one solution for selling prints of their work online. A little over two years ago, I chose Art Storefronts as my solution for selling prints of my landscape work.
I’ll be blunt: most photographers (and artists in general) are terrible at marketing. Art Storefronts’ biggest draw is the heavy emphasis on marketing guidance. While their websites are not cheap – licenses start at around $2,000 – you get access to all of the marketing playbooks and strategies, as well as weekly Zoom meetings led by art marketing professionals. This marketing guidance is constantly updated to address changing times, making sure you’re able to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
While the marketing guidance was a key component to why I chose to use Art Storefronts for my website, the e-commerce component is equally as strong. You can sell pretty much any product you like, and you have the ability to set your own markups in a variety of ways, be it a flat percentage, a dollar value, or specific percentages based on size and media.
Art Storefronts offers some great sales tools, including a mockup wall preview, and also a Live Preview Augumented Reality option. The latter allows a buyer to visualize the print at the selected size on their wall, while using a tablet or phone’s camera. This ability to show the image, with selected matting and framing options, on the buyer’s wall, is a must-have feature that is extremely helpful in closing sales.
Building the site is relatively straightforward. A checklist is provided for you to follow, so you'll know when you're ready to go live. You have multiple themes to choose from for the look of your site, and these themes can be further customized to put your own distinct stamp on it. Setting up your static pages is done through a WYSIWYG interface that is easy to use and allows for a variety of page layouts. Your gallery pages are set up similarly, but are also automatically populated when you upload an image and add it to the gallery. Additionally, you have the ability to create smart galleries, which self-populate based on keywords listed on each photo you upload.
When setting up your site, you have the option to self-fulfill orders from your website, using either your own local lab or printing yourself. However, Art Storefronts has also arranged for the website to work as a print-on-demand site, by partnering with labs such as Bay Photo and Graphik Dimensions, the company behind PictureFrames.com. This means that when an order comes in, you don’t have to lift a finger. The file is automatically sent to the lab, printed, and shipped directly to your customer, with your logo on the packaging.
A wide variety of media options are available, from photo and fine art papers, to canvas, metal, acrylic, and wood. You have the option to enable matting and framing, allowing you to increase profits when customers add them on. In addition, you have the ability to offer a variety of home goods as POD offerings, such as cellphone cases, mugs, tote bags, puzzles, and more. Finally, if there’s something you’d like to offer that isn’t available through the connected labs, you have the ability to offer it yourself as a self-fulfilled product.
One of the things I love about Art Storefronts is the continual update and addition of features to the platform. One welcome feature was the ability to automatically email potential customers to start the conversation about your work. Another was the aforementioned ability to sell various merchandise, on a print-on-demand basis. The point is, value is continually being added.
In the two years I’ve been using my Art Storefronts website, I have had occasion to use their technical support. While it would be nice to have a dedicated support phone line, I am pleased with support overall. They can be reached directly through a support chat window that is available on your back end, and are always an email away as well. Response time overall is great, but weekends and off-hours can take longer. In addition to the support options, there is an active group of members on Facebook (moderated by Art Storefronts staff). This group is an outstanding resource both for marketing and technical support from other users.
So, what are the drawbacks? One thing I didn’t like was the hard sell I received during the demo process. As I mentioned, it’s not cheap, and I wanted time to digest everything I was being told, and to do some further research. It was a bit of a turnoff, but I’d also spoken to other photographers on the platform to get their thoughts, so I was able to disregard the aggressive sales tactics in favor of the positive feedback.
Another downside is that at times, the software that runs the website can be a bit clunky. For instance, replacing an image for any reason, such as a new edit, requires a two-step process that on other platforms can be done in one click. The same goes for exporting contact lists and sales reports. And while at times it can be frustrating, it’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch.
The final negative, or more realistically, a tradeoff from working with a POD website, is that you are now responsible for your own customer service. This is one that cuts both ways. Having sold on POD websites, it’s infuriating when a sale gets canceled through no fault of your own, and you have no recourse. At the same time, Customer Service is yet another hat to be worn, in addition to Photographer, Marketer, Salesman, Accountant, and Office Manager. Thankfully, in two years of sales through Art Storefronts, I’ve had exactly one customer complaint (a print damaged in shipping), and that was rectified with a quick email to Art Storefronts support, which handles all quality and production concerns for the labs their websites are connected to.
Is Art Storefronts right for you? That’s going to depend on your commitment to selling prints of your work. If you just want to throw some photos on a website and see if they sell, a POD website is probably more for you. The investment is lower, but the return likely will be as well. If you’re looking to turn print sales into a significant part of your business, Art Storefronts is worth considering.
What I Like:
- Excellent Website features
- Frequent feature updates
- Marketing Support
- Attentive technical support
What I Don’t Like
- Occasionally clunky software
- Aggressive sales pitch
- No phone technical support
Images used with permission of Andy Crawford Photography