The way artists sell their art in person at fairs, festivals, and shows has been rapidly changing over the last 10 years. Successful full-time artists, that have been selling at these events for decades, are finding themselves at a crossroads because of this change.
Most artists see this change as a bad thing.
But is it?
We have more choices, and opportunities then ever before to sell our art now that we can do so online. However, that also means there are more choices, and opportunities than ever before for customers to BUY art.
It’s these amazing opportunities that have changed the way art is now found, and sold.
If artists don’t take the time to understand this shift in the market, and plan their marketing strategy accordingly, then they will continue to struggle to sell their art.
This makes artists wonder: Is it better to sell art at fairs, festivals and shows, or online?
Before I answer this question, I want to take a look at how art used to sell at shows before the internet.
How Art Sold at Shows Before the Internet
Before the internet, smart phones, and computers, it was common for people who wanted artwork to shop at a local art festival or fair. These shows would typically last 1-3 days, and a lot of them were major events that gathered huge crowds from neighboring towns and cities.
People would look forward to going to these shows knowing it was the one time of year they could buy one of a kind items to decorate their homes with.
No one ever asked the artist if they could shop their art online.
They knew to buy the art that day or that weekend, because after the show ended they wouldn’t see the art again until another show, and by then the art would most likely be long gone.
There also were not many options to make or purchase prints either. Most art sold back then were original pieces. In fact, I can remember the first show I was at, in the 1980’s, where they let in photography for the first time.
The artists gasp!
They were shocked at even the thought of considering photography as fine art. Photography back then was very different then it is today too! Boy, has this category of fine art gone through some major swings in the market in the past 30 years. (That’s a whole other post for another day!)
Basically, all artists had to do back then was to make paintings, and hang them on a display rack at one of these shows, and their artwork sold. Very little thought had to go into marketing their art.
Those days are gone forever!
How to Sell Art in Today’s Market
Today artists need a marketing strategy.
Now that art can be sold at shows, and online it’s made it way too easy for customers to shop, find, and buy what they want. Customers can also buy art at popular big box stores too, such as Target, Wall-Mart, Micheals, and Home Goods. Plus, everyone now owns a smart phone that can take photos of anything they want, and can easily print it out themselves.
It may not be fine art, but it’s good enough for them to hang on their walls and decorate their homes with.
This is why artists now have to spend time figuring out a marketing strategy for selling their art. It’s something artists never had to invest much of their time doing before. It also doesn’t matter if you sell at shows or online, you need a strategy for marketing your art either way.
If you have tried to sell for any length of time at shows or online you probably have discovered it takes a lot of work. A lot of artists have tried to do both only to discover it’s the equivalent to working two full-time jobs.
So which should you choose to focus on?
I have discovered first hand there’re pros and cons to selling at both in person at shows and online.
Pros and Cons to Selling at Shows, Festivals, and Fairs
The atmosphere for selling in person at these events may be changing, but like I said earlier it doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as you change with it. I personally still find selling at fairs, festivals, and shows to be the BEST way to sell my art. I have had waaay more success at selling my art (both originals and prints) at these events then I do online, wholesale, and even licensing my work to major companies.
Here are the Pros and Cons to Selling at these events:
- Pro: You get to meet your customer face to face, and build a relationship with them. These customers turn into collectors that will come back and buy from you year after year. This also includes selling to them online.
- Pro: These shows bring out people who want to shop handmade and fine art. They are your ideal target audience that you don’t have to find yourself.
- Pro: You get to watch shoppers look at your art. You can learn so much from watching people interact with the art in your booth! Just from watching them you can tell if they like something or not. This is valuable information to help you when building your collections. Something you cannot get online.
- Pro: These shows are dedicated time to sell, which means the rest of your time can be spent making art. You don’t have to stop creating each day to package, ship, and fill online orders, which saves on time and money.
- Con: You have to travel (This could be a pro if you like to travel)
- Con: The weather can affect your sales at a show.
- Con: There is a certain amount of physical labor involved with selling at shows. You need to be able to set up and take down your booth.
I didn’t include sale tax, travel expenses, show applications, or any other expenses in this list because I find, in the beginning, it all cost money to get your business up and running, even online.
I know a lot of people think they can sell online by building a blog and posting on social media, but the days of organic (free) reach is over. We now have to pay for advertising to find our specific audience to market our art to online. Plus, it cost money to use automation tools, run a website, and/or hire help.
It all evens out with expenses no matter which way you want to sell your art.
Pros and Cons to Selling Art Online
Building a successful business for selling your art online is possible, but not as easy as selling in person at shows.
It’s much harder to make a personally connection with a potential customer online, and it takes a lot longer to build the know, like, and trust factor needed to sell to them.
At a show you can meet, introduce yourself, explain your art, and win your customer over in a matter of minutes to make a sale. Online, you have to come up with a sales funnel that’s designed to get your customers to buy now, instead of continually putting it off indefinitely.
Here are the Pros and Cons to Selling Online:
- Pro: You can sell in the comforts of your own home or studio.
- Pro: You can reach a larger audience, like the whole world! (This could turn into a con if you can’t find your ideal customers, though)
- Pro: Once you know how to put your art in front of your ideal customers you can set up customized sale funnels for them using automation tools giving you more time to paint and spending less time on the marketing.
- Con: It’s much hard to know what your customer wants because you can’t be right there to talk to them and read their facial expressions and body language.
- Con: You must know how to use technology and be able to set up a website, email marketing, social media, and more to be successful to sell online. NOTE: You don’t have to do everything! But, do have to figure out what online platforms will work best for you.
- Con: You must package and ship your art costing you time and money.
Selling online will only be successful if you already know how to sell your art. You have to know what your customer wants and why they buy your art.
If you are new to selling your art, and you’re still trying to figure out what to make that sells, then selling online will be much harder. You have to know your selling points, and what strengths to market to when selling online.
Which is Better for Selling Art?
So which is better, selling in person at shows or online?
It really depends on your marketing strategy and the type of art you sell.
If you’re just getting started, and at the beginning of building your collections, branding yourself, and making a marketing strategy, then I say start with selling in person at shows. You can start online, but you must be really aggressive with reaching out to people for feedback, where as at shows it just happens naturally in a very short time.
Hey, if you want to know more about setting up a booth for shows read: How to Set Up an Outdoor Display Booth and List of Equipment Needed.
If you want to learn how to set up a sales funnel to sell your art online enroll in my FREE course: