Art Business Models: Pros & Cons

How you sell your art has a lot to do with the amount and way you get paid. There are trade-offs with every business model, though. Which one is right for you?


Artist painting at a local fair


Artists who consign their work in stores or galleries don’t have to do the work of marketing and selling their art, which saves a lot of time and expense. However, they only get paid about half the amount of the sales price, and receive nothing until merchandise is sold. They take the risk of work being shopworn or left in the back room rather than out on display. They also have to part with their inventory, rather than having it available to exhibit or retail themselves. Consignment is a common method of selling art that definitely has pros and cons, just like every other method.

If you choose to retail your art or handmade goods, you receive the entire purchase price of each sale. If you are willing to create your originals, hold inventory of reproductions (or create production inventory), travel to fairs and festivals and sell in person, you have plenty of opportunities to earn. This is a labor-intensive model, though. And, you will have expenses such as booth fees, travel, meals and lodging, as well as the cost of being out of your studio when you are exhibiting at the show. If you choose this method, keep careful records so you can track fairs and festivals that produce the most profit for you, and select your events wisely.

If you wholesale a line of handmade goods made in production, each piece of your work will earn you approximately half of the retail value, and you can create relationships with retailers that drive repeat sales and ongoing orders. This model can be as profitable, or more profitable, than retailing, because each sale is larger, and traveling time outside the studio is significantly decreased. If as a wholesaler, you hire commissioned sales reps, your exposure and account base will increase, but you incur commission cost, which may be as high as 20% of wholesale. If you attend trade shows, you may incur high expenses, but have an opportunity to earn significant income through orders. As with every model, there are benefits and risks.

If you are an artist who wants to sell retail online, you can do so on your own website, but you will have to do a lot of marketing to drive traffic to your site, and maintain an e-commerce solution to make sales. Another method is to upload your images onto any number of third-party sites who will do a lot of the marketing and selling for you, but at a cost. This may be in the form of monthly fees, commissions, listing fees, etc.

If you use a print-on-demand provider, they will have a platform in place to show your products, and they will accept payment for you through a shopping cart. The POD provider will print and ship the merchandise for you, offer customer service and process returns. Since they are doing the lion’s share of the work, they keep the vast portion of each sale made on their site. You as the artist will earn a royalty or other set price for the goods which is a relatively small percentage of each sale, because you have no materials or labor costs, and don’t have a financial stake in the business. This is a trade-off, so determine if it will work for you.

Selecting a business model takes a lot of research and planning in order to create streams of for your art business that make sense. Some may be inappropriate, while others may be a perfect fit. And, you might find several that work well in tandem (such as retailing and wholesaling). Ultimately, a decision should be made that provides you with the income you need to make your art business profitable and able to grow, and that works with your schedule, preferences and lifestyle.


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