The Academy of Handmade's mission is to support handmade businesses and we are proud to have a membership that includes not just makers but also people who work with makers to have thriving businesses. Recently member Dave Conrey of Fresh Rag updated his book Selling Art Online. The landscape for selling your handmade goods has already changed quite a bit since he first released it in 2012. We asked him about those changes.*
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
A: I'm an artist, designer and media strategist, specializing in helping creative entrepreneurs find their way through the media side of business. It may be graphic design and branding advice one day, tips on email newsletters or podcasting on another, but it revolves around helping them improve the quality of their business lives.
Q: You just released a second edition of your book Selling Art Online. Why release a second edition?
A: The book is based a lot on current technology, and it had quite a bit of information that needed updating because of the change of things on the different websites I wrote about. Also, my viewpoint on those sites had changed a bit, so I felt it fair to update that information, as well as add an entire section on how we tend to grow too dependent on other people's tech, when we should be focusing on what we can do for ourselves in order to stay sustainable. I felt that was an essential update, and it made the book almost twice as big as it was previously. In retrospect, I don't think I took the first edition far enough. This new edition feels a lot better.
Q: What's changed in the online art-selling landscape since you last published the book in 2012?
A: I believe the bigger name players are widening the gap between them and the smaller sites out there. Etsy is a household name now, some would say the "Amazon" of handmade goods. The team at Etsy sees this tremendous growth, take into account the nature of how successful crafters and artists are managing their business, and now Etsy is adapting to what I see is a broader focus on delivering goods from all types of makers.
The downside to this is that Etsy is blind to a lot of problems within their confines. More and more shops are opening up, selling products that aren't handmade, perhaps entirely manufactured out of the country, and it's becoming pervasive in some categories. Etsy knows it's happening, but they can't stop it all—it's a finger in the dam to try and stop a flood. I think behind the scenes, Etsy has big plans and big changes in the works for the near future, and it will change the canvas of selling handmade online. I think these changes are driving some artists off to sell their goods in other places, even their own hosted shops on sites like Shopify. I believe, as technology becomes easier and easier to use, more people will be running their own online shops instead of just putting all their eggs into someone else's basket. It's an inevitable shift.
Q: Now that you've just re-examined the landscape, what are the future trends for selling art online?
A: I think in the past, a lot of people put their work on up into online marketplaces and found that it could sell well there. Many people do have success by only operating on sites like Etsy, but as more people get savvy to running their own online campaigns, I think you'll see people running their own shops, and or operating curatorial shops that house their work and the work of others. I think of shops like Poketo that started online, became really popular, and then opened up a retail space. That could be a new possible future for many—a resurgence of small boutiques where people sell their own work, and cool stuff from other's they have met online. It all comes full circle, and that's pretty exciting.
Q: What's the biggest difference between selling online now and just a couple years ago?
A: Before it was easier to get sales online because it was all new and fresh. Customers loved the novelty of buying goods online, especially handmade, and there were all these great creators from around the world to buy from. However, popularity set in, and now there are millions upon millions of people selling their work online. Getting found is the main concern of every seller now, and it's no longer easy to toss up some stuff on Etsy and hope the world finds you, because they won't.
Now we must take an active role in our own success. Now we must manage our mailing lists, focus on social media efforts, and share our stories in order to foster a group of fans that are willing to sing our praises. I think in the past, it was ok for us to hope that everyone could be a potential customer, but now it's more advantageous for use to identify our core customers, and work toward making them happy any way we can. It's those people that will become our evangelists, and if you can get a handful of them in your corner, you will see success.
Q: What's the biggest mistake you are seeing with people selling their art online?
A: No email list, hands down.
If you're selling on another marketplace, whether that's Etsy, Ebay, FineArtAmerica, or Fab.com, the people who you call customers are not actually your customers. They are Etsy and Ebay's customers. In fact, Etsy's terms of service state that you cannot contact a customer directly unless it involves a current or previous sale. In other words, you're only borrowing space from Etsy—digital sharecropping is a term I like to use.
However, if you have established an email mailing list, that list of people becomes your list and nobody can take it away from you. If Etsy shuts down tomorrow, all those customers you had are not gone, but if you had your email list and Etsy shut down your shop, you could turn around and open a new shop somewhere else and let your list know that you were back in business.
There's also the added aspect of being able to directly interact and impact the lives of people who have given you their more cherished digital possession, their email address. I get comments on my tweets, notes on my Facebook page, and interactions on my blog posts, but none compare to the comments, questions and praise I get from people who are on my list. It is the single most effective tool I have in my marketing plan, and to ignore it would be business suicide.
Q: Anything else?
A: I would do a little soft-shoe number for you, but I don't think it translates via text.
Q: Where can people find your stuff and buy your book?
A: You can see all my rants and raves over at FreshRag.com, and you can buy the book on AmazonOn social media, I'm @FreshRag pretty much everywhere.
If someone is interested in the book, but a little gun shy about buying, they can get a free sample chapter by visiting www.freshrag.com/saofree. I'll give you one guess what you have to provide me in order to get a copy.
Thanks for this opportunity, Sharon, KC and the AoH gang.
*This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and eventually purchase something, Academy of Handmade will receive a small percentage which will go toward the continued support of handmade businesses. Just know that we never link to anything that we don't think is helpful and amazing!