Selling Art Online: Then and Now
My first ventures into online entrepreneurship were stationery and greeting cards. This was the early 2000’s, and the Internet was dotted with tiny webpages hosted by ISPs as an added “perk” for using their services. Free webhosts like Geocities and Webs.com were super popular for artsy types who were looking to connect with one another and share their ideas, design experiments, and free products.
When I first started learning to use photo editing software, there were a million places you could go online for free, detailed courses and tutorials. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the free information culture of the early Internet.
I learned how to create my own stationery and templates, how to build a website, how to manage payments and track online orders, and a lot more, all for free without ever having to enter my email address or give out any personal details. I went by the moniker “Lionchilde” for over a decade, and no one needed to know my name.
The difficult part back then was always making sure that your design work was print-ready, and then the upfront expenses of printing and shipping. Your ability to make money was heavily curtailed by how much money you had to spend upfront.
About half of internet users were still on dialup, so “best practices” for designing an image-heavy website involved creating lots and lots of tiny thumbnail galleries that linked to “preview” pages which had images not much bigger. Thumbnails had to be manually generated, either in your image program or with a special utility. (We’d probably call it an “app” today, though I don’t know if anyone would still need a thumbnail generator app. Image hosts generate thumbnails for us, as do WordPress and Blogger.)
I got out of selling pre-made art online for a while. Startup costs were high and returns weren’t reliable. I’ve still got a package of cardstock sitting in my house from ’06. This year, I decided to return to to selling premades–from cards to book covers and anything else I feel like. I’ve been exploring the “scene” for papercrafts and checking out various online marketplaces. I’ll report back with observations of a geeky nature as I have them. For now, here are my findings:
These days, there are print on demand stores for just about everything. You can offer digital downloads on Etsy, CreativeMarket, Evanto Marketplace and several others. Of course, that convenience means a considerable chunk of your profit.
You can probably find a lot of information about creating paper products or managing online sales by reading blogs, but if you want a detailed course in photo editing or business finance, you’ll have to pay for it with either your email address or your cash. (And if you “pay” with your email address, you’ll almost certainly be spammed with “added value” that leads to an upsell.)
You can still find plenty of Photoshop tutorials on YouTube, but there don’t seem to be as many for “alternative” software like GIMP or Paint Shop Pro.
The internet seems to be moving steadily, from a culture where information and free content are there to foster community and connection, to one in which information is currency and free content is a bribe for access to your email inbox or social media feeds. On the flip side, access is easier and more streamlined. Print on demand services make it simple and straightforward for designers and artists to earn cash without a great deal of overhead.
There’s been an explosion in processor speeds, hard drive capacity, internet speeds and modes of connectivity since I started selling my art online in the 00s. Internet use has grown exponentially as well. Overall, these advances are positive and have helped me find a way to make money without sucking all the pleasure out of creating things. I’ll keep an archive of free stuff online as long as I can, too.