eBay is the world’s biggest online marketplace, with over 100 million global users (as of Q4 2011), where (they claim) practically anyone can buy and sell practically anything.
So what about artists? Is it possible to successfully sell your artwork on eBay, or is there just too much competition to make it a viable solution?
eBay offer their own art selling guide, which claims that it’s easy to earn extra cash selling your art on eBay. But what’s the real story?
Will it Sell?
In 2006, Dan from Empty Easel wrote an article suggesting that it was almost impossible for relatively unknown artists to sell their work on eBay for over $50.
Having studied the completed listings of original oil paintings listed by the artists themselves, he found that only around 20% of the paintings had sold at all, and those that did sell rarely fetched more than $100.
I performed the same search today, and found very similar results. 5 or 6 paintings had sold for between $500 – $1500, but many more at that price range had not sold at all. Again, roughly 80% of all paintings listed had failed to sell and the majority that had sold fetched less than $100.
Of course, this is just a general overview of the results, and there were exceptions where certain artists had consistently sold a number of paintings for $100 – $200 and occasionally more.
Interestingly, the results on eBay.co.uk were more favourable, with less paintings listed, and a higher percentage sold, many for between £100 – £200, suggesting that perhaps the market is less competitive in the UK.
A Story From the Inside
To get a better idea of the real state of the art market on eBay today, I spoke to an artist who has been selling her original art on eBay for the last 8 years.
Soniei creates contemporary Japanese paintings, the majority of which she sells through eBay auctions. I asked her a few questions about the eBay art market:
How long have you been selling your art on eBay? Have your sales been fairly consistent during that period?
Soniei: I’ve been selling my art on eBay since 2004, but I only started working as a full-time artist since 2006. Sales were amazing, anywhere from $2000 to $7000 a month… until 2008, when the economy collapsed. I haven’t worked as a full-time artist in the past 2 years, but fortunately I’ve been reinventing my life in the past month (after my boyfriend of 9 years and I broke up)… and I’ve returned to really focusing on my art career full-time. Sales seem to be back to what they were when I first started in 2004, so I’m extremely excited about that!
Ebay is one of the biggest online marketplaces in the world. How do you get noticed among the competition?
Soniei: It’s important to get noticed as an artist. eBay really helps me find new customers. The most important tip I can give any artist, especially those selling on eBay, is find your niche! I focus on contemporary Japanese art, so if a potential art buyer searches ‘Japanese Art’, for example, I’m one of only a few artists that show up in the search results.
Do you get a lot of buyers finding you through eBay search, or do more people find come to your eBay store via your website?
Soniei: I get a lot of buyers find me through eBay searches – that’s why I’ve kept my paintings on eBay for all these years. I get some buyers from my website as well, but nothing compares to eBay at the moment. I also market my paintings on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and sell prints on Imagekind and RedBubble.
How much importance do you place on writing a good listing, with the right keywords, tags etc?
Soniei: I focus on keywords for the title of the item, and I focus on smooth reading and good quality images for the item descriptions. Get good search results with the title, and wow them when they look at your item’s listing.
Are you ever unhappy with the price a painting sells for?
Soniei: Most of my art is sold by auction, and even though my auctions might end at half the price I would like to sell a painting, I know that I’ll still be making money from that same painting from the prints I sell, the Google ads from the YouTube videos I recorded while making that painting, etc. So, the money from that painting doesn’t stop at the end of the auction. – So, I’m never unhappy with any of the selling prices for that reason.
Have there been any particular challenges you’ve faced with selling your art on eBay?
Soniei: The only real big challenge with selling art on eBay (for me) is that everyone and their dog has an opinion on how I should do my job (it gets old after a while)… even though I’m quite content with my career choices. That’s the only BIG challenge I face. It’s so annoying. I don’t go to other people’s jobs and tell them how to do it better. However, as an artist… a lot of people think that it’s a ‘simple’ job (or hobby) and they know exactly what it entails, which is absolutely not true.
Are there any tips or advice you’ve learnt from experience, that might help someone who is considering trying to sell their art on eBay?
Have you ever tried any alternative methods of selling your art? If so, what was your experience?
Soniei: I’ve tried selling my art on other websites, such as Etsy, but nothing compares to eBay, for me, anyway. However, I’ve found success with selling my art prints on Imagekind and RedBubble. I love the online world, but I might be looking to sell my art in galleries as well, in the near future.
As we have seen, there are artists making a decent income from selling their art on eBay. Soniei’s experience suggests that the market may be on the rise again ($2000 – $7000 per month is not to be sniffed at). But at the same time, there is still a lot of art going unsold.
There are many possible reasons why a lot of artists might find it difficult to sell their work on eBay. It could be that their listings are not appealing enough, or poorly written. It could be that they need to establish more of a following before people will be willing to buy their work. Or perhaps their art simply doesn’t appeal to the people who buy art on eBay.
From what we have seen, it looks like success on eBay could be largely determined (apart from the quality of your work) by the price you are willing to accept for your art.
If you are happy to sell paintings for between $50 – $150 (and occasionally more), then it’s certainly possible for you to use eBay to your advantage. This could work well if you can work quickly and turn out several paintings per week or month.
But if you spend a lot longer on your paintings, perhaps producing only one or two per month, and you’re looking for prices in the thousands, it may be more difficult to sell your work through eBay, at least until you are quite well-known.
That’s not to say that it’s impossible, although judging from recently completed listings, it’s unlikely that you’ll fetch more than $1500 for a single painting. If you’ve sold artwork for more than that on eBay, I’d love to hear from you.
Why not try an experiment and list some of your work for sale on eBay? If you do, come back and leave a comment below to let me know how it goes. You might find that eBay is the perfect solution for you.
If you have experience selling your artwork on eBay, either good or bad, let us know about it in the comments below. If you’d like to offer your own advice on the subject, why not submit a guest post?