Photography: Sandra Russell
If you’ve ever been to a major art auction, you’ll know that they can be pretty tense affairs. High net-worth people mill around in expensive suits, sipping expensive wine and pretending not to be too interested in the art. When the auction begins, the numbers shoot up to dizzying levels until slowing down, leaving just one bidder waving a paddle. If it’s your photographic art work on the block, you’ll be left with a smile from ear to ear, much it just from being there.An eBay auction might not have quite the same cachet as a Christies or Sotheby’s event, but it is much easier to sell your photos on.
Sandra Russell is a Florida-based photographer who specializes in altered Polaroids, a process that involves applying pressure to Polaroid film before the emulsion hardens, then expanding the image digitally to create a photograph that looks like a watercolor. Sandra has been selling her photos in eBay’s Self-Representing Artist category for about three years. She started as an art buyer, a beginning, she says, that gave her a good foundation when she decided to put some of her own work on offer:
I suggest that any photographer who wants to sell on eBay… bid on a few things first. Winning or losing an auction has a certain emotion attached to it. There is only one way to understand that and that is to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes… I learned more from being a buyer on eBay than anything else.
Those lessons began with an understanding of the lowest price to ask for a work (for Sandra, the starting price seems to be around $14) but also which kind of images sell. Those might not be the sort of photos that you might expect to be your top-sellers so even if the sales don’t take off immediately, it pays to keep trying, she says.
It could take several months to determine if you have something in your work that people will buy online. If you don’t sell anything at first, don’t be discouraged; try again with different images, a different price or a different approach. I did all those things.
The difficulty for new art sellers on eBay isn’t limited to having to learn the market though. The lack of feedback from satisfied customers can make sales look risky, putting off first-time buyers. As those sales start to build up, the positive feedback will help to bring in more buyers, creating a community interested in buying your work.
And that’s when things can really take off.
Art buyers often like to have a close relationship with artists. They might feel that they’re not just picking up a beautiful work but supporting Art. Although the long distances involved in online selling can make a close relationship difficult, it’s certainly possible for photographers to stay in contact with their eBay buyers, encouraging them to return and converting them into regular customers. It’s that returning business and the opportunity for buyers to build collections that really makes the difference, says Sandra:
I have become “cyber friends” with people who have purchased my work over and over again on eBay. The emails and contact you have with your customers are essential to their [chances of] returning to your site and purchasing more of your work. It is also very satisfying to hear how much they like what they bought from you.
Of course, the success of your images on eBay will depend on one other factor too: the quality of your photography. You might think that you’re producing million dollar photos but only the market will tell you for sure. And there’s one easy way to find out…
Browse Self-Representing Artist auctions here and tell us about