To Sell Prints on Demand, First Create the Demand

For print-on-demand art site, Fine Art America, the challenge lies in creating the demand, not making the prints.

If you’re looking to sell your photographic art online, there’s no shortage of options. From Zazzle and Cafepress to RedBubble and even Etsy and Ebay, artists, including photographers, are spoilt for choice. All of those choices though share the same problems. Stuffed with other artists all selling similar items, marketing your own work on the site means delivering potential customers directly to your competitors. And because the difficulty of standing out on a platform as large as Zazzle makes the marketing even harder while the size of the site attracts plenty of visitors, many users do no more than create a store and hope that enough buyers flow through to generate some income. It rarely happens.

Fine Art America, however, takes a slightly different approach. It too, serves as a giant platform from which artists can sell their work, but the site places as great an emphasis on marketing —and on tools that allow that artists to promote themselves — as it does on delivery.

The site launched quietly in 2006, about the same time that Zazzle was beginning to make headway. Sean Broihier, a self-taught programmer and Web designer, had built a simple website to help his brother, a salesman at a Chicago art gallery. Every time one of his brother’s artists created a new work, however, Sean would be asked to update the site. Realizing that there were plenty of other galleries and artists who also wanted to be able to update their portfolios, he adapted code written for his manufacturing business and spent the next couple of years growing Fine Arts America slowly while still working as an engineer.

Your Art, As Seen on TV

By 2009, the site was the most-visited, fastest-growing art site on the Web. Today, with Sean working on Fine Art America full-time, the site has just over 99,700 artists, with 100-200 new artists joining every day. About half of the artists on the site are photographers. The site even has a deal with television channel ABC which has licensed several hundred prints through Fine Art America for use on shows that include Desperate Housewives.

“It’s a very exciting program for our members,” says Sean. “Not only does ABC pay full price for the prints, they also pay out an additional licensing fee to the artists… and then there is obviously the thrill of seeing your artwork displayed on national TV.”

The basic process is familiar. Artists create their profiles, which are only viewable once they contain a headshot. They upload images and price them. Those pictures are then sold on a print-on-demand basis, giving Fine Art America a chance to add its own mark-up to the cost of printing and framing. While sellers can quote any price they want, fees typically start at $10 for an 8″ x 10″ print and go up in $5 or $10 increments. The most popular subjects include landscapes and cityscapes, as well as art shots.

But while sites like Zazzle and Cafepress see themselves as the center of the sales process — a kind of giant mall to which shoppers have to flock in order to buy artworks — Fine Art America is really more of a fulfillment center that provides a way for artists to deliver their work easily. The real benefit of the site is in its marketing tools, which include a second website that carries the artist’s name. Create a profile at Fine Art America and you’ll receive two URLs: and Update the content on one site and the other is updated automatically.

The advantage, other than a doubling of the chances of picking up passing traffic, is that the personalized site is a walled garden. Visitors aren’t going to be attracted to the contents of someone else’s store, turning a lead into a competitor’s customer.

“It’s very important to be able to sell through your own website because a lot of artists don’t want to refer their potential buyers to a big site like FAA where their buyers could get distracted by artwork from other artists,” explains Sean. “With the websites that we provide, our members get the full power of FAA packaged into their own personalized websites.”

Other marketing tools that are rarely found on other art sites include a shopping cart that can be added to a Facebook page; HTML newsletters into which sellers can drag and drop their images, letting them turn subscribers into customers; and PDF sales sheets that can be handed out at art fairs, conventions and other places where selling happens person-to-person instead of across the Internet.

Nothing Happens Without Marketing

According to Sean, a number of artists who make use of the tools available on Fine Art America are making more than $2,500 every month in profit. But they’re the minority.

“Many photographers join FAA and take the ‘wait and see’ approach,” he says.  “They join… they upload their images… they set their print prices… and then they wait for orders to start rolling in.  That’s a recipe for disappointment…. You will get some sales, but your sales volume won’t be nearly what you want it to be.”

That’s likely to be the biggest difference between Fine Art America and other art store sites. While others sites see the platform and the logistics as the main challenge — and a job that’s complete once an artist has a way of taking orders and making sales — Fine Art America recognizes that that’s where the work really begins.

Making art is fun. Delivering it through the Web is a job for an engineer. But bringing in the customers and landing the sales is a whole different task, one on which the results depend as much as the quality of the shot and the content of the composition.

5 comments for this post.

  1. Alan Foos Said:

    What a great article, and I say that because I joined up on Fineartamerica only a week ago. I've put up some great stuff, but am really lost when it comes to attracting customers. The only thing that I'm worried about now is how to get backlinks, since that seesm to be the weakest link. Seems like my stuff will always fall to the bottom of a search engine. So, be a great guy and let me post my FAA website here, ok? God will reward you, too. I also have a very unique name, Alan Foos, so include that in any search phrase and you'll see me all over the place on FAA. Thanks, and come take a look. Alan Foos

  2. Ebenlo Painterofsong Said:

    I found this article to be weak in content considering the misleading title. "To Sell Prints on Demand, First Create the Demand." This article doesn't delve into any activity of substance toward creating demand. Anybody but anybody can create art, provide products, and content; it's all quite common for artists now, unless your head is buried in the sand.

    I think you should start the article over at the last paragraph from "Fine Art America recognizes that that’s where the work really begins," as that is the truth of it. A single practical marketing suggestion that is actually working to create demand for artist's works would have made this article worth reading.

    My 2 cents of constructive criticism,


  3. Dean Messenger Said:

    Ive been a member of Fine art America for over a year now. i guess im one of the unlucky ones, No sales and in past 2 months pretty much no hits to my photographic work. Maybe its down to subject matter i really dont know, as i know others who sell just fine on there. Sure i only have free account but wanted to hold off paying for something until i at least saw signs of potential customers but ive not had that. Im UK based and alot of my work is base don UK locations which is maybe a part of it, unfortunately the UK doesnt have a good Print on demand site like FAA

  4. Hollajack Clothing Said:

    Another print on demand site for you list is my website We offer artists the ability to upload full color designs. What sets us apart is our direct to garment prints that provide a superior, full color product for the end user. We are hoping to attract artists to display their art and earn from commissions. We are hoping to attract REAL art, not just t-shirt specific designs. We are a new website so please give us a chance and help us grow. Thank You.

  5. James Howgego Said:

    Dean - there is a UK alternative! *Disclaimer* I work there. The Printers Inc is UK based and has been operating under the same model for nearly 2 years now. Unfortunately most photo blogs are based in the US as well! We ship internationally but have a very strong base of UK photographers and artists. Here if you want to check us out Apols for blatant promotion.

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