Selling Art Online – Pt 5 – Print On Demand

Print On DemandAs we have discussed in  previous articles in this series, selling art online is most successful when one begins with a well thought out marketing plan. Having a clear strategy that revolves around a central website helps establish your brand and Internet presence. The reality, however, is that most of us (including me) didn’t begin that way so we end up doing a bit of back-tracking while we try to discover what marketing techniques work best for selling our artwork and prints.

I would be willing to wager that a large percentage of artists begin their online marketing efforts by discovering one of the many print on demand (POD) websites such as Fine Art America, RedBubble, ImageKind, or Society6. Discovery is followed by hours spent preparing images, uploading artwork, and sitting back while waiting for sales to manifest and money to roll in. Of course, this is what the POD sites tell us will happen so we aren’t entirely to blame when it doesn’t necessarily occur.

I receive several emails a week (and sometimes phone calls) from artists who struggle with selling their artwork through POD websites. The unfortunate reality is that there are tens of thousands of artists on each of these sites and it is very difficult to stand out regardless of the quality of our artwork.

Even if we go to great lengths to make sure we have proper image titles, very complete and detailed image descriptions, and make use of every possible opportunity to utilize image tags and categories, we can end up being lost in the mix.

The internal search engines of most POD sites don’t rely entirely upon titles, image tags, or descriptions to determine ranking and results. They also rely upon some of each service’s own predetermined criteria such as: years of membership, sales numbers, number of image views, image quality, and even manual curating of the artwork. Many of the services are secretive when it comes to these search ranking factors and often the first few pages of search results can be dedicated to just a few artists whose work most closely represents the image a particular POD site wishes to portray.

Unfortunately, this means that a visitor can navigate to a print on demand website and never discover your artwork even if they are searching for the exact criteria your images fit. POD sites don’t care whose work is being sold as long as they are building their membership base and selling prints. The sites make money regardless of whose work is being purchased. This may seem like a discouraging prospect but once you realize this is the reality of this type of business, you just have to find a way to work around the system in order to drive your own Internet traffic to your own work. Viewing the print on demand site as merely a print fulfillment service is an essential first step to success.

As we established in Part 2 of this series of articles, “People don’t purchase products they don’t know exist.” By sending Internet traffic to your own work, you remove your reliance upon the skewed results of the POD service’s internal search engine and get your artwork in front of more eyes. Additionally, more views of your artwork through the print on demand service can often increase your ranking within their internal search engine which can create even more views of your work from the POD site’s organic visitors.

Now that we have established what we have to do, how do we do it?

  • As we discussed in Part 4 of this series of articles, having a high-ranking main website/storefront with great search engine optimization (SEO) is a fantastic way to start. People performing a generalized Internet search for a particular subject matter or style of artwork can arrive at your website and then discover that prints are available from a list of print on demand websites.
  • Many POD sites give you access to marketing tools to use to help drive traffic to your work. This mutually beneficial array of tools can range from PDF product sheets (Warning: product sheets load slowly from FAA), slideshow widgets, or shopping cart systems like I use for my print shop. The use of these can definitely give a boost to your viewership and ultimately, your POD search engine ranking.
  • The most effective way to get your work seen, however, is to utilize social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and Google+ to drive traffic to your work as new pieces become available and to encourage sharing.

The next articles in this series are going to discuss aspects of how to leverage social-media to send more traffic to your artwork whether you choose to promote your central website or work that is on one of the many print on demand services such as Fine Art America, RedBubble, ImageKind, or Society6.

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Comments (2)
  • Dai Wynn January 25, 2014

    Hi Ken,

    Thank you for this value-packed article on Print-On-Demand.

    Just this very day, Redbubble congratulated me on making a sale of a print. With much fanfare, they advised me that my margin is $1.24. I am looking forward with great trepidation to seeing the money in around 12 months’ time after I’ve sold twenty more prints.

    I think I’ll postpone putting a deposit on a Ferrari.



    • Ken Powers January 26, 2014

      Thanks Dai,

      I maintain a presence on RedBubble but rarely contribute work to it anymore since the number of sales for me through them has been slim. They also seem to offer a pretty small margin in comparison to other services. ImageKind is another one that seems to present me with lack-luster results although I am sure some people have success with it by utilizing a lot of self-promotion. I have had far more success using Fine Art America and Society6. They both seem to allow a better profit margin for the artist. However, most of my self-promotion is directed toward either my main website or Fine Art America which both prove to be much more profitable.

      Thanks again for the comment,


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