(Editor’s note: this article was originally presented in 2003, so some of the advise/technology recommended is now out of date)
To say that computers and the birth of the digital change has changed many aspects of our lives may be an understatement when historians look back to our modern times. From the introduction of the first machines by Babbage to the latest Macintosh computer, digital technology has changed the way humans interact with one another. Everything from leisure, communication, commerce and even art has been altered in ways in which we may not even understand as we live in this time of digital growth.
There had been little change over the last few centuries in the ways in which artists have worked. Their use of canvas, putty, wood, paper and so many other mediums have been popular in the creation of some of the worlds most famous artwork by some of the world’s most recognizable artists. Early artists were limited by the society in which they worked and lived in gaining exposure of their art form. To become a well known artist often took many decades since the cost prohibitive nature of advertising was too much for struggling artists. Even in the earliest part of the twentieth century there was a cost barrier when attempting to reach thousands of people, let alone millions. Covers of magazines, painted billboards, and advertisements of all types were the best ways for an artist to gain national acclaim and to eventually become a household name.
Then came along a network in the 1960’s that would eventually change everything for people everywhere. The eventual evolutionary outcome was what we see as the modern internet. With email, instant messaging, web sites, on-line forums, chat rooms, and more came the ability of countless numbers to reach others throughout the world for a moderate cost.
Working in 1992 for NSFNet, I saw firsthand the switch from the original primitive typed commands to the current standard GUI-based (Graphical User Interface) internet. Even in 1992 many failed to see the potential and eventual growth of the internet from a network of high education institutions to the explosion of the world wide web. The earliest websites were hand-built by people who had the patience to code in Hyper-text Markup Language (HTML). But as the last two decades have passed, countless software companies have sprung to life to give even the most casual user the ability to create a web presence.
Artists can now share their work with millions. From the woman across town to the woman half-way around the world, the power of the web can change the way in which an artist is able to financially survive and even prosper. Or at minimum, artists have the ability to share their art for much less money than in any time since the birth of art. The key to continued success may be a web presence.
Does an artist who is busy creating, showcasing in galleries, and even living their day-to-day existence need a web presence? The initial response to such a question is no. Although a web presence is not necessary to be a well known or respected artist, the opportunity to share art to the world is better now more than any other time in the history of the internet. There are several reasons why now is such a good time to appear on the web. The cost of reaching potential buyers is diminishing, the web is growing, and the word-of-mouth factor works faster on the web than any other traditional method.
In advertising the effectiveness of any advertisement is measured by cost per potential viewing. The cost per viewing measurement is used to assist marketers in making the best choice among several options for products and services. The same yardstick can be utilized by artists showcasing their talent to the public. The cost per potential view for the internet is falling as the internet grows with more potential buyers of your art. In addition to this exponential growth of the web, the ways in which web sites are being sorted and prioritized by search engines is making the process of finding areas of interest, artwork in particular, easier for people. The internet is available to almost a half-billion people now and it continues to expand every moment of every day. Top sites like eBay and Yahoo! are good examples of how the web has grown in just the last four years and how beneficial membership can be to an artist.
The cost can be from free (as a member of a site providing free web presence) to just under a hundred dollars per year to get started with your own domain and a few megabytes of space. The word-of-mouth power of the internet can be seen in the simple chain-emails we see everyday. Imagine how many people who see your site will share it with friends and family when they see art they love. Using the web to advertise your mailing list alone is more cost effective than direct mail-outs. With only a five percent response to direct mailings (which cost out of pocket), the internet allows for the emailing of hundreds or even thousands of people for the cost of your time of gathering emails from people who sign-up to be on your mailing list. Interest is evident when people sign-up and thus the positive response is much higher when you have art available for purchase via the web.
The number one fear of artists (or anyone actually) in creating a web presence is lack of skills to create a website, upload images, and effectively advertise their existence to the world. Two words in response to this excuse for not having a spot on the web; the library. Your tax dollars pay for them, your children use them, so why not get a few books and start reading. If there are no books to answer your questions, then go to your local bookstore, ask a clerk for help, write down information on the book they recommend and then go back to the library and request that the library order one of those books. Most, if not all, libraries have a dedicated portion of the budget set aside for patron requests. Try it. It works. Another idea is to seek the help of online groups who have countless numbers of members with either the skill set or knowledge of resources available to an artist to get their website up and running.
The items you will need to be successful is software, the ability to capture digital images of your artwork, website host, and then advertising. Software costs to get a web page built can range from free (Netscape Communicator) to moderate (Microsoft Word -save as HTML) to a bit expensive (Microsoft Front Page). Keep it simple to start and worry about the bells-and-whistles later once you have gotten onto the web. To capture images of your artwork, depending on your art form, will require the purchase or access to a scanner or digital camera. Both of which technologies are continuously advancing as prices for slightly outdated technology continues to fall. A respectable scanner and respectable digital camera can both be pursued for under a hundred dollars. Check sources on the web for the best features for capturing artwork. Cnet.com is a good source for this type of information on cameras, scanners, and almost everything related to computers. Website hosting can range from free with banner pop-ups to pay sites.
The lowest cost alternative for web hosting is becoming a member of a group such as EBSQ. Membership cost is low and with it comes free advertisement and a large base of fellow artists who draw thousands of viewers every month. There are several respectable artist groups to become a member of for a low fee.
Once you have decided to make an appearance on the web, there are a few options to consider. What type of website, the theme of your website, and other decisions should be made before starting to acquire web space.
There are several types of websites. One where an artist simply showcases a few examples of their work, or a site where an artist has active on-line sales through the site, or a site that simply offers the latest news and contact information, or a website with a little of everything. There are pros and cons of each type. Maintenance and updating information on a site can cut into time for the creation of art. But by keeping a good selection of available art listed on your site may be an opportunity for additional sales when someone may not want the particular art they found off of your site but they began looking for more of your work on your site. One must weigh the cost of commitment to the benefit of additional potential sales.
Another decision that must be made is whether to have a theme on your site or to have just a hodge-podge of art, text, and graphics. Some resemblance of a common theme running throughout a site is often better than just throwing text and images on a site and hoping people find their way through it. At minimum there should be clearly defined links for people to use to navigate through your site. Images of art should always be clear and as close to reality in color as possible and also information about whether it is available or already sold or even not for sale is always a good idea. Often some hosts offer free web stats, especially paid hosts, and using the information in the stats you can quickly see by review where people leave the site. By reviewing the information and seeing a trend and then by looking at the part of the site where most people leave, you might find a bad link or some other reason why you lose so many visitors. Editing problem pages can mean the difference between someone continuing
There are so many other decisions to make before designing and rolling-out the site. The best recommendation I give is to spend several hours looking at fellow artists and other successful people and see what some of the attributes of their sites that make you want to visit them again and again on a regular basis.
Hopefully some of the information offered will assist you in deciding to make a web presence in 2003 and will lead to an increased awareness by the web public in your artwork. Keep creating and I hope to see you on the web very soon.