If you're a photographer or visual artist looking to sell your work, you might have interest in the various sales platforms available online. I began selling my work as art sometime in 2009 as I began a transition from sports photography to fine art landscape photography. I had been doing landscapes in my free time showing people, and eventually, a shop owner in Suffolk County, New York, where I was living at the time, asked if I'd like to sell prints in her store. To say it was a rousing success would be a major overstatement, but it was my first taste of selling my work as art and over time, I began looking for ways to sell my work. I've tried several platforms over the years, finally landing here at WideRange Galleries at the start of 2022. But from 2019 through the end of 2021, I was using the platform at Art Storefronts to sell my work. In March of 2021, I wrote a review of my experience for FStoppers. However, by the end of 2021 I had grown quite disillusioned with the platform, so here's my update to that review.
Why I Left Art Storefronts & Joined WideRange Galleries
In late 2021, starting in August, I began to encounter some bugs that popped up repeatedly. In one case, the media I selected to offer prints on was changed without my knowledge. I don't know how long it had been changed for, but it was a lower quality media than I wanted to offer. It was a simple fix, but no one likes surprises like that. Another instance occurred multiple times, and involved the available sizes of prints I offered for my work. Best practices suggest no more than eight sizes should be available. Several times, I had logged into my site to find over 20 sizes available for my images, many which were the incorrect ratio to properly print my images. Fixing this was not so simple. The first time, it had only applied to vertically oriented images. So I had to go through all of my images on the website and correct each one individually. The second time it happened, tech support corrected it for me, but even then, without checking each image, I couldn't be sure it had been corrected.
My website is a customer's gateway to my work. Having these kinds of issues pop up just looks bad, and reflects poorly on me as a professional. Bugs happen and I understand that. To have the same bug happen repeatedly really shook my trust in the platform.
One of the major issues with having a website is its ability to be found. In a perfect world, an artist actively markets their work to drive traffic to their website. That's one of my primary activities every day. Believe it or not, creating new work is actually not the biggest part of being a photographer or artist. I spend far more time doing marketing and customer service work than I do going out and photographing. But there's a second aspect to driving traffic to your website: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. SEO helps search engines like Google find your website and determine how appropriate it is for what was searched for. The better your SEO, the better the chances someone searching for what you do, on Google, will find your website.
Art Storefronts, from the time I signed up with them, always poo-poohed SEO, saying it wasn't as important as it used to be. And to a point, I get it. Drive your own traffic and being found on Google isn't as big a deal. But at the same time, there are millions of people who have no idea who I am, but may be searching for photos of things I've taken photos of. I'd like to be found in those searches. There is no reason you can't pay attention to SEO as well as drive your own traffic.
I'm not going to pretend to know the technical stuff behind website code and what makes it search engine-friendly. That's beyond me. But I can tell you this: In three years on Art Storefronts, if you searched Google for "Maine landscape photography", my website was not listed on the first eight pages of results. After one year of having my website on WideRange Galleries, I can be found on the first page of results.
The final straw for me was the change in marketing strategy. One of Art Storefronts biggest selling points is their marketing plan. They offer playbooks for a variety of situations, marketing advice, and a calendar to help you plan your marketing. If you've never marketed your work before, this can be very helpful. However, most of their advice can be found elsewhere, for free. That said, I did learn some things that I continue to use today. But in 2021, there seemed to be a decided change in the marketing strategy. They had added lots of cheap household type merchandise, like tote bags, puzzles, throw pillows, coffee mugs and more. It's nice to be able offer such items, but after ordering samples of the products, I declined to offer them because I found them to be of poor quality.
Art Storefronts shifted their marketing strategy to pushing these household items. Now, for painters and illustrators, these items make a little more sense. Very few of them looked good with landscape photos printed on them, so much of the marketing strategy didn't apply to me or other photographers. I would have preferred more guidance on marketing prints and maybe getting photo books published. So the majority of marketing strategy for the second half of 2021 was largely useless to me. Yes, I was able to go back and follow older plans, but the whole experience left me feeling pushed aside.
Another issue with the marketing strategy I had was the reliance on free giveaways to collect email addresses. We were advised multiple times to hold giveaways of prints. To enter, people just had to enter their email address in the entry form. This was a way to build our email list so we could market directly to potential buyers who were supposedly interested in our work. The problem with this is that I built a list largely of people interested in a free print, but with no interest in my art. I embraced the strategy, thinking I'd paid Art Storefronts good money for this kind of advice. I built a list of 8000 contacts that I emailed pretty regularly. But fewer than 15% opened any of my emails, which tells me the wrong people were entering the giveaways. Not a big issue on its face, but considering what I paid in Facebook ads, and the marketing guy I paid to set up and target the ads, and then the monthly cost of email marketing, these promotions cost me thousands of dollars that I did not recoup in the form of sales. Yes, there were a few buyers in there, but they were outweighed by the non-buyers.
Ok, so the marketing plan wasn't what I wanted. But the sales features on the website, like the augmented reality and virtual rooms, they must be worth it, right? Well, that depends. I never had anyone tell me they used it and it helped them. I did videos showing how to use it, demonstrating how you could visualize the print on your wall, but in three years, no one ever said they used it, and in their back end, you can see when its used. I can tell you, it wasn't much. A tool is only good when people use it, and if they don't, it's not worth paying for.
Starting in 2022, I made some changes. I switched to WideRange Galleries, who are renowned for their well optimized websites for SEO. I also decided to keep things simple, limiting myself to just prints here, and making sure they were museum quality fine art media. I dropped the Facebook paid advertising and giveaways. I focused more on SEO, being more active in my Journal to provide more information and background about my work for interested viewers. The result was a year that beat my best year while with Art Storefronts.
I'll briefly answer your next question here. Why WideRange Galleries? Well, I already mentioned one reason- the search engine optimization. The second reason was the ease of use. Once WideRange designed my site using my feedback, I was able to build the site out, add pages and images, and set up the shopping cart and other features quickly. Jack, the owner, is very quick to respond to any questions or issues, so tech support isn't an issue.
As I said, my first year with WideRange helped me beat my best year with Art Storefronts, without the bells and whistles and following my own marketing plan instead of what I consider a flawed plan with Art Storefronts. Art Storefronts has some good points. But for the money they charge, between the startup fee, the transaction fees, and the hosting fees, I expected much more.