I haven't been in the discussions in a very long time, but Abbie keeps me up-to-date each week regarding important questions that get posted, bugs that get identified, etc.
Last week, we made a small change to our search engine, and like clockwork, the inevitable "sky is falling" post got started about how FAA is terrible... the change to the search engine is killing sales... FAA only cares about big sellers... FAA is lying to everyone... FAA is on the decline... FAA is turning in Walmart... etc.
Those sort of posts have occurred after every single website change going all the way back to 2006.
In the past, I used to come in and explain why we're doing what we're doing, but as you all know (as active forum participants), it's almost impossible to change anyone's opinion via a back-and-forth on the internet. The discussions always go nowhere. If you think that a change is bad for you for some reason, no amount of explaining will change your mind. Sales might go up by 20% this year on FAA, but if your sales go down by 10%, then FAA is terrible in your mind.
So - for years, instead of engaging in all sorts of discussions that went nowhere, I just let people continue to post inaccurate statements and wild theories that would go unchallenged. This weekend, however, as I read through some of the advice that was being dispensed here in the forum by certain artists and the statements that were being treated as fact, I started to feel bad for the artists who are here to learn.
When a "sky is falling" post gets started, there is a lot of bad information that gets thrown around as if it's fact, and that's got to be very discouraging and confusing to the artists who are here to learn.
So - we're going to do something about it.
In this post, I'm going to correct some of the wildly inaccurate statements that have been posted in the forum over the past few years and also discuss a new feature that we're releasing which will help you distinguish fact from fiction.
I've written every single line of code that runs this business... have access to every data point regarding every single sale... and am the person making every major decision from high-level strategic partnerships all the way done to graphic design changes on the homepage. After reading through everything below, if your reaction is to say that I don't know what I'm talking about, then there's nothing that I can do to convince you otherwise. That's just the nature of the internet. No one wants to change their mind.
So - here we go.
Transparency When Discussing Sales
There are 500,000+ artists on FAA, but only about 250 participate in the discussions. That is a very small subset of the overall artist population. Unfortunately, none of our Top 50 sellers participate here. That's unfortunate because many of the artists who are here in the forums each day are here seeking sales advice, and ideally, you want to seek advice from someone who is selling successfully on a regular basis.
In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with our discussion forum, in particular, occurs whenever discussions turn to the topic of "sales", and artists start giving advice to other artists.
There is no nice way to put this. There are a lot of artists in the discussion forum who don't make any sales on FAA. In the following discussion about the search engine, for example, there are a total of 20 artists currently participating:
Of those 20 artists, there are four who haven't made a single sale in 2018. That means that 20% of the participants who are expressing outrage that a minor change to the search engine has negatively affected their sales actually have no sales, at all, to affect.
Half of the 20 artists have made less than 10 sales, total, in 2018.
Abbie and I are the only two people who know that information because we can see the sales numbers. For everyone else participating in the discussion, it's very difficult to know what to think and whom to listen to.
To compound the issue, there are other artists who routinely dispense sales advice, advertise their own "how to sell art online" books, etc... and never generate any sales, at all, on FAA. I've mentioned this several times over the years. One artist who routinely dispenses advice has only made one sale since 2015.
There is nothing wrong with not selling. After all - many artists are here to learn how to sell. The big issue is when someone who isn't selling is telling you how to sell... or is getting you all worked up by telling you that his/her sales are plummeting when the sales were non-existent to begin with.
In order to address this issue - I've given Abbie the ability to flag certain discussions as "sales discussions". When she flags a discussion as a "sales discussion", our code is going to automatically show the "average monthly sales volume" beneath the headshot for every participant in the discussion.
Here's how the average monthly sales volume is calculated. Our code adds up the total number of items that you've sold in the past twelve months and then divides it by 12. The average will look something like this:
"8 Sales / Month"
It's not a financial disclosure (i.e. a dollar amount). It's just a count of how many products you sell, on average, in a given month. Note - it does not count products that you purchase for yourself.
If Abbie flags a discussion as a "sales discussion", the sales numbers will only be displayed for posts that occur after Abbie changes it to a sales discussion. Also - before you post, you'll see a big warning telling you that you're about to disclose your sales numbers so that you don't disclose the number by accident.
If you have any questions, let me or Abbie know.
Now, I'm going to address a few of the statements that seem to get tossed around as facts in all of these "sky is falling" posts each year.
Myth #1: FAA doesn't promote our artists.
If you're reading this, you're probably an artist. As a result, you're on our artist e-mail list, and you get artist-related e-mails.
You don't get the buyer e-mails.
If you're on our buyer e-mail list, then you'll see that we're promoting individual artists, groups of artists, and themed collections all the time. Take a look at some of these buyer e-mails:
A new e-mail goes out to the buyers on our e-mail list two times every single week.
We pay to run ads for our featured artists on Facebook, Instagram, and Google.
We pay to load our products onto Amazon and get them featured there.
We hand-select artists to appear on our homepage:
We hand-select artists to appear in our curated collections:
We hand-select artists to appear on our Featured Artist pages:
We publish comprehensive success stories about our featured artists:
We feature new artists on our social media accounts each day.
I've always let the myth that we "don't promote our artists" exist because it stops artists from constantly asking us to promote them. With 500,000+ artists, that's impossible. That's why we always tell you that you have to promote yourself - which is definitely true. However, if you think that we don't promote our best-sellers and heavily feature artists that we think are up-and-coming, that's crazy.
We're the largest art site in the world, and we advertise and promote like crazy.
You have to leave the confines of the discussion forum, contests, and groups, and when you do, you'll see that certain artists are heavily featured throughout the site. We're constantly adding new artists to the mix, as well.
If you want to become a featured artist, the easiest way to get on our radar is to A) generate some sales on your own... B) drive a lot of traffic to your images via your own newsletters and social media... C) get yourself mentioned in an art-related publication / blog... or D) be nice and helpful to other artists on the site.
A and B are self-explantory. If you generate some sales or traffic on FAA, we have algorithms in place that will immediately bring you to the attention of someone on our staff. Also - think of it this way. Every time you make a sale, someone at FAA has to, at the very least, review your images for quality, cropping, etc. You've immediately brought your image and your entire portfolio to our attention, and the person reviewing your image has the ability and the authority to promote your images throughout the site.
I wrote a very lengthy article about kickstarting your sales many, many, many years ago. Here it is:
I'm sure that a lot of links in the article are out-dated, but you get the idea.
The one thing that I can guarantee doesn't help you become a featured artist is constantly being a thorn in Abbie's side, causing trouble for her in the discussion forum, and complaining endlessly about how terrible and unfair the website is to you.
Every month, our staff works with a select group of new and existing artists to promote them both online and in the real world.
Here are two of the many artists that we worked with just last month, alone:
Our staff spent days getting to know both artists... interviewing them... taking them out to lunches... editing videos for Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube... coordinating social media posts... writing press releases... and ultimately paying to drive hundreds of thousands of viewers to the final videos on Facebook and Instagram.
Those sort of personal interactions happen between our staff and our featured artists all the time, and we chose to work with artists who have great artwork and are fun to work with.
Focus on A, B, C, and D, and maybe you'll be featured some day. There are absolutely no guarantees, and that's why we tell everyone that you have to promote yourself in order to be successful. However, if you generate some sales on your own or otherwise bring attention to your artwork through visitors or the media, we'll definitely notice. That's the way all online marketplaces work.
Myth #2: FAA doesn't advertise.
This one is always amusing whenever I see someone write it.
FAA spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising each year. We advertise on Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Amazon. Take a look at Google Shopping, for example, and search for "fineartamerica.com".
There are millions of FAA products loaded in there. Visit FAA in an "incognito mode" in your browser, and once you leave the site, you'll find yourself seeing FAA ads everywhere that you go online (e.g. on your favorite news site, on Facebook, on YouTube, on the blogs that you read, etc.).
What is "incognito mode"? It hides the cookies from your browser and makes you appear to FAA like a first-time visitor. We run re-targeting ads constantly to first-time visitors. Guess who we don't run ads to? Artists. Once you login to FAA as an artist, we drop a cookie in our browser which tells us that you're an artist, and then you'll almost never see an FAA ad anywhere online. It's a waste of money to run ads at artists when we should be spending our money going after buyers.
Myth #3: The sky is falling.
As an individual artist, your sales are going to fluctuate from month-to-month. As the owner of the company, I can see the sales numbers for every single artist on the site, and I have 12 years worth of sales data at my fingertips. Sales go up and down for individual artists. That's just the nature of the business. You might earn $2,500 one month and then $100 the next. It happens to our best sellers, and it happens to our newest, smallest sellers.
If you're actively marketing yourself, the fluctuations will be smaller, but they'll still be there. One month, one of our wholesale buyers might purchase 10 large prints from you for use in a hotel project, and then the next month, they'll buy zero.
That's going to create a big fluctuation in your sales, and that's completely normal.
When your sales fluctuate, the sky isn't falling.
Too often, a few artists will post in the discussion forum that they had a down month, and all of the sudden, the sky is falling for everyone. It's not.
FAA has been growing non-stop for 12 straight years. We're the largest online art site in the world. We're powering the online sales for 500,000+ independent artists and an ever-expanding list of global brands.
If you want to read about the current state of FAA and the print-on-demand industry, in general, take a look at this article:
My biggest advice is to spend more time focusing on what you can control (e.g. creating incredible artwork, building your online following, building your e-mail list, developing a marketing strategy, collaborating with other artists and brands, building relationships with local art galleries, paying for online ads, etc.) and less time on what you can't (e.g. the FAA search engine, the FAA homepage, the FAA collections, the FAA newsletters, etc.)
If your sales strategy is to upload images to FAA and then sit back and wait for sales to come in, you'll never be happy. I must have written that sentence at least 50 times over the years. If you're in the business of selling art, then you have to treat it like a business and do all of the things that I mentioned, above. You can't just sit back and wait for sales to roll in.
You've probably heard me use the following analogy many times before:
Let's say that you're a musician and that you upload your songs to Apple Music. After a few months with very few sales / streams, you mention to all of your friends that you're not earning any money as a musician, and the reason you're not earning any money is because Apple Music isn't featuring your songs.
Your friends will look at you like you're crazy. They'll ask you if you're playing bars, restaurants, and open mic nights in order to promote yourself and build some buzz. They'll ask you if you're going out on tour to play small festivals. They'll ask you if you've reached out to radio stations and promoters to try to get your songs promoted. They'll ask you if you've reached out to Apple Music, directly, to try to get in touch with their playlist curators.
Everyone knows that music is a business and that musicians need to hustle in order to get their music heard. Musicians know that, and their friends know that. If you just create songs and upload them, it's almost guaranteed that you won't be successful.
It's no different with art. Selling art is a business. You've taken the first step by adding your art to the world's largest marketplace. The next step is to stand out from the crowd, and that takes a lot of hard work. If you do manage to stand out from the crowd... and you're the type of person that people want to work with... then lots of doors will open up for you.