Sell Your Art at Online Auctions Like eBay - Selling Tips
(Note: This article was originally written for collectors, but this version has been written especially for artists selling their own art. Artists selling art at online auctions will also find this article helpful-- You Can't Sell Your Art Until You Learn How to Sell It.)
These days, some millions of works of art are for sale at any given moment at online auctions-- well over two million on eBay alone-- and the competition to sell pretty much all of it is intense and international. Smart artists are aware of this competition as well as of their online auction odds for success and, as a result, have developed various strategies and techniques in order to minimize competition, maximize the people who see their listings, incite bidding, and bank the bucks when the time comes to cash buyers' checks.
The most important aspect of successfully auctioning your art online is to know how to accurately present what you're selling in terms of description, desirability, relative dollar value, and so on. As in the bricks-and-mortar world of galleries, shows, sales, and auctions, you have to reasonably assess the quality, significance and characteristics of your art, and have a ballpark idea of its desirability and value in the marketplace. You might also call this "comparison shopping."
You see, basic information about your art, its value, and you-- the artist-- is essential to effective selling and must be translated into a compelling online auction presentation in order to position your art for the best exposure and the most bids. Not knowing how to describe what you're selling or being incomplete in your description can cause you to leave out important information when you list your art and, consequently, reduce the number of people who see it-- not to mention the price that it ultimately sells for. So assuming you've done your comparison research and have a decent idea of how to position what you're selling, the following pointers will help you present your facts in such a way as to maximize your online auction bottom line.
Begin by making a list of keywords that accurately describe your art. These may include the your name; the city, state, region, and country where you live; the type of art you make, the subject matters, and other pertinent details. Type these keywords into an online auction search engine like eBay's, one at a time, and see what kinds of results come up. At this early stage, typing more than one word at a time greatly reduces the number of search matches; start with single words and gradually increase the number. Search combinations of keywords only if you get hundreds or thousands of matches on a single keyword search. Add keywords one by one until your search narrows and the results pretty accurately reflect the look and feel of your art in terms of description.
See how many and what types of items come up on each keyword or keyword combination search and compare them to the art you want to sell. Note those keywords that bring up items most similar to your art. Search completed items as well as those currently up for sale (you will have to join eBay to do this-- but being able to see final selling prices is essential). Completed sales give you the most accurate idea of what your art will likely sell for. Sales in progress aren't that good for final price comparison research, but they do show how active bidding is on particular items and, most importantly, show images which are essential for comparison with your art.
Continuing with your completed sales research, see what art sells for how much. You should have some idea of what art similar to yours sells for online and how common it is or how much competition you have when the time comes to set your minimum bids and asking prices. When you have lots of competition, like when a search yields more than 50 results, you have the option to order and study those results in ascending order of selling price, from highest to lowest. This shows not only which art and artists get the highest prices, but also what types of title lines, descriptions, and quality of images help fetch those prices-- and more importantly, how the most successful artists present themselves and their art.
The title line is the most critical part of your art's online auction listing. Those few words are what attract the great majority of potential bidders to your art. Your list of the most popular keywords that most accurately describe your art will essentially become your online auction title line.
Pack your title line with as many keywords as possible. Try different combinations in order to get the most words into the limited space provided. Be aware that your art might appeal to more than one type of buyer so make sure your keywords take all such people into account. For example, a painting of a sailboat might be described with keywords that appeal to both nautical enthusiasts and art buyers.
Avoid use of words like "rare," "fantastic," "important," or "famous" in your title line. They may look great and make your art seem special, but they're space wasters that buyers hardly ever type into search engines when looking for items to bid on. Every single title line word you use should be directed to provide specific information about your art, and your art alone.
Grammar doesn't count in title lines, but spelling does. Avoid words like "the," "and," and other connectors that may please your English teacher, but waste space and don't help people locate your art. Misspell a keyword, however, and you can lose hundreds of potential bidders. And never abbreviate important keywords in title lines; most people do not search using abbreviations.
If you're not that well known and are just starting out at online auction, focusing your title line on the type of art you create and other crucial keywords that accurately describe your art will likely be preferable to taking up precious space with your name. For example, a title line for a painting of a coastal scene might read "Pawley's Island Beach Marsh Dock Coast Art Painting" rather than "Pawley's Iland Beach Painting Herbert Williams Artist" You can talk at length about who you are, your credentials and what you've accomplished as an artist in the body of your art's description.
Make your minimum opening bids and reserve dollar amounts for your art somewhat less than the amounts you see comparable art and artists selling for online, but not so low that they compromise your credibility (you'll get a better feel for what these values should be as time progresses and you get more experienced). The lower you can afford to make these initial dollar amounts, the more affordable your art appears and the more bids it will likely attract. High minimum opening bids and reserves generally discourage bidding and scare bidders away. You want bidders to feel that if they persist, they'll be able to win your auction.
Artists who ask for too much money often fail to sell their art and, worse yet, dozens and sometimes hundreds of bidders watch it fail to sell. This makes your art less desirable the next time it comes up for auction. Seeing it sell is better than seeing it fail to sell approximately 100% of the time. Bidders tend to remember art and artists when they see the art come up for sale again, may conclude that it is somewhat less desirable or collectible based on repeated reappearances, and either bid lower than they did the first time or not bid at all.
Time the end of your auction so that bidding closes when most people are at home and available such as Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday during the early to mid evening hours. Some bidders use special software to automatically place final bids and don't have to be present when sales end, but many experienced bidders still sit in front of their computers and bid manually. The more potential bidders who are able to be online at the close of your auction, the higher the final bids tend to be.
Use the longest time option available for your online auction (eBay's, for example, is 10 days and costs only a tiny bit more than the 7 day option). You want to give people as much time as possible not only to find your art, but also to learn more about it and you and decide how much they want to spend. The more people who have a chance to see and bid on your art, and the more comfortable they feel about bidding, the more money it tends to sell for.
Use good clear images to show your art. Bidders want to see details. Show the entire piece, a detail shot or two, and any other important or standout or special areas of your art that people generally tend to like. Good quality images help sell your art and net you higher prices. Also, keep background noise to a minimum-- showing the art against a plain background is preferable. And if it's framed, show that too.
Keep image sizes under 100K or so in order to speed downloads for potential bidders. Avoid blurry pictures or ones that are too small, have flash glare, reflections and similar viewing problems. People who can't clearly see what they're bidding on tend either to bid low or to not bid at all. And make sure that your images can be enlarged enough so that bidders can get a good idea of what your art looks like close up.
Be truthful when you describe your art. Never misrepresent, bend the truth, play with words, or deliberately leave out important information about your art. Avoid personal opinions about the importance or significance of your art unless you can back them up with facts. Keep the tone of your description upbeat, and don't talk down to bidders or place numerous restrictions on how they should behave, when they shouldn't bid, or how or when they are allowed to contact you. In other words, be as open, welcoming and accessible as possible.
Include brief background information about career as an artist such as what galleries or shows you've participated in, what part or parts of the country you've shown in, any awards or distinctions you've received, how much your art typically sells for and how much of it you sell, and so on. This information is especially important if you're less well-known and are introducing people to your art for the first time.
Include all relevant dimensions, mediums, weights (for sculptures), and other relevant significant physical characteristics of your art. If your art requires special handling or is unique in other regards, explain that.
Encourage bidders to ask as many questions as possible. You not only want them to get to know you as an artist and a person, but also to be fully informed about what they are bidding on before they bid. This minimizes the chances of misunderstandings after an auction ends. Answer all inquiries thoroughly, completely, and quickly. Saving all email correspondences between you and various bidders during the course of eacg auction is also a good idea and sometimes comes in handy in case of any disagreements or disputes.
If your art is big or bulky, know approximately how much it will cost to pack and ship, and include that dollar amount in your description. Also explain exactly how you will ship it, who will be responsible for what costs, approximately how much those costs will be, and so on. You don't want to shock the winning bidder after the fact with a shipping bill of hundreds of dollars, for example. Remember that most shippers charge by distance shipped as well as by size and weight so include a range in your description.
Allow winning bidders a certain time period, usually three to seven days, during which they can inspect your art after they receive it, make sure that it matches what they thought they were bidding on, and allow them to return it if they're not entirely satisfied. Sellers who offer moneyback guarantees like this tend to put bidders at ease and, as a result, net higher prices for their art.
Make your art available to bidders in as many countries as you feel comfortable doing. The more potential buyers who are able to bid on your art, the greater the potential for higher bids in a good percentage of cases.
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