Tuesday, February 08, 2011

How to Sell Art Online pt 2


This week I’m going to share the research that I did into a number of online selling options. Now I didn’t explore absolutely everything that is out there. I felt that examining three or four ways to go was good enough for me to make a decision. I probably would have gone further if none of those seemed a good “fit” for my needs, but as you know if you read last week’s post, I chose RedBubble for my first online selling domain.

I will compare four options – Etsy, BigCartel, RedBubble and using PayPal from your own blog/website. I’ll talk about each in turn, starting with an overall description and their fees, then listing the advantages/disadvantages. Of course, some features may be viewed either way depending on your needs and viewpoint, so these are really just my own thought processes, but I will try to present both views.

1.  Etsy.com


What is it?

Etsy is an online shopping space where literally thousands of craftspeople and artists sell handmade or vintage items, or supplies. Basically you join up for free, set up your own shopfront, with its own style and flavour, and set your prices independently. All prices are in US dollars, so there may be a few currency conversions before you receive your money e.g. a buyer in the Netherlands has to exchange their Euro to US dollars, and then that will be exchanged to whatever currency you as the seller use, in my case the Aussie dollar. You won’t be paying for the first conversion, but you probably will be for the second. I believe there is some sort of “back-door” arrangement some people offer to buyers in their own country, as I’ve seen it offered, but haven’t looked into it.


  • For each item you list, there is a 20 cent fee.
  • If the item sells, you pay 3.5% of the sale price, but not on shipping.
  • If the item has not sold after 4 months, it will be unlisted. You may re-list it for another 20 cents.


  • You have full control over production of the items you sell, how they are packaged, shipped etc. You are definitely in control.
  • An established site, known by potential buyers
  • Relatively easy set up, no need to know HTML or whatever.
  • Reasonable costs, in particular low set-up cost
  • Groups and teams, forum, community atmosphere – there is a lot of support, tips & encouragement provided to help you get started and continue to expand your business.



  • Your shop name will be a derivative of etsy.com e.g. etsy.com/shop/Amanda’sArt
  • You have to list work often to keep your profile up on the site. e.g. I did a search for “handmade journal” and there were 44 pages of results. On the front page, there were 40 items with pictures – the most recently listed items. You can also sort by relevancy (which doesn’t make much difference) and price. So you can see that if you haven’t listed work lately, your beautiful journal could be buried somewhere around page 20.


  • In the same vein, you compete with everyone else on etsy to entice buyers to your shop. It can be easy to lose potential buyers - they can just click on another image and they are away.
  • You really need to be active in other forums eg blogging, facebook, flickr to drive customers to your shop.
  • You do all the work yourself – packing, posting items yourself. (Some may see this as an advantage)

Post Script: In the comments, Sara & Buechertiger mentioned a couple of improvements on Etsy that I had missed.

  1. It is possible to relist items for AU 0.40c, which will cause them to bounce back up to the top of searches etc
  2. Transactions can now be done in numerous currencies (including the Aussie $), not just US $s – so if a buyer is international there will only be one currency conversion – from their money to AU $. Hope this makes sense! Feel free to get in touch if I haven’t explained this clearly.

2. BigCartel.com


What is it?

BigCartel functions as an online directory and shopping cart for all sorts of creative products ranging from bands selling their CDs and vinyl (yes! its the latest trend - again), up-and-coming clothing designers, artists and craftspeople. You can create your own online shop, list your items and use their shopping cart mechanism. A number of currencies are supported including the US $, Aussie $, GBP, NZ $ and the Euro.


  • There is a sliding fee schedule, ranging from free to $29.99/month. For free, you can list up to 5 products, but only 1 image per product. There is basic customization of your shop available.
  • $9.99/month: 25 products with 3 images each. Much better customization & features including your own url e.g. Amanda’sArtShop.com.au (you will have to buy this).
  • $19.99/month: 100 products, 5 images each, best features.
  • $29.99/month: 300 products, 5 images each, features as above.


  • Sell in your own currency (for Aussie’s anyway)
  • Some might argue with me, but I think BigCartel is about as well-known as Etsy. Possibly it has a broader profile, because it is well-known for clothing and music. Perhaps this is a disadvantage, if these people aren’t into buying art, but I think there would be plenty of crossover.
  • BigCartel shops can be integrated with Pulley for digital downloads e.g. e-books.
  • Personally I like the search system on BigCartel. I searched for “handmade journal”, and got only 5 results, but these were shop-front graphics, not individual items. I could then work my way through each shop in turn. This just seemed much simpler.


As a seller, this means you don’t have to rely on a particular item drawing a potential customer in, and similarly, some gorgeous item in someone else’s shop can’t lure your customer away. On the other hand, I’m sure some other searches come up with many more results, and you need to name and “brand” your shop accurately to attract the right people.

  • There is a “store directory” where you send your graphic and your store will be included. This is in addition to the search mechanism. Stores who opt to be in the directory may be featured from time to time.




  • You are competing for the buyer’s dollar with a broader range of product.
  • You need to have a PayPal account. Personally I don’t see this as a problem, but some might.
  • Less of a community feel. No teams or forums, although the help section seems pretty good. This is pretty business-like, as the name, BigCartel suggests.
  • You do all the work yourself – packing, posting items yourself. (Some may see this as an advantage)

This post is pretty long and there’s a lot to digest, so I think I’ll hold RedBubble and PayPal over to the next post.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from anyone out there who has a shop on Etsy or BigCartel. It would be terrific to hear about your experiences, how it is going and any tips or advice you can add. That way, we can create a useful resource for artists who are thinking about selling their work online.






  1. lots of terrific research to digest here amanda - thanks for sharing it. I have heard of etsy and bigcartal (and paypal and redbubble for that matter) but that's as far as my involvement/ knowledge is (except an odd look every now and then at a few 'shops') you're right that there are pros and cons to both etsy and big cartel - so I'm looking forward to hearing about your experience with redbubble (and what it was that helped you lean that way) and setting up paypal (I've only bought one thing online ever ever ever - I try not to mix money and the net.... so I'm very much a novice with online business dealings)

    like you I'd love to hear from folk who have used etsy or bigcartel....

  2. Thanks Amanda, this is a really interesting set of posts. I know very little about these ways of selling and I appreciate all the research you've done and shared. I've been a buyer and I do use Paypal quite often but so far I've never made anything to sell online.

  3. Amanda thank you so much for sharing your insights, learnings and research about this stuff! We are taking a breath and beginning to contemplate the online sales world so this is just perfect timing and so helpful for us right now. Looking forward to the next instalment! Go well

  4. Hello, hello. I can only give my impressions of using Etsy, since that's where I have my online presence outside of the blogsphere. I can't see how I'd sell 'art' on Etsy: it's the kind of place I'd love to trawl if I had the money to buy lots of handmade, crafty gifts - as it is, I'm playing to potential customers whom I hope have that sort of money! The biggest challenge for me is pricing: site charges are pretty low which is nice compared to galleries charging 40% or more for sales, but I don't really see it as a venue for 'fine art' so my store is limited to blank sketchbooks and journals. I am really grateful to have that outlet for those things: I'm not making a fortune (only 3 sales and as I said, pricing is tricky!) but it has potential. The whole thing about your wares being buried in new stuff is true, which is why you can re-list items any time you want and bounce them back to the top of the search list - for a fee of 40c per item relisted. I am about to try this for the first time shortly.

    My major question about Etsy is how much time it seems to take to generate sales, but perhaps that's just me being over-optimistic. If you're an Etsy seller you're bombarded with "How to..." information which suggests that you'll only be able to live off your profits if you spend every waking minute on Facebook, Blogger, Twitter and Etsy, drumming up sales with fancy schmese like discount vouchers, tie-ins to festive occasions, special offers etc, etc, etc and I have to say I don't have THAT much time to devote to it. I believe I would serve myself and my 'fine art' better by having a proper SaraBowen website where I combine news, events, my blogs and a gallery with possibly an on-line shopping option - and keep it interesting and up-to-date.

    I'm very interested to hear what everyone else thinks! Thanks Amanda for posting your research up - it's very generous of you. Sara x

  5. I haven't plunged into etsy yet but I think I want to; either that or the UK version of etsy called Folksy. I do however have a paypal button on my website but I am lame and dont keep it up to date enough. But I can comment more on that next post!

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and research on this!

    I am selling mostly through Etsy. They now do support several currencies, and I receive all payment from where-ever in Euro. Australian-$ is one of the supported currencies, I believe, but I am not sure. Etsy still get their fees in US-$, but the many currency conversions are no longer necessary. Receiving money in US-$ always felt especially crazy when my customers were from a Euro-country... no more :-)

    I like that Etsy is well known as a venue for high quality handmade stuff. Through Etsy I received commissions that I surely wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

    But I agree with what others said here before: It is good and known for handmade stuff, and probably not so good for selling artwork. I do sell my editioned work there, found a few customers, too. But wouldn't even try to list single pieces of art.

    I also have a DaWanda Shop, by the way. It is a lot like Etsy, but I don't like the overall feel.

    I had my own shopsoftware running on my website, which took a lot of energy, required programming skills, and were tedious to keep clean of viruses, so that after the latest attack I just gave that up. I am looking forward to reading what you will say about the slightly less ambitious solution of a paypal shopping cart on a website.

  7. I truly appreciate your points Amanda for selling your painting online. Selling painting online not only saves time for buyers but also reduces extra costs of exhibitions for the artist.