I recently received this question from a RedDotBlog reader:
I have been earning a living solely from my art for more than 25 years and much of my income before that was from my art. I own an art gallery, the success of which depends mainly on the paintings and prints sold. For many years, people have asked me to put my paintings on gift cards. That might seem like a good idea on the surface (good advertising, spreading the messages the paintings were created to spread), but the followup to that question is often “I want to frame them.”Production costs of quality cards isn’t inexpensive, packaging and signage must be added to that, and labor is intense. You’d need a marketing rep for cards to make card sales pay anything to make it worth your while. Then take into account that the sales of cards, which might earn you a dollar each if you do them yourself, replaces the sales of prints. After the recession hit, some people were buying canvas bookmarks I made from some of my paintings to sells “stocking stuffers”, but they wound up being main gifts. They framed bookmarks. This happened at my biggest studio event of the year, which normally brought in a substantial amount of money, enough to get through the long winter off-season at the beach. That year we brought in about 20% of my lowest year, about 10% of my highest. The recession had a lot to do with that, but the less is better for gifts mentality seems to remain.
Taking all this into consideration, do you have an opinion about offering cards of artwork? In my case, all of my prints are gicle’es and I care about the quality of color reproduction to the extent that I do the gicle’es myself. Cards would probably misrepresent the work in addition to replacing print sales. Someone very nice approached me for a card of one of my most important works today and I had to turn her down. I could see she wasn’t pleased, so I’ve been going around in circles thinking about this again.
Should artists put their paintings’ images on gift cards?
It sounds to me like you already have a pretty strong sense that you would be better off not creating the cards. I can’t make an argument that is strong enough to counter any of the points you’ve made.
I know that many artists are creating these kinds of cards and either selling them or using them for promotional purposes, but I’m not sure that those efforts are having a strong impact on their total sales.
I personally don’t have strong opinions one way or the other – I don’t feel that creating cards is either going to destroy your career or make you fabulously wealthy. With that said, I look at cards as a good potential way to increase the visibility of your work and a potential way to convert non-buyers into buyers.
On the Pro Side of the Question
I like the idea of using these cards for thank you notes and to send out updates of newly available work. If you are going to be using them to this end, it makes sense to think about packaging them for sale as well.
If you are in an area that has a heavy volume of traffic but a large percentage of that traffic doesn’t buy either originals or prints, it may be that having a lower priced item like a pack of cards could help turn non-buyers into buyers. While the sale of one pack of cards probably isn’t going to have much impact on your bottom line, if you can convert a decent percentage of walk-ins who like your work but wouldn’t buy an original or reproduction to buy cards, it can have an impact over the course of a year.
On the Con Side
You are right to be concerned that you might have some buyers who would have bought a giclee who end up buying cards instead, but you might also have some who buy cards who eventually move upmarket and buy reproductions or originals. Someone who is going to frame a card probably isn’t your best target audience for more expensive work anyway.
You are also right that the quality and color isn’t going to be perfect. You certainly couldn’t expect the same quality in terms of printing. I think that’s okay for cards though. As long as the quality of the card is good and the imagery looks good, the fidelity to the original isn’t as critical.
There is certainly also time and energy that will be put into creating the cards, and the cards probably aren’t going to generate enough revenue to make them wildly profitable.
What do you Think?
Do you reproduce your work on cards or other promotional/gift items? Why or why not? If you do, has it been good for your business? Can you add to my list of pros and cons? Share your thoughts, experiences and insights in the comments below.
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In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.