The Changing Face of Print on Demand

THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP

The Old Curiosity Shop
The Old Curiosity Shop Photographed by M.A

 

Yes, Saturday's post has come early. There is a reason for this, and that reason is because tomorrow I will be creating some new artwork, or more to the point, finishing a few new pieces off! I have to grab the moment, plus I wanted to get some views on what the perfect Print on Demand service would look like.

Well it's been another busy week. I went to London for an overnight stay to attend numerous meetings and when I walked back towards Euston station to catch a train home, I stumbled across this relatively unknown little shop. I say relatively unknown, it's not. The Old Curiosity Shop was immortalised in a novel by Charles Dickens. The plot follows the life of Nell Trent and her grandfather, both residents of The Old Curiosity Shop in London.

The Old Curiosity Shop was one of two novels (the other being Barnaby Rudge) which Dickens published along with short stories in his weekly serial Master Humphrey's Clock, which lasted from 1840 to 1841. It was so popular that New York readers stormed the wharf when the ship bearing the final instalment arrived in 1841. The Old Curiosity Shop was printed in book form in 1841. Today, the building still stands and it was a pleasant sight on a not too busy July afternoon.

This week I also have three new offers on my art work. These are also some of my most recent works. These three pieces will not only save you a considerable amount over their normal retail prices, but will be the focal piece of any wall.

First up, we have my tribute to one of my all time favourite street artists, Banksy. Nobody Ever Listened To Me, is thought provoking, modern, and at this price, even if you cannot afford a real Banksy, at least you can own a fine tribute.

Nobody Ever Listened To Me
Nobody Ever Listened To Me

Available for five days only or until stocks run out. This 24inch x 20inch museum quality stretched canvas print can be yours, but only if you're quick! It available here.

Digital Flow
Digital Flow by M.A

 

Digital Flow is another one of my latest pieces. Sublime elements of nature, this relaxing piece comes on a 24inch x 20inch museum quality stretched canvas. It's available here.

As one of the themes of today's post is the Statue of Liberty, it seems only fitting to include my Love of Liberty in this weeks offers. This beautiful composition comes on a 24inch x 20inch museum quality stretched canvas and is available here.

Love of Liberty
Love of Liberty by M.A

 

NEW YORK

In other news, a $2.9 million project to improve waterfront access in the Bronx unearthed a priceless find, more than 100 pieces of Native American artefacts dating back to 200 AD. Experts are calling the trove of ceramics, pottery, stone tools and other artefacts found in the south-eastern section of Pelham Bay Park one of the most important archaeological finds in New York City history.

Tests show the rare artefacts date back to between 200 AD and 1000 AD, centuries before European settlers made contact with Native Americans. The first of the artefacts were dug up in 2012, but more extensive excavation work and testing done in the past year through last month made it clear to city officials they were sitting on history worthy of additional exploration. To avoid looting, the city has already covered up the dig areas located within a mere acre of 2,772-acre Pelham Bay Park, the largest park in the city.

STATUE OF LIBERTY

In 1885, some unique cargo arrived in New York City's harbour. The cargo comprised as 350 pieces of copper and iron, all packaged up in 214 wooden crates. The cargo had been shipped from France, the contents, The Statue of Liberty.

Liberty Sky
M.A's Liberty Sky

(You can purchase M.A's Liberty Sky, here.)

The cargo thankfully included an instruction manual, but my guess is that as the majority of the crew who built it were male, it was glanced at before tossing it to one side. Of course, as with most deliveries, not everything turned up at the same time. I’m not too sure if they were using Amazon Prime or a variation of at the time, but some crates actually arrived 10-years earlier.

In 1876, Lady Liberty’s arm and torch went on display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. This was later moved to Madison Square Park where an exposition took place to generate enough buzz to raise money for the construction project. Indeed this is one of the earliest ever Kickstarter campaigns.

The remaining bits turned up aboard the French Naval Vessel Isère on June 17th, 1885. Builders completed her pedestal before construction properly started on the statue itself in 1886. Whilst still over in France, the statue’s shell was assembled and each piece was assigned a number. This my friends was probably much better than those instructions from IKEA.

Each piece was individually marked with the same figure on each component where they fitted together. Once it was built in France, workers built wooden crates for transportation, and then disassembled the entire statue ready for shipping. However, some work was required when the crates arrived in New York, even before the construction began. On its way across the Atlantic, some parts had warped inside the wooden crates. Right now you are probably thinking the same as me, just like IKEA.

Then, each piece had to be secured with iron framework and supported with wooden beams. The intricate construction process delayed her inauguration from September to late October in 1886.

I love the Statue of Liberty. It is a world-wide known icon of the United States, and it has on many occasions given me inspiration to have a go at creating a piece of art that projects that same inspiration, and also makes references to the technicality of her past. This is exactly my train of thought when I created Liberty Sky. This piece is one of my most popular works, and you can buy it from the link above.

SPOTLIGHT ON WILLIAM GEAR

In 1958, the artist William Gear arrived in a town called Eastbourne in the UK to take up the position of the curator of the Towner Gallery. Not everyone welcomed Gear with open arms, and at least not after he started to acquire art on the town’s behalf.

An enraged councillor at the time lamented that he thought that one painting was decadent, a landscape which some described as a snow covered slag heap, which could be done by any artist with some marginal ability within two hours. Rich coming from a councillor as nowadays local authorities in the UK love to install a bit of art that provokes a reaction.

In 1959, Gear mounted an exhibition called English Contemporary Art, but a letter in the local newspaper stated that "Such daubs must have been painted by persons with very depraved minds". It was also suggested that did Gear imagine that any right-thinking citizen of Eastbourne wanted to look at the efforts of a bunch of "Teddy Boys"?

But Gear wasn't one to give up, he was the son of a coal miner, and carried with home a streak of stubbornness that was as wide as a very large building. During the next six years, his acquisitions would include works by Sandra Blow, Edward Burra, Alan Davie, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Peter Lanyon and Edward Wadsworth: a vibrant collection that, as the Observer noted in 1962, contributed magnificently to the Towner’s growing reputation as the "most go-ahead municipal gallery of its size in the country". Only in 1964, when Gear was appointed head of the Faculty of Fine Art at Birmingham College of Art, did he resign, by which time his work was done. The town now had the foundations of a collection of 20th-century British art of which it would one day be rather proud. It just goes to show that stubbornness in art sometimes pays dividends.

Gear is little known now but in his time he was a controversial artist whose work frequently found its way into our national collections (The Painter That Britain Forgot includes loans from Tate and the National Gallery of Scotland). After studying at the Edinburgh College of Art in the 30s, he was, a fellow student recalled, "alone amongst his peers in pursuing his own work to the point of pure abstraction", he travelled through Europe on a scholarship and the world tilted excitingly. In Paris, he saw Picasso’s Guernica and studied under Fernand Léger. In Turkey, he was able to visit the Byzantine mosaics he’d long loved from afar. In 1940, he was called up and posted to the Middle East, where he continued to work as an artist, making good use of any spare vehicle paint. After VE Day, he moved to Berlin, where he became a "Monuments Man".

Gear was certainly an interesting gentleman, and one who managed to shape art curation, bringing "different", to people's more traditional views.

GREETINGS CARDS

I spent 35-minutes queuing up in a greetings card shop a couple of weeks ago. The shop was busy, but what really stood out to me was that aside from myself, no one appeared to be aged less than 45. If they were younger than 45, my apologies, all I can say is that you really must have lead a stressful life.

So on the way home I pondered this, there had been young people everywhere else all day, lots of children running about, and generally the rest of the city was as vibrant as it always was. So why was there a queue in a greeting card shop? Did I perhaps mistake it for Gods waiting room? Or, was there a deeper meaning to this?

Well it seems when I spoke to some younger people, i.e. friends who range from 20-years to 44-years that they would sooner send an e-card than stand in a queue for 35-minutes, write a meaningful note, and slap on a stamp. But when I asked if they liked to receive e-cards, they all said that they prefer to receive a real greetings card, knowing that someone went through the effort and stress to prove that they were indeed real friends.

But all of those virtual cards are killing off an industry, and it is a trend that is making the likes of Hallmark really nervous. Hallmark have fallen on hard times, even closing distribution centres and laying off hundreds of people. The last five years have been brutal to the greeting card industry, and their workforces are dwindling.

The Greeting Card Association, an industry group in the USA that I never knew existed, insists that the industry is changing with the changing times. Greetings card manufacturers need to get creative. The real challenge is surely how do you compete with the convenience of sending an e-card, other than create an online model such as Moon Pig in the UK or others that let you select from a range of cards and then send a physical card.

I’m not sure how this particular industry will pan out in time, but one thing is very clear from my limited, non-scientific research, and that is that people love to receive a real greeting card, but the reality is that it just takes too much time to go out and buy one. Maybe though there is a niche market for pre-postage-paid cards, sold in packs of seven. Why seven? Because generally research indicates that this is the total number of true friends that anyone has.

It would be great to hear your views on this. Would you prefer a real greetings card that someone has made a real effort to send, or would you rather receive a virtual card, sent at the last minute? Feel free to leave a comment!

THE CHANGING FACE OF PRINT ON DEMAND

What does the perfect Print on Demand Service Look Like?

There has been a recent announcement from Fine Art America offering different perspectives on artist’s survival in the POD world. There was talk of a 5% commission rate, already offered through some print on demand services, and discussions have been lively in FAA’s forums.

But what does a perfect print on demand service look like, and is it even possible?

Some services charge a significant fee to join, monthly subscriptions, and still no guarantee that your work will sell. Others like Fine Art America offer a $30 per year charge for premium features, and this includes having your own website which handles the e-commerce side as well as displaying your portfolio of work. Fine Art America also offer a free service, although you are limited to selling just 25 pieces of work at any one time. In my eyes, it is exceptionally good value for money if you take the premium features, not too much of an outlay if you are just starting out, and they have one of the simplest uploading methods of all of the POD sites and services.

This $30 subscription, although great value, is also applied to artists who sell many items and earn in the tens of thousands every year. Should it be the case that someone earning this much pays the same as someone earning say $50 per year? That’s a whole other question, but the reality is that they have either worked hard to become well known, or they have been selling work for many years, or they are really very good at promoting their work. The question is more why would they need to be charged more when they receive the exact same service as everyone else?

I think the $30 per year fee by Fine Art America is exceptionally good value. For this you get access to special interior design programs where you can sell your art to interior designers, although at a vastly reduced rate, but the potential earnings can be more. You also get access to the Disney / ABC program which allows you to supply art which can be used in props for TV & film, and you also get a website and some other premium options to boot.

I personally sell on three different platforms, and success varies depending on a whole raft of things. You definitely need to find a niche market for your work. If you just paint flowers, then you’ll need to stand out against the millions of other flower images out there. If you paint niche works, then there is a higher probability that your work will show up higher in the search results of any print on demand service provider.

There is a common misconception that print on demand will market your work for you. Whilst some do pick featured artists, these artists are likely to be those higher in the sales rankings. With millions of users across the print on demand piece, even a rotation might take years before you appear on the front page. If you want to sell your art then the top piece of advice is that you need to also market it yourself, or you need to be named Banksy, or any of the other living artists who can sell a work before it is even painted.

My personal experience over the time I have used print on demand, is that you can leave the promotion in the hope that someday, someone finds it, or you need to promote. I find I am doing this a lot. Not as much as needed, but certainly for a good 20+ hours per week, that’s time I would rather spend creating.

There is another way, you can get yourself an agent, or display in a gallery. But believe me when I say that this does not come cheap. A gallery can take 50% of the retail price of the painting. A broker will usually also take a deep cut, and for most people who want to paint and create as a hobby, earning a little money on the side, this isn’t really practical.

So what can print on demand sites offer that they don’t already? It seems inevitable at some point that the way POD works will change over the next few years. Maybe there could be small spin off communities for emerging and new artists, or maybe we might see some exclusivity arrangements. But exclusivity arrangements would need to be fruitful for the artists, and I also imagine it would be difficult to police.

The only real issue is with all of the POD services is that they allow everyone to be a professional. Yes, even those who take a snapshot on a five year old Nokia phone. To some, this might still be classed as art. To others, uploading 3000-images of next doors cat, is seen to water down the quality of the other works available.

Probably the best way to view POD, is that it is your business. It is up to you to promote yourself. POD services themselves are merely a distribution centre who provide you with an online presence, e-commerce, and order fulfilment. Should we ask them for more?

You need to ask yourself a question first. If you operate a physical business, I am talking a high street gallery, would it be reasonable to expect a supplier of the blank canvases to go out and also bring in all of your business?

What I would expect is that the answer is no. What makes online POD services any different? Yes, they make a ton of money, but that is only a perception. Some are actually losing money on a regular basis, and I would edge my bets here, one or maybe even two will see their end of days in the next 18-months if their model doesn’t change rapidly.

The other question is will those currently in the POD service market need to adapt? I recently wrote about a Kickstarter campaign for a revolutionary platform for digital art. It is an internet connected display that allows you to showcase artwork. There are also others in the works, and all mainly taking a Netflix subscription based approach.

Does this mean the end of traditional paintings? No. There is a huge market for high end art, by high end I mean, especially in pieces which are selling at above €200,000. Then there are traditional art collectors who will always nurture a desire to own an original from the masters. But there are also modern day collectors who will see this as a way to bring some classy high tech kit into their homes.

I see the immediate future for FRAMED, and others such as EO1, as being something delivered in trendy hotels, boutiques, malls, and meeting spaces, etc. Would I want this in my home? Probably not yet. We went through a phase of digital picture frames a few years ago and now people use their Apple TV to view photo’s, or view them on a tablet or phone device. So are the new Kickstarter projects destined to succeed?

If the average buyer of art prints wants to start becoming high tech, then there needs to be something that is similar to FRAMED, but at a lower cost. Importantly, the screens shouldn’t look like a TV. FRAMED have this bit of the equation correct. They have beautiful frames for the screens, but the cost is likely to put off many home art lovers. What is needed for the occasional print buyer is a low cost but high quality display that is presented well, and can be synched to other displays in the home. They also need to be power efficient, and any subscription needs to be affordable. At the same time, the screens should look different to a TV.

If costs fall as they inevitably will over time, more people will start to see these Kickstarter projects as a viable way of delivering art into the home. But the reality is that some of these projects have actually been around for a good few years already.

Despite bringing FRAMED to commercial customers and select artists back in 2012, Nakamura's frame has never been widely available, and I have only ever heard it mentiond in relatively hushed tones. Now, the designer and his business associate William Lai are launching a consumer-focused frame through their company FRM with a Kickstarter campaign. Is there room in the world for two "connected" frames?

Outwardly, "Framed 2.0" and the other Kickstarter project, EO1 are very similar. Both offer a high-resolution display that has a tiny computer at its heart. Both are capable of showcasing static and moving artwork on their displays, and both can be controlled with a smartphone. But that is where the similarity ends. While Electric Objects' effort sticks closely to the 2011 FRAMED concept unveiled by Nakamura, the new FRAMED contains a few extras that were not in its original launch a few years ago.

The real difference between Framed and the EO1 isn't in the products themselves, but rather what FRM and Electric Objects are trying to achieve through their respective products. FRAMED is not only a digital picture frame, but also of a new store for digital art.

FRM sees their technology as a way of helping artists to make money from their creations, launching the FRAMED store. This is clearly geared at becoming the "Kindle Store" of the digital art world. It does have a number of prominent artists already signed up, but no links seem to be apparent with the existing POD services such as Fine Art America. EO1’s makers are taking a similar approach, promoting original art together with an Artist in Residency program. EO1 also say that there will be an "App Store" of sorts included in the product.

And that is a problem for those currently selling their creations through Print on Demand. Unless POD services start to explore this area, there is a danger that within a few years, and when prices of the technology drop, that artists currently selling through Print on Demand will see some fall off in sales, and in an already difficult market with hundreds of thousands of artists clamoring to reach the top of the POD searches.

There is a potential area for art lovers who cannot necessarily afford the original, or who frequently change their tastes, or want a high tech way to display quality art. If POD services started to look at creating a single subscription based platform, this might be a new market for them.

Will this then affect traditional print sales? Yes, or no. It could drive people towards a world where they can change their art without the major outlay of buying new art to match the new curtains. For artists, this will lead to much smaller payments. It will however, give them a showcase to sell originals and prints, but traditional royalties could be out of the window.

The question as an artist is, if you would be prepared to receive many micro-transactions to put your work on the platform, or would you prefer possibly less frequent higher royalties from your POD sales? Or, maybe it becomes a mix of the two. You collect a small royalty for the number of times your work is displayed, which might then drive sales for your POD prints and originals.

At the moment there is no absolute and clear way emerging for POD sites. One thing is certain and that is that they will need to adapt if they want to survive. This could be an exciting next step, or it could be disastrous for the hundreds of thousands of print on demand artists who are already struggling with sales.

It would be great to hear your views as to how POD services should respond, or should adapt, and it would be good to hear from the buyer’s perspective. The forums I have visited are generally populated by artists who all have valid opinions for the artist, but rarely do I hear what is also good for the customer!

If you have a view, please leave a comment or get in touch!

Tomorrow we take a look at a new cinema technology that might just be the future, and we will discover that art is about what you can do, and not how you create it. There will also be news from that favourite auction house of mine, Christie’s.

 

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