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call for del/mar/va artesians: new online retail gallery (long)

updated thu 2 sep 99


Ray Aldridge on wed 1 sep 99

At 01:12 PM 8/31/99 EDT, you wrote:
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>Hi! I have been watching with great interest the emails pertaining to
>people's personal web pages and business web pages, and am now at the point
>where I can announce mine, and hopefully get to work with some of my fellow
>list members.
>I am opening an online retail gallery featuring works in clay, glass and
>perhaps handmade paper.


>In the future, there will likely have to be some sort of minimal viewing

Why? I wish you the best of luck with your business, but the thought of
paying you anything for the privilege of consigning work to you really rubs
me the wrong way. Evaluating the wares of potential suppliers is a cost of
business that you'll just have to put up with, like everyone else who
retails merchandise. (Or so I hope. Surely few potters would be so
desperate for space in an unproven online gallery that they would pay what
amounts to a jury fee, particularly when they can set up their own online
gallery for next to nothing.)

I urge you to reconsider and swiftly reject this idea. I would never place
work with a gallery that took this approach. (Matters are somewhat
different when a prominent gallery has a juried thematic show, though I'm
not much happier about the idea of subsidizing the business that hopes to
profit from my efforts, even in this special case.)

Again, I wish you the best of luck, but please dump the idea of charging
artists a "viewing fee." You'll get these fees only from the terminally
desperate, and these are not the artists who will be best for your business.

The conceptual problem with the "online gallery" is that ecommerce operates
under a somewhat different set of rules than brick-and-mortar commerce.
When you consign a piece to a realworld gallery, you pay a substantial
commission for certain selling conditions that you cannot provide for
yourself-- a physical location in a desirable area, sales personnel,
reputation. I notice that you are proposing lower commissions for your
online gallery, but in my opinion they are still too high for what you are
able to offer. An online gallery has very low overhead, the major
operating cost of realworld galleries. For example, you pay very low rent
for your facility, nor do you need to hire someone to be present whenever
the gallery is open. You need not keep inventory on hand, because if a
customer makes a purchase, you need only instruct the maker to send it to
the customer. Your advertising costs are minimal, for the most part. In
my view, online galleries should regard themselves as agents rather than as
galleries, and appropriate agent fees are in the 10%- 20% range, at most.

The theory with online galleries is that they will provide a centralized
place where potential customers can look over the work of many artists.
Unfortunately the reality of the Web is that any place on the Web is just a
click away from any other place, so that a link list of potter's home
pages, if properly publicized, will be as effective in delivering business
to those potters as an "online gallery."

This reality has already made those who initially invested in the concept
of "internet malls" look pretty foolish, for much the same reasons.

The truth that is emerging about ecommerce is that it is not a very
friendly environment for the middleman. I don't mean to be so
discouraging, but an online gallery, if it is to succeed, will have to come
up with some service it can perform for its artists that the artists cannot
perform for themselves. For artists who lack access to the Web, the
service is obvious; charge them a fee to put their wares online and
publicize them. But for those who already have access to the Web, it's
harder to see what you can do for them that they can't as easily do for

I think if I were you, I might prefer to set up an online group atelier
rather than an online gallery. Rent space to artists who want to display
their wares and charge them for assisting in setting up their spaces. Then
work like a bear on publicising a central list of your tenants, and take a
small commission as payment for the use of your shopping cart system and
card acceptance services.

In fact, I intend to suggest this to the group working on a professional
organization for potters, since this is something we could do for our members.