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The Art of Profit - Why I left SaatchiArt (almost a case study)

Nobody ever goes into business thinking "I have zero intentions of making a profit." Whenever one has a good idea, one of the first thoughts is "I could make so much money out of this " and imagine themselves trying to swim in a pool of coins a la Scrooge McDuck - which, to me, just looks incredibly painful.


Realistically, we all want to be able to have a roof over our heads, food, and pay for all of our never ending bills. If we are lucky, we get paid to do what we love. Now some of us love making art! Enter the people who thought "we could make money helping the emerging artist make a living out of what they love" (small print: we know full well only a handful will make it and we get to decide who they are - enter -> curated experience).


Who is making a profit in the online art market? If you answered the online platform, you would be correct! Who benefits the most from selling art online? Again, the art platform.


They usually have amazing mission statements like


"At Saatchi Art, we make it our mission to help you discover and buy from the best emerging artists around the world."

"The Other Art Fair showcases the very best emerging and independent artistic talent (...)"

Championing the emerging artist. I love this altruistic for profit motto.


Now both SaatchiArt and The Other Art fair are owned by Leaf Group. The Other Art fair was purchased in 2016 and the group has owned SaatchiArt since 2014. In 2014 Charles Saatchi sued SaatchiArt for not dropping the Saatchi name, as had been agreed. But given that SaatchiArt had been making a profit, something Saatchi Online had not been doing, which is why Charles Saatchi sold off the online company, the lawsuit seemed to vanish from the media's eye and there seemed, to the outsider, no conclusion to be found in any news outlet. It is highly likely that Charles Saatchi settled off-court for a cut of the profits given that SaatchiArt retained the name. It is quite a powerful name to own because as soon as Leaf Group purchased The Other Art Fair, they started using the tag SaatchiArt presents, which made it appear that the Saatchi family, art connoisseurs, were backing the art fair - which they are not as they're no longer associated with SaatchiArt. The power of a name and the power of money to be able to retain that name is what created that illusion.


All this for championing emerging artists. Seems like a very lucrative business. The emerging artist only dreams of catching up to a trend (zeitgeist) and sign-up to these platforms hoping to make a profit. Now let us say thousands of hopefuls sign up to SaatchiArt naively believing that Saatchi will add glamour and glitz to an unknown artist's reputation? Hoping it somehow rubs off and you are happily telling people and promoting yourself sending all traffic to SaatchiArt. Well, don't forget that the platform represents thousands of other artists and has millions of artwork to showcase. The platform has all its bases covered because they have something for everyone and get a 35% cut of all sales. You basically just promoted SaatchiArt for free in the hope that people will buy your art. But once they are looking at your profile, and pick a painting to look at, underneath your painting blurb SaatchiArt shows "Painting you may also like inspired by your browsing history." making it very easy for your future buyer to browse away from you. You would also hope that a buyer looking at someone else's paintings could also end up landing on your portfolio page.


Now what kind of artist do you want to be? Anti-capitalist rebel with a message? Or purveyor of pretty decorative things? How about the discerning collector? How discerning are they and WHO decides what is good art that will be worth millions. Are you investing $2,xxx at this The Other Art Fair/exposure or are you simply helping the organisers make a huge profit?!? How much does an emerging artist have to sell to break even?!? Plus paying 15% commission on top of sales? "The fair takes 15% commission from all art sales – so the majority always goes back to the exhibitor." (2020) and if they happen to sell your art during the online event, you pay 35% commission. So the emerging artist now has to price their art quite highly to break even.... Yet emerging artists struggle when it comes to pricing because they're not a household name. The collector would rather pay a high price for a "branded artist" because they see it as an investment and can auction the artwork for a profit in the future. Unfortunately art has become a commodity that accrues value overtime, with the push from auction houses and galleries. One way to add value is to give out little badges like SaatchiArt does such as:


So let's say one could attempt a few more strategies to gain recognition and promote oneself even harder via several social media outles (aka promote SaatchiArt), posting paintings twice a week onto their website, paying several thousands to show with The Other Art Fair. It seems very costly and something you can only do if you are already quite well off or have a money tree in your life where you can even afford a social media manager, a personal relations person/company to promote you, or already have a large following and have been selling art for a while and know enough collectors and people that help promote you via word of mouth. Unfortunately, an emerging artist who has a second job to pay for bills cannot afford to spend time and money on things like that. An emerging artist with a family doesn't have a chance either, unless you have a rich uncle out there, or inherited a fortune. So basically the rich and famous are the ones with a better chance at all this.


There are many things to get curious about when reading the SaatchiArt Terms as of 10/05/2021. Title and keywords are easy to work out as there's a lot of information out there on how to do that. Prices, you can see who sells something similar to you and price accordingly, but then you see how the range of prices varies and you are curious as to how to get featured. Do you hike the prices to appear more important, do you stick to the lower end and appeal to those seeking affordable original art?


In the end you just have to follow how you would do it and hope for the best.


So I decided to do me. Basically delete my account from SaatchiArt and when promoting myself, lead people to my own shop where I can charge what I think is fair, appealing to the more affordable side. Which is something I couldn't quite do on SaatchiArt because of how they build up the prices - not only do they take a 35%, but the shipping is included in what appeared to be less than kosher. I have also included shipping in my pricing, also using DHL pick up from my door and deliver it to your door, but interestingly enough, me, as an individual seller, could get way lower prices than SaatchiArt was charging? I think that was definitely the last drop for me and made me want to stay away from them.


So, why are artists so blinded by this? The idea that these organisations could potentially catapult you to fame. It seems like that chances nowadays are similar to those of winning the lottery. We know chances are small and if, like me, you promote yourself and then get the clicks... Wait, the clicks just went to my SaatchiArt profile, where I can't keep track. The promotion worked... I should have directed them towards my website! Not a sales platform with thousands of choices... That takes a 35% cut if your promotion efforts. You can easily arrange DHL pick up and delivery. Effortless. Plus, you can offer your collector a better price.


This is your competition when posting on SaatchiArt under the painting category. 2,149,274 on the 10th of May 2021. On the 7th of June, it stood at 2,172,136.


So in the end I decided to open up my own online store right here, on my own website!


I aim to sell affordable art, but still get paid for the hours I put into each painting, which can vary from 3 hours to an entire month. You can watch some of my process videos on Instagram, maybe one day I will manage to come up with some decent videos on YouTube and you guys will promote me whenever you can and it will be amazing!


At the time of writing, the official Shop was still under construction. E.t.a. 12-14th of June 2021 with official announcement on Instagram.