5 Reasons Why You Should Never Sell Your Art on Auction Websites

Have you ever been tempted to put some of your art on one of those auction websites?

Or have you ever put your art in an online auction and wondered why it didn’t sell or went for such a low price?

If  you’ve been thinking about selling your art in online auctions or even if you have tried it in the past, there are some important things you need to know.

I am going to be very honest and upfront with you and tell you that for almost four years I sold my art on one of these auction websites.  I know, I’m a little embarrassed to tell you this.  Of course, I can’t tell you which site it was because I don’t want to make any enemies here.  But I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about.

In those four years I became kind of an online auction expert.  I learned a lot about selling on this kind of platform.

And I’m here to tell you that if you are a serious artist hoping to build a lifelong career you should stay away from these kinds of sites.

Here are my 5 top reasons why you should never sell your art on auction websites:

1.  You are digitally sharecropping

This is the big one.

Your main internet presence always should be your own website or blog.  The reason for this is that you will be in control of  all aspects of the business as it grows.  When you try to grow a business on another website, you control less and less.   If they change the rules about how they want you to do business (which happens a lot), you may be in conflict with those rules and driven off the site.

Also, these websites can disappear overnight.  Remember Myspace?  If you spend lots of time and money building a name on one of these sites and they go out of business, so will you.

2. It makes your art look cheap

The idea and the promise behind the auction websites is that your work will be bid up to high prices.  Trust me, this never happens.

What really happens is that you start your precious art piece at a low price to attract the highest number of possible buyers and then it ends up selling for that same low price.  There are lots of reasons for this that I learned over the years, and I’m not going into all of them here.  But the main reason is that these sites are bargain basement websites full of cheap buyers and cheap customers.

I’ve said this before in this blog and so this time I am going to shout it:  Stay out of the bargain basement.

Cheap customers are the worst customers.  They complain the most.  They want the most returns.  They are never happy and never satisfied.

You do not want your precious original art associated with the idea that someone can have it at a cheap price.  This is not how the real art world works…..ever.

3. It makes you look like a desperate seller

The first thing that anyone thinks when something isn’t selling is that maybe they should lower the price.  This is a logical assumption.  But it is a very wrong one.

Anyone can lower their price and go broke.

Lowering the price (especially in the art world) is seen as a act of desperation by a desperate seller.

I remember reading about an art gallery in New York City a few years ago that had a “sale.”  They were trying to be like a department store. This is unheard of in the art world and even a little absurd and ridiculous.  The gallery quickly went out of business.

4. It can harm your reputation with the real mainstream art gallery system

Okay, I’m going to tell you my most embarrassing story.  I’m only going to share it with you because I know that you are serious about your art career and I know what you will learn from it will help you a lot.  Are you ready?

In 1998 when I was a newcomer to New York City, I became associated with several art galleries.  But since I was a new artist, my work was not selling that well. So I decided to supplement my income with some sales on the internet.  I put my work on some auction sites at very low prices.

Yes, I made some extra money.  And that’s how I justified continuing to do it.  But what do you think happened?

One of the gallery directors found out that I was flooding the market with cheap priced versions of my art. They were furious and quickly ended their relationship with me.

This mistake cost me a lot.  It cost me a relationship with a premiere art dealer in New York City.

5. It floods the market with too much of your work

Let’s face it, the art world is very small. The balance of supply and demand in this market is very delicate.  You never want a lot of your work floating around out there.

People only want and desire what is scarce and getting scarcer.

And that’s the problem with selling on the auction websites.  You have to sell a lot to make enough money to survive.  This is not a good strategy if you are serious about being a career artist.


About Gary Bolyer Fine Art

I am a New York City-based landscape artist.
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20 Responses to 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Sell Your Art on Auction Websites

  1. Hi Gary,
    That was a very interesting and informative post. I enjoyed that you shared some of your own stories and even the ones that didn’t end up so pretty. You are courageous and have earned my respect! Have a super day.

  2. O.K.!. Great article. Thanks you.

  3. Actually, Gary, I know several artists who are making a killing and becoming collectible using Ebay. My thinking is that they don’t necessarily flood the market with cheap, or use a settle for less strategy when placing work on the Ebay market. Sometimes yes, there are smaller cheaper works. The artists I know do show in some serious galleries around the nation. I think what makes them successful is having a plan in place for both channels of their businesses, the more conventional art venues and the electronic realm.

    One common thread between these guys is that all roads lead back to a stand alone web site. And they limit what is available on Ebay. Along with a pricing structure for auction and buy now.

    That being said, you do raise some good observations. I think it unwise to jump into this type of auction market without a plan/strategy that includes support for the various channels of one’s marketing mix.

    • Thanks for your comments. I think that having your own website or blog is by far the better strategy. Even if you are managing to make a few hundred dollars on a painting on eBay (which is rare) this is still much less than you would expect to get from a respected gallery. My paintings in New York City galleries usually start at around $2000.00 and no less. That’s a big price difference and I am not willing to settle for less on a cheap web site. Thanks again and your comments are always appreciated.

  4. Heather says:

    Hi Gary, Thanks so so much for this….and to everyone else for the comments. It’s really interesting and very informative. I’ve just joined the community but have to say t’s great and the blogs, articles and comments are so on the mark. Big thanks everyone! And have a great weekend whatever you do :))

  5. Bonnie Coad says:

    Hi there, good Blog! I think a lot of what your saying is true. I must admit to selling a few works on an Action site over the past few years but never cheaply, my strategy was to hold on to my work if I didn’t make a sale and I always kept my prices stable across the board. I wasn’t doing it to stay alive as I also work full time so I could afford to stick to my guns, being an emerging artist is hard work, getting your name out there takes time, a sale is a sale and if you keep your prices stable auction sites are OK in my opinion. Your blog has some very very good points though!! 🙂

  6. Delmer says:

    Given the fact that groups like Deja, and Google have essentially kept EVERYTHING that has ever existed on the web, the trail will always lead back to “that” auction site if someone really wants to try hard to follow it.. just like court cases, DUI convictions, divorces, custoy details, marriage licences, property taxes/value etc are all online for others to see whenever they want… if someone wants to judge your art’s value by typing your name in a search then a lot of artists have a lot to worry about. Can you imagine if we were able to see how many of them were on anti depressants? Google’s search history for me, for example, includes the medical issues I’m hiding from my employer. Going online (even what you are doing right now with this blog) always has a chance of making your future list of regrets.

    On another note.. given the care with which you thoughtfully articulate your advice.. I’m curious sir if you would put your thoughts to paper on this:

    How to price your artwork?


    • Thanks for your comments. And I agree with you, everything that has ever been on the web is still out there. And it’s an interesting comment and idea you have proposed that anything we are doing now on the web could possibly become something of a future regret. I guess that’s a chance we all have to take. On the question of writing an article about pricing artwork, I have written such an article. You will find it in this blog and it is titled “Pricing your artwork: Stay out of the bargain basement.” I may be doing more blogging on this subject in the future, so keep checking back. Thanks again.

    • isb63 says:

      Is there a problem with an artist–or anyone, for that matter–being on “anti-depressants”?

      • Thanks for your comments. Of course there is nothing wrong with an artist or anyone being on anti-depressants. I think the point he was making was that it seems that everything we do is now on public record for all to see. It’s like we have no privacy anymore. I think that was the point he was making and he just used the anti-depressants as an example of that.

      • Delmer says:

        You reinforced my point. You are a great example of someone who read something on a blog, and interpreted it in a negative way and reacted to it. This is the risk we take when we give people information… There is nothing wrong with being on anti depressants of course (in this country, during the present time at least), but that is to be determined by each individual person who learns that about you. I might like my artist’s work created without his senses being dulled. I might not buy someone’s art if I learn they support CODE PINK. You never know if something you reveal is going to hurt your sales later.

        Now here’s some context you can use to filter things I say… I have purchased art from that auction site. I love the crazy cat lady series in particular. Will you judge me? It’s a risk I’ll take… I may deserve to be judged.

  7. In late 2010 I returned to painting after a 20 year break. I believe that fate had given me one more chance to realize my dream. During this year I participated in 4 exhibitions in Moscow, became a member of the Union of Artists of Moscow region. That’s a lot or a little? It seems to me a little. It still does not give me the opportunity to sell work to fully engage in painting. Painting does not allow me to make and there is only a hobby. Very great desire to sell a lot of work for a low price to make a “jerk” and deal only with painting.
    I read this story with great interest. In the next year will be my exhibition at the art gallery of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. I hope that this event will be a good stepping stone for my career of artist. In the meantime, can only tolerate so as not to sell my work cheaply.
    Sorry for bad English

  8. Brian says:

    Thank you for the article. It was pretty eye-opening.

    I’ve heard of artists whose work has been copied and put up for auction on ebay without their consent. So I’ve stayed clear of auction sites myself.

  9. As an online seller for many years, I have to take a slightly different stance, Gary. Everything you say is ABSOLUTELY true, especially with regard to Ebay, but nowadays, there is the print selling option, or even charging a NICE price on sites like Etsy. I’m surely not saying it’ll work, but one can do it and possibly even succeed.

    As well, the part that isn’t covered and I assume is likely somewhere in another article is the fact that one CAN sell art inexpensively online and actually make a living (such as I do), whereas cracking the NYC gallery scene to get to the same goal just isn’t a credible option for most folks,

    Just my 2 cents. I think there are two different roads to travel now, one obviously much more accessible and credible than the other, but over time, I would hope the two (gallery and online) will become one. It’s all about selling art at the end of the day.

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