Monday, December 3, 2007

The Business of Craft Online

I hear many artisans worrying this year about slow holiday sales. Just like traditional retailers, individual craft sellers and gallery owners rely on this sales period for the bulk of their year's revenue. And slow sales now make for difficult times.

One of the business lessons I've learned this year is that it may not be wise to focus exclusively on internet sales. Certainly, marketplaces like Etsy, Smashing Darling, Indie Finds and Aussie site Mintd are opening up some new venues for sales by independent artisans. But I think people are still somewhat wary of a purchase based on photos alone, especially a higher-end craft purchase. So much of the allure of handmade goods lies in things one needs to experience in person - texture, subtle color variations, the way a piece of jewelry sits on the body. When buyers can't experience that first hand, they may turn to another source. I'm working hard to get my jewelry into local retail stores and galleries, where customers can see what they're getting first hand.

But I do have online shops, and I want them to do as well as they can. Because there's such a limited opportunity to showcase your products in a small onlins space, one of the keys to online sales is product photography. It makes sense to invest time and money in good equipment and good photos - you don't need to go spend thousands of dollars on a high end digital SLR and studio lighting equipment, but a good light box (homemade is fine) and, most important, the right light bulbs, are essential. Here's an example of how lighting affects photos. This picture was taken in my homemade light box (corrugated cardboard, with white tissue paper sides), using two nvision 27 watt daylight balanced compact fluorescent bulbs from a big box hardware store.

The next photo, of the same piece, was taken in a light tent purchased from TableTop Studio, using two 30w trumpet top daylight balanced bulbs. The green background is a piece of cardstock. The white to black sweep background, which real photographers can achieve with good lighting and experience, is a paper background that I purchased.

The difference is, I think, dramatic, and the lights were the single most critical piece of equipment. I find that customers respond much better to high quality, professional-looking photos. Good clear photographs are also critical for applications to juried shows.

One of my goals for next year (yes, I'm planning for the slow time in the midst of the holiday rush) is to continue to work towards improving my photos. I'm even considering sending a few pieces to a professional who specializes in craft photography to see what happens.

In the mean time, I'm going to finish my holiday shopping - and continue buying handmade!


Mergirl said...

I loved this post. I hope you don't mind I psted part of it in the Smashing Darling Blog.


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