Can you make enough money from your website as an artist?
It depends on how much traffic you have.
To monetize a website, you need either to sell a service or a product. That would be illustration services or products which like prints, paintings, t-shirts, books or other physical merchandise. The other way is to sell advertising space on your website.
The larger your audience, the more leads you'll get, and also advertising dollars. And with more reputation, you also get to command higher salary. That's why web presence is important. The quality of your work is still of utmost importance since that's what's going to get you visitors in the first place.
At the start of your career
When you're new online, a big portion of your earnings will come from commissioned works. Think $100 commissioned jobs vs $1 puny advertising you get from Google Adsense.
Online advertising earnings will be insignificant unless you're already a superstar illustrator. Even if you're a superstar illustrator, it still takes a long time to build up and maintain a sizable audience.
When your website is new, you have no web presence, potential clients will not know you exist. That's when you really need to build up your portfolio online by posting regularly, early on in your career. This is the stage where you have to look proactively for clients instead of them looking for you. I'll talk about where you can look for them in a separate post.
All these monetization tips or programs below will not work until you have at least some sort of following online.
Selling merchandise is great but you have to work out the right price. The usual things to sell would be prints, original drawings, paintings, t-shirts, books, and if you're into making crafts, that would mean other art and craft accessories.
You've to take into account the time, effort and cost of materials you spend to create the merchandise.
Remember to factor in shipping cost too, which can be significant for heavy items or when shipping to faraway countries. Postal companies usually have a chart that list the prices of shipping based on weight and location. Always look at that before pricing your product.
After calculating the cost, sometimes it might not be worth your while to produce physical items to sell because the profit margin just doesn't make sense. Do some research and see how other artists set prices. Check out places like Etsy where artists sell craft items, DeviantArt where prints are sold, or individual artists' websites where they sell prints and other items.
By the way, you should create a variety of items to sell if you want to go the merchandise way. At least if the customer doesn't like prints, he/she can still buy t-shirts.
Carol Marine and Duane Keiser are two examples of artists who sell their paintings online. They paint small and paint daily, built up a following of readers and potential customers, and now do quite well from selling their paintings. I also recommend checking out Duane Keiser's blog to see how much he sells his paintings for. Some artists, like Carol Marine, also submit their works to other websites, e.g. Daily Paintworks, eBay, etc for sale. If you're a craft maker, you can join the many others on Etsy.
Creating your own webstore
The two big ones are Big Cartel and Shopify.
Check out the fees they charge before signing up with them.
I'm not familiar with them but I've seen many artists use these two services to sell their art and merchandise.
Monetizing by advertising
There are two main ways to get advertising dollars for your blog. First is to sell ads via some other programs, e.g. Google Adsense. Second is to sell advertising yourself without the help of any middle-man.
Earning from advertising is a numbers game.
The larger your readership, the more you can charge for advertising. I've to warn you first you need a lot of readers, like in the thousands per day and even so you'll only earning a few hundred dollars. When you have that kind of web traffic, realistically speaking, commissioned works or selling your own products will still form a large part of your earnings.
Using Google Adsense
Google Adsense is a program where Google would run ads on your website, and pay you for the clicks those ads generate.
You can sign up with Google Adsense to run their ads on your website. After signing up, you copy and paste their code onto your website and the ads will start appearing automatically. It's hassle free. I make about USD $100-150/month for 10,000 pageviews/day, more than enough to pay for my expensive web hosting every month. You need A LOT of web traffic to make a living off advertising.
Using third party ad servers
Two good ones come to mind, Project Wonderful and Blogads.
Basically, you sign up with them as a publisher. Those companies will list you on their directory for their advertisers who then have the option to place ads on your website. These ad serving companies are the middle man that handles payment and sourcing for advertisers. The advantage is the ads you get will be more related to the context of your website because advertisers usually choose to advertise on related websites.
How much you can earn again depends on the amount of web traffic you have. Actually, you can sign up an account with them to see what prices other publishers (bloggers) are charging to get a sense of how much traffic you need to make a living.
You can also check out who are the other publishers are (like you) from the directories provided. Just for reference, Urban Sketchers and Lines and Colors use Blogads. RemindBlog and Hark a Vagrant use Project Wonderful.
Selling advertising directly without middle-man
To attract attention of potential advertisers, you can create a banner ad or link asking for advertisers. The information you should provide to advertisers would be the number of visitors and pageviews you have per month, and more importantly the rough demographic of your readers, e.g. what type of art they like, age group, etc.
Be specific about the type of advertisements you're looking for. For example, as an art related website, it makes more sense to accept art related advertisements such as for art products, art courses, links to other art blogs or websites etc. By accepting advertisements that are a good fit for your blog, it will be more relevant to your readers who will be more likely to click on the ad and visit the advertisers' site. If your advertisers' business does well because of the ad, they are more likely to continue advertising with you, and the virtuous cycle continues.
When you work with advertisers directly, you don't have to pay middle-man fees that you normally would with other advertising programs.
How much should you charge advertisers?
Use other websites as a reference when coming up with the price to charge your advertisers. Visit popular websites and check out their info page on advertising. Sometimes they will list their rates and the number of pageviews or visitors they serve per month. Calculate backwards to come up with a rate for your website based on the pageviews you're serving.
You can also use the information of other publishers provided inside Project Wonderful and Blogad's directory. Or if you have Google Adsense going on, you could use that too.
Patreon is a relatively new website that helps creatives get subscribers who will pay for their content. It's like selling a magazine subscription. E.g. ParkaBlogs could sell you a subscription where you have to pay $1 for every article I publish. Subscribers can choose the amount they want to pay for every article/video/artwork you create.
Patreon does not promote your work. They just handle the logistics of payment. You still need to promote your own Patreon page. Patreon however does list and group creators by the type of work they create. You can use that list to see the potential of paid subscription.
Here's an example of comic artist Jason Brubaker's Patreon page.
This is the salesman model. When a reader buys a third party item from a link on your blog, you earn a commission. You get no money for clicks. Earnings only come after orders are shipped. Industry average commission rate is around 4-10%. E.g. If you sell a $20 brush, at 5% commission, you earn $1.
Affiliate marketing makes sense only if your website is geared heavily towards products. You just have to insert a few related links into your post. For example, if you draw a sketch with Daniel Smith watercolours, you can create an affiliate link to Daniel Smith watercolours.
How much can you earn? Let me do the math for you.
Let's say you earn $2 per sale. Based on my own experience, about 5% of readers will click on ads (actually much less because people nowadays have ad blindness). After clicking, about 5% of people who visit the website (e.g. Amazon) would buy something. To make 5 sales (or $10), you will need 2,000 readers. To make $1,000 monthly, you need 200,000 readers/month or 6667 readers/day! WHAT?! Yes, you need that many readers. Those number fluctuate on good and bad days.
Popular afflilate programs are Amazon Associates, Commission Junction, and for art products I would recommend UK merchant Jackson's Art Supplies. Commission Junction has several advertisers and the one I recommend you join are Dick Blick Art Materials or Jerry's Artarama if you're an art related site.
Affiliate marketing requires more effort because you have to create individual links to every product you mention. Definitely more hands-on compared to simple display ads.
Work backwards to see how many readers you need
Back to the question of whether you can make money online as an artist, you can actually work backwards and calculate how much readers you need to make a decent living.
As mentioned a few times already, you need a huge readership, in terms of thousands per day. If you have other sites like DeviantArt, Facebook, Twitter, you should always drive traffic back to your website.
You'll also probably notice after calculating, advertising is not going to form a big portion of your earnings. It's still good to put some advertising though, especially for Google Adsense, Project Wonder or Blogads because they are relatively hassle-free. Earn a few extra dollars per month is not bad. Just don't plaster your website with ads because they will irritate your visitors especially when they can't find what they are looking for on your webpage.
Each income stream will contribute a bit to your total earnings. Don't worry about them when you're starting out with a new website. Focus all your time and effort on creating content and putting them out. After you have hundreds of readers each day, then come back here to read this article again to try some of these programs.
What are your experience of monetising your art website
Share them in the comments section below so that we can all learn.