This is a subject for both the art-lovers and the art-makers out there. It’s a topic which I’d say I ruminate on at least annually, and that’s whether or not to offer art merchandise in addition to prints.
Once upon a time, I was more active on Zazzle. I offered my work there as prints and on a variety of their art merchandise, but somewhere along the way I mostly abandoned Zazzle. I added the odd product, but I concentrated far more on marketing my art as prints for home and office decor.
In part I was previously simply spread too thin. Concentrating on one thing was definitely worth it in the short term. However, I was also concerned about perceptions of art offered on merchandise. On many occasions in artist forums I’ve seen the comment, why would anyone pay X amount of money for something that’s also printed on a t-shirt?
Merchandising Art Is Bad Mojo?
It takes very little effort to unearth a real or imagined fear that one’s artwork will be marginalized and devalued if it’s offered on anything outside of archival quality art prints. Heck, amongst the painters, you’ll discover there’s concern that offering even prints of their original work could have repercussions. There’s sure a lot of fear out here in artist land!
And I understand it rather too well! Over the past couple of years, I’ve made several aborted attempts at reviving my Zazzle shop. I had removed even my prints from there in the past because of complications matching my prices elsewhere as well as the inability to cleanly control whether or not my work was cropped and what print medium was used. But I recently figured out their template system and suddenly I was able to easily add prints on archival paper available in various sizes to the site. Yay – another venue for my work!
But understanding the template system also led to the realization that at the very same time I was adding prints, I could add my work on art merchandise and make it available as well. In other words, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone. And so I began throwing stones! With each new print I added, I was tossing in throw pillows, phone cases, and iPad cases and covers! Mind you, each choice was not willy-nilly. Some images simply don’t translate well to the shape of another medium. An iPhone case for instance may cut off important parts of the over-all scene. It’s rather like re-composing an image each time, seeing if there’s a good fit and, if not, tossing that particular piece of merchandise aside.
The Psychology of Art Merchandise
And then the doubts began to make their presence known. In my mind, a throw pillow, a t-shirt, and a framed print are utterly different things. The first two, particularly the shirt, are ephemeral things. In a few years when that print is still hanging in a place of honor, that t-shirt will have seen one too many washes and begin to fray. It’s temporary art – art for the moment, not for the long-haul.
While to me, art merchandise and art prints are apples and oranges, that doesn’t mean the psychology is the same for potential customers out there. I’d love to hear what others out there, both artists and art-lovers, think. Now I’m sure there are people out there who would never buy something that’s available on a pillow, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’m unsure those are “my” customers to begin with. To me, those expectations sounds like the same people who would anticipate a very small limited edition of prints and would expect to pay mucho dinero for said prints. Perhaps one day I will change my mind, but that’s never been my target audience so far. So, John and Jane Doe art-lovers-extraordinaire who would spring for a nice piece of art, what say you?
Does it matter to you that this same image is available as a dramatic piece of wall art and a bold phone case?
After a lot of thought on the matter, I’m giving it a try for awhile. Since Zazzle is print on demand and not a matter of actually licensing my art to someone to make art merchandise, I can easily have a change of heart. So, I plan to take a close look at the feedback I get from everyone reading this as well as the bottom line. In the end, it could take a lot of pillows and phone cases to make up for a loss of future print sales. So, I’ll be paying close attention!