So you’re an artist, and you feel that you put a lot of great information on your blog. Some artists charge subscriptions or have paywalls to make money off all that hard work. Should you? We talked to three artists with popular blogs to get some answers in this special feature.
The Artist’s Road is owned by artists Ann Trusty and John Hulsey
Ann Trusty and John Hulsey are working artists without deep pockets, but they feel it’s important to share the knowledge they uncover along the journey, so they post frequent items on their website, The Artist’s Road. Trusty and Hulsey remind artists tempted to charge for their online content that once people pay for the continuing posts, the bloggers have a responsibility to fulfill. You must be prepared to feed the beast — often. With hearty fare.
“If you are going to charge for any kind of content you have to be exceptional each and every time,” says Hulsey. “You have to be interesting and informative every time. The formula people in the industry quote is that the value of what you post has to be worth four times what people pay. So if you charge $20 a month, you have to show that you are giving subscribers $80 worth of content.”
However, Linda Fisler, an artist and a partner with Kevin Macpherson in the Artist Mentors Online website, cautions against feeding the beast indiscriminately. “It isn’t important that you have a new blog post every day,” she says. “Quality over quantity is my rule.” This is crucial information for artists, who may like to blog about art but worry that the blogging will eat into their painting time. “It is a matter of multi-tasking and balance. If I want to capture a morning light painting, then I get out there and paint. Bring a notebook along for the hours when you are in flat light and write about your experiences in the morning session of painting. If you prefer evening painting, then write your blog in the morning and then head out to the destination to capture that great evening light. If you paint all day, then turn off the TV at night and type up a blog. When you are tired, kick the feet up and relax. The best thing about an artist or creative life is the flexibility.” Fisler points out that she is a writer and has written more in her life than she’s painted, so for her, writing a piece constitutes “another creative session.”
So, can you make money doing this? Many bloggers note how much time they spend writing online content and rightfully ask themselves if they should be getting paid for all that hard work. Hulsey points out that any company of decent size could apply some marketing muscle and manpower to the task of monetizing it, and get a paid blog off and running quickly, shortening the wait before a website turns a profit. Hulsey and Trusty are not a company in that sense, so their expectations were fairly low going into their venture. “We don’t derive an income from the site; we have many hundreds of users but we know we are some time away from making money,” Hulsey says. Trusty adds, “We do get rave reviews and we are adding people every month, so we can see it growing. We can respond to people almost one-on-one, in a way a big company can’t.”
Trusty and Hulsey run their website because they love doing it. “We are teachers, and we feel strongly about this,” Hulsey explains. “We don’t accept advertising, so we don’t have to worry about offending an advertiser when we talk about an easel we love, for instance. This is an art education site. That was kind of our mandate when we began it all.”
Matthew Innis is a working artist who has a blog followed by many painters. His Underpaintings site delves into the technical issues artists love to discuss, and his art historical pieces are heavy with captivating images. “The material on my site is the training that I would have liked when I was in school,” Innis says. “I hope it is useful to people. And like they say about teaching, I’m learning as much as anyone else when I’m doing this.” He does not have a paywall or a subscription program, and he doesn’t plan on starting one — as much as he’d like to benefit financially from his efforts. One of the reasons for that is that he posts many reproductions of contemporary and historical paintings, and he is never sure what the copyright laws are for them. Innis says he feels he is safe because they are used for education and for critique or editorial, and adds, “I feel like I’m in a little bit more of a safely gray area if I am not profiting from the images.”
Innis’s site has had other benefits, though. “It’s been great in opening doors for me, and it’s also brought some interest in my artwork that I might not have gotten,” he explains. The artist has a “donate” button on the site that helps defray expenses, and he receives money from Amazon because he participates in that company’s associate program. “If people click through the buttons on my site, I get a little bit of the sale,” he says.
Artist Mentors Online is run by Linda Fisler and Kevin Macpherson
You’ve decided you want to try building a site that charges for content. When is the right time to take the plunge? “The market is pretty flooded with art information,” Fisler points out. “Any Google or Bing search will net you hundreds of thousands or even a million results. There is so much information available for free. To me, the question becomes, when do I have something unique enough for someone to appreciate and want to donate or buy? My artwork, for example, is unique. The next question then becomes, do I have enough followers or e-collectors that will make it worthwhile for me to sell off my website? If yes, great! Start the paywall or subscription. If no, then you are faced with the business of generating traffic to your website. The best way that I’ve found to generate that traffic is to have something available that the visitor wants, for free.”
One can also pay close attention to tags, make a point of trading links with bigger sites, and study up on Google analytics to boost traffic. But the bottom line is that to make money off a website, an artist needs to love making content. Not only will there be an expectation that the user will get more than his or her money’s worth once you put up a paywall, but the content or services the artist has behind that paywall will represent only a fraction of the work required.