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Gallery Protectionism: Poor Thinking and Poor Marketing

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Fine Art Views by Clint Watson
ISSUE #33 - Daily Edition -
(Sponsored by FineArtStudioOnline)
FineArtViews Newsletter
Straight Talk about Art, Marketing,
Inspiration and Fine Living

For Artists, Collectors and Galleries
(and anyone else who loves art)
Gallery "Protectionism"
Poor Thinking and Poor Marketing

by Clint Watson

Today's subject is likely to stir up controversy.  But rather than sweep these issues under the rug, we prefer to get them out in the open for discussion.  If you disagree with the opinions in todays issue, there is a way for you to make your opinions heard at the end of the letter.

Some people in the art business try to create alliances that "protect" themselves from what they consider to be "unfair" competition.  This practice, on the surface, seems to make sense, but over the long run ends up hurting the marketing efforts of those who engage in it.  Let me explain with a story . . .. . . . 



Monday, June 11, 2007
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* Gallery "Protectionism" - Poor Thinking and Poor Marketing
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Gallery "Protectionism"
Poor Thinking and Poor Marketing
By Clint Watson

Dear {{FirstName}},

Editor's Note: Today's subject is likely to stir up controversy.  But rather than sweep these issues under the rug, we prefer to get them out in the open for discussion.  If you disagree with the opinions in todays issue, there is a way for you to make your opinions heard at the end of the letter.

Some people in the art business try to create alliances that "protect" themselves from what they consider to be "unfair" competition.  This practice, on the surface, seems to make sense, but over the long run ends up hurting the marketing efforts of those who engage in it.  Let me explain with a story . . .

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Laguna Beach and naturally spent some time "gallery hopping."

In visiting with the gallery folk, I had a chance to visit with "Vincent"  (The names in this story have been changed).  We discussed several topics, but the thing that struck me the most was his belligerence and aggravation with artists who advertise in magazines, directly promoting their works (i.e. -  not promoting through a gallery).  We began to discuss a particular magazine, let's call it "AM" for "art magazine".  AM has a habit of only accepting advertisements from retail art galleries with a physical location.  As I talked with Vincent, the subject of AM's advertising policy came up...their policy appears to be one of NOT accepting ads from individual artists or online-only galleries.  Vincent wholeheartedly supports this policy.

"Of course I advertise with AM.  They protect me from artists who advertise directly!" Vincent excitedly explains.

"Why should I support a magazine that doesn't protect me?" Vincent continues, proudly explaining how he recently quit advertising in a different art magazine that DOES accept advertisements from individual artists.  (a big mistake in my opinion as I have, in the past, gained clients who spent six figures apiece on art from advertising in the second magazine).

"Why is it the magazine's job to 'protect' Vincent", I wondered...but didn't say.  The magazine should be concerned with maximizing their own revenue.

Vincent's view is common in the art business.  In my experience, most art galleries take a "limited market" view.  In other words, they view the "market" of art collectors as a fixed pie. 

This is obviously how Vincent looks at things, In his mind, the more art collectors that someone else gains, the less art collectors that he has. 

On the surface, this would seem reasonable. But, surprisingly, the truth is that overall sales for everyone usually increase when you increase advertising into a marketplace. Instead of creating more but smaller pieces of the same-size pie, additional advertising and selling (as could be provided by individual artists or online galleries) usually creates a larger pie.

Michael Masterson, successful marketer, and publisher of Early to Rise puts it this way:


[creating a larger pie is] what happens when your restaurant monopoly on Main Street is suddenly challenged by two more restaurants on the same block. For a week or so, your sales may dip a little -- but in the long run, you'll do much better.

The same holds true with almost any retail operation. That's why it's so common to see like-kind operations in the same area. You often see this with antique stores, furniture stores, car dealerships, and art galleries -- to name a few examples.

The size of a market is not limited in dollar terms. The same number of people that spent $1 million one year can spend $1.2 million the next -- if they are stimulated to do so. Likewise, a market of $1.2 million can shrink to $1 million or less when promotional activity is slowed.

There is actually a universal principle underlying this. Everything in life is expandable -- happiness, misery, pleasure, pain, even time if you believe Einstein. If you think of anything as being limited and conduct your life accordingly, it will be limited. But if you understand that you can get more by opening yourself up to more, you'll get more.

But let's get back to money.

You can make more money for yourself and your business if you recognize that the amount of buying your customers will do is not limited. If you provide them with more selling stimulation, they will probably buy more.

The limitation usually comes from the seller's side. Most marketers have a limited number of products to sell and a limited number of ways to sell them. When all those products are sold in all those ways, they think, "Well, that's it. This market is tapped out."

But it's not. What's happened is that one particular marketer has reached his limit. By inviting someone else in to market a different set of products in a different way, additional sales can be generated.


Vincent and AM think they are helping each other.  But in fact, they are hurting each other....tremendously.  Vincent (and several other art galleries), by insisting that AM "protect" him from competition is drastically hurting the magazine's advertising revenue. 

For example, I alone have tried to book several double-page spreads in AM and have been refused (for reasons the magazine has not ever clearly provided).  Had the magazine accepted my advertising, they would have by now received over $25,000 in ad revenue from me alone (in less than one year....not to mention the lifetime value of what I would have spent).  Now just multiply that $25,000/year figure by the number of other people who cannot advertise in their magazine: individual artists, online galleries, private art dealers.  The magazine would do much better to forgo Vincent's ads, if necessary, to tap into a much larger pool of advertisers.

But more importantly, the magazine is missing a chance to "make the pie bigger." (Ironically, they state in every issue how much they want to support the art market and how their goal is to make collectors aware of more artists.....and yet they reject ads that would do exactly what they claim is their goal!) 

What they either can't see or don't care about is that the more art that is advertised in the magazine, the more that collectors will want to read it.  The more collectors that read the magazine, the more effective Vincent's (and other art galleries) ads will be.  The more effective Vincent's ads are, the more sales he will make.  Why can't Vincent and AM see this?

Therefore, in the end, by "protecting" Vincent, the magazine is ultimately hurting his long-term sales...and their own.

This is simply poor thinking and poor marketing. 

Unfortunately, it is pervasive and hurts the most important people in the art market - the artists and the collectors.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS:  If you are a magazine or art gallery, and wish to present a cohesive, logical argument for Vincent and AM's position, I will happily post it for my readers.  If your reply is good enough, we'll even run it as a future issue of FineArtViews.  Angry rants and raves that are of no substance and not logical will be ignored...unless, of course, they are worth posting simply for chuckles and grins.

PPS:  If you choose to present an argument, be sure it truly makes sense (not the old "galleries have overhead" routine - increasing the overall market as I outlined here would help increase sales, thus actually helping the "overhead" situation) - remember that I was in the gallery business (including being part-owner of a major national retail gallery) for 16 years, so I do understand the market from the gallery's point of view and am not some idealist who doesn't "understand" what a gallery goes through.

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