Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Certificates of Authenticity - Are they worth it?

The paint is fresh on the canvas, the prints are hot off the press, and the online store beams with the glow of new updates. I'm happily cruising along the winding road of organizing myself as an artist, though there is still a long road ahead! The issue that has concerned me lately has been how best to present and sell my original artwork.

I've gotten off my bum to properly mat and store things and now I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep track of the history of my art. When original work sells, should I just let it disappear into the ether into whatever hands have claimed it at a far off art show? The thought of letting this happen with no real way to keep track of where my work goes is a bit disturbing to me sometimes. The question of how to inventory my art and keep track of collectors hovers over my head like an ominous apple waiting to fall. Is it even important to keep track of who has my work for a convention artist?

Could certificates of authenticity be part of a solution to my worries?

A certificate of authenticity (CoA) is a certificate which is included with a work which states the title of the piece, the artist, the current owner of the piece, print edition number (if any), and other such pertinent information (Example CoA).

Certificates by themselves are not enough to guarantee authenticity, but some services which provide CoA's, such as the Fine Art Registry, also provide special tags to be attached to the original which carry the registered number of the work and consider the CoA a type of Title Registration which is then added to their searchable database. Titles may be transferred from one collector to another with the information aiding in providing legal provenance for a work (or an origin traceable from artist to collector), which is important for those who claim art as an investment and for some museums and galleries who appreciate the security of an existing provenance.

Such tags, certificates, and registration can help deter counterfeiting and to keep track of artwork after it has passed from the hands of an artist. Also, the perceived value of a work is cemented by the fact it is proven, of sorts, as a one of a kind piece made by the artist, and no one else. In a world where the internet and computers have made it possible to easily copy just about anything, this concept appeals to me.

Now I am left wondering if it is worth paying a company to register my work? Is registering my art safe? Would you, as an art buyer, have more confidence in buying if a work was tagged, certified, and registered? Presentation-wise, I have to admit I am rather impressed with prints which tout a nicely printed certificate hand-signed by the artist. It gives it that special something rather than just tossing a print in a bag and shoving it at someone (granted that's what I do now and I've never gotten any complaints).

I am currently doing what research I can on the various art registries and hope to have some sort of concrete evidence to show for it soon. I am also considering registering some of my limited edition prints to see how the system works and if it has any effect on the confidence of my buyers.

Places I've been looking at (feel free to suggest others!):
  • National Fine Art Registry - Requires a monthly fee. Allows for title registration and provides CoA's, price cards, and title transfers.

  • Fine Art Registry - Various membership levels, including a free membership. Ability to pay per registered work instead of monthly. Allows for title registration and transfer and provides a special holographic coded tag to be added to work directly. Tag is readable even if destroyed or removed. Tag also self-destructs if removed with the remaining residue readable as an identification key.
I hope to return with another post reporting any additional findings concerning authentification and registration of artwork in the future. Till then, I leave you with the following questions to ponder:
  • Would you, as an artist, pay to register your work?

  • Would you, as an art buyer, feel more comfortable with work which has been certified?

  • Are art title registries reliable?

  • Should certification be reserved for 'popular' artists, or can everyone do it?

  • Does certifying your artwork when you're not 'popular' mean you're being arrogant?
Please share your experiences, if you have had some with registries. I would love to hear about them.

EDIT 2-18-2015: I've started a discussion at an online art group I'm in which may be of some use to my readers. See what other professional artists and art collectors have to say about this topic here!  Kurt Rush's comment is of particular interest to the topic and how it affects collectors.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

eBay Shop Review

Back in 2001 or so, I got wind of eBay shops, tried it for a little while, and then gave up when it didn't seem like I was getting many bites at all. At that stage in my development, I chocked it up to not having enough quality inventory nor much presence on the internet in general. The fees proved too much and I was simply not selling enough to cover the $15 a month bill.

8 years later I decided to try eBay shops again in December of last year. I had built up a decent inventory of art since my first try and had several communities and websites to my name to promote the shop at. eBay shops had improved much in my absence, such as a greater ability to organize your inventory, greater search engine compatibility, cross promotion capabilities, and the integration of Store search results with eBay's main search page (which was one of its main failings previously). Another handy feature is the ability to export sales reports and integrate the eBay shop with organizational software. There are definitely a few more bells and whistles than it had during its infancy.

In the three months I've used it, I've gotten a few inquiries on items, but never sales. I tried customizing my options with the Bold higlighting as well as the international listing option which allows my items to be seen by eBayers in the UK. I got plenty of views, but still no bites even with proper cross-promotion from my other websites. Meanwhile, the wracked up fees from listing my inventory and auctions plus the $15 for maintaining the shop produced a $30 drain per month rather than merely a $15. Add onto that the 12% commission eBay would take out of my final sales and you have a store that eats profits rather than creates them.

The Bottom Line: eBay shops seems best suited for those of you who may be able to move items faster (ie. if you sell collectible items, cosplay, or other in-demand things), therefore making the monthly drain not so detrimental. The interface is customizable with lots of features, but the majority of your pageviews come from active Auctions and not standing inventory (at least in my experience with Shops).

From my time with eBay Shops, it seems to me that to make a shop work successfully, you must keep both a regiment of active auctions and an in-demand inventory, something which is hard to do if your inventory is in less of a demand and you are not producing work for auction monthly. It is a good alternative if you can move items quickly and don't want to deal with the headache of programming inventory pages yourself, but not recommended for those with slower high priced luxury inventory like fine art unless your name just has that much demand behind it and you have the budget to support the shop.

For now, I've decided to focus on revamping my website store with the free shopping cart Mal-E, which integrates Paypal, Google Checkout, and other useful payment methods so that my website becomes the one stop shop for personalized items rather than eBay. (EDIT 1-21-2015: I have since moved my site onto a Wordpress CMS and am using the WooCommerce plugin, which has been a great free e-commerce solution thus far!)

 I still plan to post eBay auctions at random per month to give people a chance at acquiring originals and commissions for less and to draw traffic to my website store, but my shop on eBay is closing indefinitely this time unless their fees decrease and their benefits increase.

I welcome any comments from those of you who have eBay shops that are actually operating at a profit. Please share your stories and advice!

Till next time, keep your creative spirit strong!