Monday, October 26, 2015

Market Segmentation for Prints

Per request. This isn't a real market segmentation. This is a set of guesses, albeit informed guesses. You might start here, and then go do some actual market research (questionnaires and polls, interviews with people who know things, focus groups, and so on) which takes real time and real money. You'd design your research to: test these guesses, fill in details (e.g. pricing, quantities, etc), refine the segments (some might prove to be several separate ones, others might prove to simply not quite exist), and finally to try to uncover new undiscovered segments.

Commericial Art Buyers

These people buy finished art for hotels, office buildings, that sort of thing. They're buying quantities, they're probably quite price sensitive, they want quite conservative prints in a broad but basically pretty bland variety, and they almost certainly want to select the treatments (framing and matting). They almost certainly attend specific trade shows, and probably have trade publications.


These people are closely related to the previous, but they're "doing rooms" for the well-heeled. They might also "do" an office suite. There's overlap, but these people are: less price sensitive, more interested in specific color palettes and subjects, and will definitely want to select or even provide the framing and matting treatments. They're buying much smaller quantities, for more money. They have their own trade shows, but the may attend some of the same shows as the previous lot. They may have their own trade publications, but definitely also contribute to and pay attention to more mainstream "high end lifestyle" publications.

Art Collectors

Almost no overlap with the previous lots. Often they will have specific advisers, and there may be consultation with Designers, but this is not the thrust. These people (who may not be "people" at all, but rather a collector and one or more advisory staff, as a sort of collective) are interested in the various traits that go in to collectibility. This, in turn, is defined by a rather well defined set of influencers, which is more or less by definition the only way to access this market. They're very price insensitive, and buy very very small quantities. They attend their own shows, read their own journals, and talk directly with one another. But there's no way to market directly, you must go through the gatekeepers (galleriests, curators, and so on) in all but a very very few cases.


These are the monied people who get sucked in by the Peter Liks of the world. There are several purveyors of brightly colored landscapes pursuing essentially the same market using roughly the same methods. These are people who buy very small quantities, and are variably price-sensitive. They want to think of themselves as collectors, but are unsophisticated and unprotected by advisers, and so can be persuaded that something is collectible when, ultimately, it is a cheaply made commodity. These people do talk to one another, to some extent. They go over to one another's houses, attend meetings together, drink cocktails or beer together, and talk about the various trappings of wealth they have acquired. This is a funny market, though, because ultimately each sale happens in isolation. It's the Hard Sell, and it's a pretty gruesome business.

There's other stuff going on out there. There are casual buyers who contact folks on flickr, or who buy a print off smugmug, because they think it's pretty. There's niche markets, selling people pictures of their own sailboats. There's retail stuff, selling wedding pictures, which can include prints. Some of this stuff is really selling services, and I don't really understand what's going on with smugmug "fine art" prints. It would be worth digging in to, and seeing if there's one of those market segments going under-served here, which could be usefully attacked.


  1. A good analysis, I'd say. I'd add online print sales brokers, from fashionable operations like ArtRepublic, that move the "limited" editions of Lik wannabees, to Photo-Eye, selling good work online at gallery prices. Photo-Eye operates a very high (but idiosyncratic) level of "curation", not sure about other similar sites. Who the buyers are is an interesting question. Not me, for sure, though I do like to press my nose against the window.

    The "art collectors" segment is a curious one. I got to know Zelda Cheatle, via a workshop, when she was primarily running a top-end photo-gallery in London. Being a naive leftie sort of guy, who regards having lots of money as a sin, I was shocked when I discovered she'd been head-hunted to run a print investment scheme for a hedge fund -- Zelda was presumably one of those responsible for pushing print prices at auction into the stratosphere before the 2008 crash. She still works as an all-round photo-pundit.

    Mind you, her own knowledge of the market was very odd. She liked my work, and suggested I contact various BIG London institutions with regard to an exhibition (you know, the Tate, the Barbican...). Being a naive leftie kind of guy, this didn't seem unreasonable. The letters I got back all sort of read "hahahahahahaha..." I don't *think* she was setting me up...


    1. Don't confuse the sales channel with the market. ArtRepublic and so on are sales channels serving one or more markets.

      It seems like nit-picking, but it is the market that defines what your product is, what, exactly, you're going to be selling. There's no magic here, that's pretty much baked into the definition of a market, it is by definition that which defines your product!

      Once the market(s) are identified, the sales channels generally are pretty obvious. There's probably one or more identifiable market segments that align with "buys second-hand Peter Lik-a-likes" and that market can be reached via a couple web sites.

      (Maybe, it appears that, in fact, zero people buy second-hand Peter Liks, and it's not at all obvious that anyone buys Lik-alikes on any secondary markets, these seem to be largely primary, artist-driven, sales. Without the hard sell, there's no sale.)

  2. Good point. In fact, you have to wonder how much -- if any -- market analysis has gone into most of these online ventures, or whether someone just had a feeling, "there *must* be a market for this stuff". Photo-Eye fascinates me -- I have no idea who would pay 1500 dollars upwards for a print by a relatively unknown photographer, and I'd be surprised if they do, either, in an abstract, demographic kind of way. More a case of "build it, and they will come" style faith