2 Mar 2010

What should artists learn from Boundless Gallery closing down?

Posted by Moshe Mikanovsky

Yesterday, one of the online galleries that sold original art since 2003, Boundless Gallery, had to close its virtual doors. The company is still there, and are doing their best to wrap up things nicely to all their sellers and buyers, but the site is not operational any longer.

Both EmptyEasel and Fine Art Views have wrote about it yesterday, quoting the reasons for Boundless Gallery shutting down, but more over, offering specials discounts for Boundless Gallery’s sellers to join their own services, FolioTwist (by EmptyEasel) and FineArtStudioOnline (by Fine Art Views). I was very impressed and command both generosity, as well as camaraderie that both owners showed in their blogs as well as on Twitter:

@EmptyEasel BoundlessGallery.com shuts down after 7 years of connecting art buyers and art sellers – Read more: http://bit.ly/b16Yke

@clintavo Sad news, boundless gallery closes- we’ve put together special offer if any BG artists need new web presence http://bit.ly/9fTbTH

@EmptyEaselBoundlessGallery artists, you’ve got options. :) Read my post, http://bit.ly/b16Yke, and Clint’s post, http://bit.ly/ddgW1q

@clintavo Dan’s got an offer for Boundless Artists too http://bit.ly/b16Yke

One thing in particular that came to mind while reading through this, was what should artists learn from that? And where is the future of Content Management Systems (CMS) for artists?

Clint from FAV mentioned this in his blog post:

While we’re very sad by the loss of such an innovative art service, closings such as this illustrate why we have always recommended that artists control their own online web site.  It’s somewhat risky to rely totally on another site for the bulk of your online presence.  The site could close down (as in this case), change their business model, change their design, or customer targeting.  Similarly relying on free services to provide you with an online presence can be risky too.  If you’re not paying for the service (as in the case of something like Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, etc), then you are not truly a customer, and you have virtually no sway with the company.
 
We’ve always felt that artists should own their own domain name and host their own website as the hub of their online marketing.  Then other sites become “spokes” designed to promote your artwork and drive people back to your main website, your “hub.”

I can’t agree more on this statement – like any other business, putting your assets in someone else’s basket creates a liability or risk, and to be successful, you have to weigh the risk and mitigate it. The Internet, for the non-technical, can be very overwhelming, and creating the proper online presence takes time and efforts, and yes, it also cost money, if you want to do it right. But here is what I found missing from both posts, and I am bringing it up not to bash them (which is definitely not my intention) but to see how this can enhance the next generation of CMS systems for artists. And the point is simple – both systems offered by FolioTwist and FASO have the same inherited issue that Boundless Gallery had. Both are not Open Source systems, and are controlled by their perspective companies. That means that if (God forbid!) they will decide to close shop, the same thing will happen to their clients!

To better illustrate this, consider the difference between WordPress and Blogger. Although WordPress has their hosted solution, WordPress.com, they also support the Open Source of the WordPress platform, available for anyone to be downloaded from WordPress.org. Once you download it, you can install it on any host provider, and configure it any way you want. You do not have to be a Software Developer to use it. It is a full CMS system to build pretty nice blogs and websites. On the other hand, a blog on Blogger is hosted by Blogger (which is actually Google). If for any reason Google will decide to turn the plug off – it will be off for the entire Blogger community. Note: Blogger does have the FTP option, which allow you to transfer your Blogger’s blog from their site to your site, but they recently decided to discontinue it, and they discourage anyone from using it, so in essence, it doesn’t exist any longer. Moreover, it illustrates the control they have over all Blogger’s users. If WordPress will decide to close shop, anyone who has the framework hosted on their own server, will be able to continue hosting and using it, and even change and enhance it with no interruption. 

Now, there are very good reasons for each type of service, based on the companies’ business model. I am not going to delve into this here. Similarly, FolioTwist and FineArtStudioOnline are in business to be successful, help their clients, the artists, and also build a viable and successful businesses.

So how does the artist mitigate the risk of loosing overnight his or her main “hub”?

I believe that the main requirement is to make sure that a site that host your main website will be able to guarantee continuity. That could be in the form of Export and Import options, from one platform to another one. Or it could be in the form of a Backup and Restore options, with basic or extended CMS management functionality. Another option can be to package the CMS application and sell it like any other software package. And of course, there is the option to make it available for all…

For the artist, there is of course the option to go with a dedicated site designer and development company who will build a site from scratch. This option is usually more expensive, both the initial setup and maintenance in the long run. But, it reduces the risk of relying on a service provider. Even when going this route, it is imperative that you receive regular backups of your sites, so if the site developer cease to exist, you can take the backup package and find another developer who will be able to help you quickly.

I would love to hear what you think about it, and if you have other suggestions and insights.

Cheers

Moshe

 

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10 Responses to “What should artists learn from Boundless Gallery closing down?”

  1. Thanks for the post Moshe. I would like to add another point of view. FASO and FolioTwist don’t really have the same issue as Boundless. Neither or they comparable to Blogger. I alluded to this in my post when I mentioned “free” vs. “paid” services.

    Blogger (and wordpress.com) do not charge you to set up a site with them. Therefore YOU ARE NOT THE CUSTOMER. (Blogger could not have killed FTP so easily if the bloggers were paying customers). Boundless Gallery made their money (primarily) on the commission from selling art. The artists, again, WERE NOT THE CUSTOMER (collectors were). FASO and FolioTwist both have a straitforward relationship with artists – Artists pay us as CUSTOMERS and we make enough profit to keep the site up and running, provide support and think about the best interests of the people who pay us. (Google, OTOH thinks about the best interests of advertisers…bloggers simply being an army to produce pages on which to show those ads).

    You didn’t mention Typepad, but Typepad is doing very well and is very stable, because the bloggers pay Typepad directly. It’s very healthy actually – the customers form a community to support the host and the host focuses all it’s efforts to support the customer. It’s a symbiosis.

    The other difference is that services like FASO and Foliotwist provide the artist with their own domain name. So, if a situation ever arose requiring such a service to shut down…..no problem, the artist is free set up a new site on the same domain. A domain is portable like a phone number.

    Open source products like WordPress don’t mitigate the risk of a provider shutting down, because you still have to pay SOMEONE for hosting your open source code. And there is always a small chance that that any hosting company could have to shut down. But if you, the artist, own your own domain, you can move your site to another hosting company. Maybe not instantly, but it can be done fairly easily.

    I agree with you about import and export options. We have recently added some import/export options and are working to add even more as we move forward. In fact, one of our long term projects is even releasing a public-facing API, but that’s a story for another time…..

    Thanks again for making this forum for discussion available.

    Clint Watson
    Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic
    FineArtStudioOnline

     

    Clint Watson

  2. Thank you Clint for the reply, it’s great.

    Couple of observations, that I think are important to note:

    - Owning a domain name is not the same as owning the software that supports your website. Yes, it is important to own your own domain, but without the software that support the actual site hosted in this domain, it worth (almost) nothing. Therefore, WordPress as a free open source package has its advantage – it is the actual software that is installed on my selected host provider. As long as I have a backup of the entire software (including the content uploaded regularly, and that’s why it’s important to have regular backups), converting the same exact website from one host to another can be a matter of minutes. On the other hand, if I only own the domain, but not the software, than it is not that easy to transfer my site over. True, everyone who has my website URL will still be able to get to me after I am done setting it up with a new provider, but probably all the links will be broken because it will be a new website… And the time it will take to setup will be much longer.

    - Free vs. Paid service is a good differentiator, but as we see from the Boundless Gallery example, it is not a guarantee for anything… Good business practices, transparency, reviews from peers, excellent customer support – all of these worth so much in evaluating the right solution. And being involved a bit with FASO recently, I can recommend all of the above! :-)

    - Coming from the software world, I always have discussions with people who are in the Open Source world, vs those who are in the close source world, or mainly Microsoft (who you either love or love-to-hate). So looking into our case at hand, I couldn’t help commenting about this wearing my Software Professional hat… Here is an interesting blog post I read recently by an old friend of mine, Yaniv Golan, related to Twitter and their closed microblogging platform: http://yaniv.golan.name/blog/2010/02/25/twitter-hear-buzz/ as well as an interesting blog “The Internet adhors a funnel” by Dave Winer http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/10/17/theInternetAbhorsAFunnel.html. I think such discussions can be applied to our niche of art sites and marketing online.

    - Great to know about the Import and Export options, I will definitely have a look into that.

    Thanks again for the great discussion
    Moshe

     

    Moshe Mikanovsky

  3. I’d like to expand on what Clint said about domains:

    The reason why having a transferable domain is important is because Google and other search engines place value on domains. The longer an individual domain is active, and the more inbound links it has, the more “important” it is.

    As a domain becomes more important, Google and other search engines will consistently send more visitors its way.

    So if you place your entire portfolio of artwork on a domain that you don’t own, and it shuts down, you will immediately lose all that domain “value” that you’ve helped to build up over the years.

    More importantly, this means you will also lose your most consistent source of traffic, from search engines.

    -Dan
    EmptyEasel | Foliotwist

     

    Dan

  4. Good point Dan,

    Like I mentioned earlier in my reply to Clint, I agree, and its important you added this clarification for everyone to understand. Still, the issue of setting up a new site is not just the domain but everything else related to it – content, wireframe, pages, permalinks, etc. True that Google will continue sending more traffic, but all those broken links won’t do much help…

    Thanks again for commenting and the discussion
    Moshe

     

    Moshe Mikanovsky

  5. Nice post Moshe which brings up a lot of interesting points.

    I’m with you pretty much actually – the points that Dan and Clint raised about the importance of owning and controlling your domain name while very true and extremely important are only a piece of the puzzle. If you have your own “independent” open-technology website – whether it’s static html, wordpress-based, or some other solution, you can always recover from a major system or business failure on the part of your webhost. Why – because as long as you have a recent backup of the site files and any databases you can simply move the whole thing to a new webhost.

    If you have a “closed” website solution, even though you own the domain, its fairly unlikely that you will simply be able to move to a new host or solution provider.

    Dan’s point about the importance of controlling your domain for search engine recognition is very important – but just as important is that the search engines will have crawled and indexed your site with it’s current structure and naming conventions. If you have a website based on open technology you can simply move the whole thing to a new host and keep all your SEO structure intact. But if you are forced to move from a closed-technology solution (such as an online gallery), it won’t be at all easy to replicate the exact structure and naming of your site in another solution – even if its technically possible it will still be a lot of effort.

    It is precisely for these sorts of reasons – as well as the importance of having complete control over your site for SEO purposes, that we have always recommended that every artist should have an independent open-source website as their primary online presence. By all means be in lots of online galleries too – but the core should be something that you have complete control over.

    Of course I have a vested interest in recommending this direction because independent artist websites are the basis of our business. But we built our business this way because that’s what we believe in!

    Thanks for bringing up the discussion – as you know we always enjoy a healthy discussion :)

    Cheers to you and to Clint and Dan,

    Daniel.

     

    Daniel

  6. Thank you Daniel for the comment,

    I think there is place for all type of solutions, and I am a big supporter for generic systems – build it once, use many many times. On the other hand, I am also a big believer in business and paying for the value you get. If you can’t efford something, don’t cry for “breaks”, just do the best with what you can efford. The same way that artists work hard on their artwork and want to get paid for it, software crafsmen (and women of course) work hard and should be paid accordingly… But I am getting off the topic now :-)

    Thanks again
    Moshe

     

    Moshe Mikanovsky

  7. OPEN SOURCE vs. CLOSED SOURCE
    Open source vs. close source is a debate for tech savvy people. Most artists simply want to create a website and get back to creating art. Open source has good solutions (wordpress), closed source has good solutions (iPhone, Google) – that’s sort of an orthogonal discussion. I have no issues with good open source solutions and for some people that’s a good way to go. But I also have no issue with good closed source solutions (and sometimes, yes gasp! closed source is better. – example, I have not found an open source email delivery engine that can guarantee delivery like a true managed closed source ESP service – ie mailchimp).

    SEO/CONTROLLING DOMAIN
    Your points about link structure are important, but it’s pretty easy for a technically savvy person (with wordpress et all if the artist is doing it, or the support team of the host if with a service like faso or foliotwist) to set up 301 redirects to match the old link structure. (in fact this is nothing more than a simple entry in the control panel with faso). I should note, that some artists did have domains provided by Boundless, and those artists are in better shape, since they can still control that domain. Yes, moving a wordpress blog to a new host might be easier (for a tech savvy person) than other solutions. On the other hand, if you move to a service like Dan, Daniel or I provide (backed by good support), our companies are happy to do it for you – so one could argue that *our* solutions are “easier” in that you just sign up and our teams will get the work done for you….while you paint.

    COMPARING APPLES AND ORANGES
    While us techies get worked up about this kind of stuff we do have to remember that marketing art is much more than “having a website.” The type of solution that a company that helps artists is a different solution than wordpress or a static site – so it’s a bit of an apples/oranges comparison. A lot of things offered by a solution designed for an artist who needs a commerce/portfolio/marketing site may require a lot of tweaking to achieve on an open source solution. Again – that’s not necessarily a problem but may be pretty technical for a lot of users….and a lot of our support discussions start with “what do you mean when you say ‘double-click’”….

    EMAIL NEWSLETTER MORE IMPORTANT
    The bigger solution, even more important than a website, and frankly even more important that owning your domain, is to have a current email list (and other contact info) of all your buyers and supporters. Then it’s easy to let everyone know where you want people to go to see your art. Any boundless artists who had a complete email list (and a way to send the email such as the included ESP backed service with some art website services) are in pretty good shape. Even if they simply sent a message to fans saying “I used to show my art at boundlessgallery.com/myname and now I’m over at myname.etsy.com”

    FREE vs. PAID
    My point was not that a paid service would not shut down while free ones would shut down. My point was about the nature of the customer relationships. Many paid and free services have a three-party system where the real customers subsidize the users. This is how google works. Searching is free to the users – it is paid for by adwords advertisers. We, as users, have no control over what google does with search. In the end, they are working for adwords customers. Boundless (and other online galleries) are selling art to collectors (I do realize that late in their history they introduced some paid artist plans, but their model was essentially to sell art.) In the end, the users (the artists) are not really the customers – their ability to continue to use the service depends on if the set of real customers wants to continue paying for the service. Whereas foliotwist, faso and beautifulartistwebsites all charge the artists who are direct customers. We are not providing something for “free” while making money from a different set of people. So, as long as the artists are happy with our services, we have every incentive to keep improving, looking out for their best interests, and keep our doors open.

    DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS
    In the end, there is no “one solution fits all” – WordPress with open source advantages (& headaches), is best for some, Foliotwist (paid and closed source) is great for others, BeautifulArtistWebsites (custom high-end static html…I think) works for a lot of people, free closed source like blogger works for some, we certainly hope that FASO (paid, closed source, with “extras” and membership discounts just for artists) works for some. A lot of artists use a combination of services. Maybe that’s another way to protect yourself. Have a site with a paid service, a blog on blogger, and a current email list – if one site goes down you can direct people to the other by sending an email newsletter. I’m sure I’m as guilty as everyone of writing posts that say “you should do this” or “artists should do that” – partly that’s because writing that way is more interesting than being wishy washy and saying “I *think* artists should to this” or “*Maybe* they should do that”. I mean, if I write it, it should be obvious that it’s what I *think*…. but, in the end, there really are a lot of ways to achieve one’s business goals and I think all of us in this discussion provide differing but good solutions for artists.

    Wow, this is practically a blog post of it’s own…..but I’m too lazy to go back and edit it right now.

    Thanks again Moshe, for the important discussion.

     

    Clint Watson

  8. Wow Clint, great summary. No need to add anything, you put it well down. Definitely looks like a source for one or few posts.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment and for this discussion. Indeed a lot of it is technical and I hope we don’t confuse people out there… so I encourage anyone who is confused to contact either one of us with questions for more clarification.
    Cheers
    Moshe

     

    Moshe Mikanovsky

  9. Great article Moshe. Thank you for sharing. The ‘no solution fits all’ is exactly right. There are pros and cons in whatever decision the Gallery makes. We do this all the time on the internet. If you have a Gmail or a Hotmail account, it goes with the company. Same thing with Google docs or any other cloud computing program out there, which is becoming increasingly popular.

    The fact of the matter is, very few gallery’s have the time or the resources to create their own website and host it on one of their servers. They would then have to commit to maintaining the website and server, which could mean waking up at 2am to figure out why the website is not live or updating it.

    Going with an established company whose sole business is to provide a 99% website uptime rate and who can provide the services and tools that enable a company to be successful is immensely helpful and overall more cost productive.

    I think a good middle ground is to go with a useful paid service and company but still have the ability to import your data in case you move to another service. If I may include a cheap plug for my site, purely for the purposes of this article of course, is to take a service such as http://www.masterpiecesolutions.com. It gives the ability to update a website via a contact and inventory management system as well as CMS but also allows the ability to import and mange ones own data.

    As the economy starts to turn around, Gallery’s will once again shop for services to enable them to be successful.

     

    Jesse Beck

  10. I started an online gallery because I see the value in consolidating work from multiple artists in one place. If I’m looking to buy a painting, I’d rather go to one place and be able to browse through the work of multiple artists rather than going to a different website for each artist. My site functions much like Boundless Gallery did, it is free for artists to post their work and I take a commission off of any sales. This seems like a pretty standard retail model to me, in which the artists are the suppliers and the buyers are the customers. What I don’t really understand is how Boundless Gallery was losing so much money. My costs are extremely low (excluding the time I put into the site, which is substantial), so even if sales are slow, it costs me very little to keep the site up and running. Anyway, if any of you would like to try my site, it is http://www.findingartonline.com. The site is very new, so now I am primarily recruiting artists to post their work. Once there is a good selection of art on it I will step up my marketing to buyers.

    Frank Martin-Buck
    Founder
    FindingArtOnline.com

     

    Frank Martin-Buck

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