Elevates Online Marketing to High Art

A company in Madison, WI, is putting a virtual spin on one of the offline world’s lesser-known business models to prove it’s possible to sell high-end goods through the Internet., a 15-year-old catalog and source-book firm, has built its Web site into a cyber-art gallery. The firm plans to put its name in front of more buyers as it expands its marketing efforts this month.

Typical bricks-and-mortar art galleries provide a storefront for displaying sculptures, paintings or other pieces, and then take between 50 percent and 60 percent of the selling price. What’s left goes to the artist. sells art similarly – with artists handling their own order fulfillment – but can afford to take a smaller commission because the company is selling in greater volume than a normal offline gallery. Currently, 1,300 artists showcase their work at, and items range from $12 to $1 million. Prices in the high hundreds and thousands of dollars are typical.

“There’s not a gallery anywhere that has the selection that we have, just because it would be difficult to put that much work into one gallery. That’s where the Internet starts to play its role,” said Jack Rooney, vice president of marketing at He would not disclose the size of the company’s commissions, except to say they vary and are “significantly less” than regular galleries.

Since its March 1999 launch, the cyber gallery has seen consumers slowly become more receptive to the idea of spending big money for items they view through their computer screens. The largest sale to a single buyer to date has been $53,000. Business tripled the last three months of 1999.

Beginning this month, advertising agency Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, will broaden’s marketing efforts, using radio for the first time. The ad shop is assisting the company with an expansion of its print advertising as well. runs ads in Architectural Digest, Town & Country and The New Yorker as well as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The company also advertises in art industry publications. plans a greater online presence this year, Rooney said. Executives want to use e-mail to drive shoppers directly to the site for the first time. The firm already uses keyword buys on America Online and Yahoo and runs ads on sites such as does not work with an online ad network to serve its Web advertising.

“We are not a mass-reach brand,” Rooney said.

Some of the artists who display their goods on the site worked with the company when it was a cataloger known as The Guild. The new is still in the offline catalog business, having dropped more than 1 million books last year.

Rooney said the company “jury” looks at between 60 and 100 new artists every month and typically accepts about 40 percent of them. becomes the exclusive online gallery for artists who join.

The company also runs a source-book business, charging artists to show their goods in a publication similar to a catalog that sends twice a year to 10,000 professional art purchasers. Transactions between buyers and artists take place independent of the company. Different source books target design professionals, interior decorators or architects. contacts artists to make sure they have a piece ready to ship after an order is placed through the Web site. The company then confirms orders with the online buyer and artists handle shipping.

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