In the past few years, a number of Web sites have surfaced to make quality art available to the masses (at affordable prices). Gallery owner Jen Bekman's 20x200.com offers limited edition prints starting at $20. TinyShowcase.com does the same, and donates a portion of profits to a charity of the artist's choice. Both sites have developed a fan base, understandably—similar to a gallery, if you like a site's taste and aesthetic, you'll keep going back for more.
But what happens if you take away the curator and leave everything up to your customers?
Society6 aims to find out. Its goals are greater than simply selling high-quality prints. By creating an accessible social network, Society6 has produced a collaborative community of artists and art enthusiasts, where art can be bought, sold, promoted, and created.
"We've sort of taken ourselves out of the equation," said Justin Cooper, who founded the site along with Justin Wills and Lucas Tirigall. "You don't have to get by our personal taste to make your art available for sale. "
Purchased artwork is printed on demand, with Society6 setting a base price to cover production costs and a small profit for the company. The artist (anyone can join) then chooses the mark up and sale price of the piece—giving Society6 a wide range of price points—and when sold, they keep 100 percent of those profits.
When the site launched in May, its grant program—now called collaborations—came along with it to further business opportunities. Companies partner with the site to offer high-profile opportunities for artists (this also benefits the site, which doesn't display regular advertisements. To get space on the site, advertisers must "make it collaborative," Cooper says). MTV offered the chance to design track artwork for Travis McCoy, and Modern Amusement wanted a t-shirt design for the 2010 line. Kidrobot is currently recruiting artists through the site. More than 70 other collaborations have been awarded in the past six months.
"Artists, instead of being exploited and making submissions and waiting to see if they win a contest—this lets them just throw their hats in the ring based on their existing body of work. And there's almost always a commission that comes along with it," Cooper said.
Not an artist? No problem. Art enthusiasts are welcome to join the site as curators, who can select their favorite pieces and help promote them. Curators make up 30% of Society6 members, and others can follow their selections, similar to a Twitter feed. The pieces that receive the most promotions (from artists and curators alike) are displayed on the Society6 homepage.
A curator with a particularly good eye can even make some extra cash. They can create a "collection" of their favorite pieces, and promote that collection on their own Web site or blog. If it results in a sale, they get a commission.
It will be interesting to see how the young site grows, but based on the success of similar sites—20x200 frequently sells out of prints—it seems that creating a more interactive environment couldn't hurt its chances of catching fire.