New Poster Child : ImageKind
Came across this interesting new company in the field of selling art prints & posters online: www.ImageKind.com
As co-founder and former head of Barewalls.com (one of the PPPs — Prominent Poster Players — of the dot-com era), I can say with some authority that these guys get it. They have a good print-on-demand business model and clear marketplace differentiation, with a warm fuzzy “Web 2.0”-esque sense of “community,” user-generated content, a logo with the color orange and a really sleek interface… and not to mention (well, ok, I’ll mention it), a very solid understanding of brand management and business development.
The hook for this site is that it’s the place where you can feature your art — you being the repressed (or possibly underrepresented) artist — and where you can find some pretty nifty art by other folks too.
Now, although in a higher sense ImageKind’s true competitor is CafePress or Flickr, rather than the more obvious Allposters/Art.com behemoth, there are clearly some areas of high margin, high demand product sales that they can scoop up from the “traditional” online marketplace for wall decor, in order to help pay the bills.
You know what I’m talking about.
It’s called Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” It’s called anything by van Gogh, actually. Or Monet. Or Manet. Or almost anything by Picasso. Ah, yes, sweet memories. Those good ‘ol art print cash cows, ubiquitous to dorm room walls everywhere, courtesy of the dead white European men who painted them 70+ years ago. Go to ImageKind’s site and you will see all of those popular items peppering the site experience, everything from Da Vinci to Dali, Kandinsky to Khalo (although I guess Khalo is technically more of a was-recently-living-non-white-female-non-European), and you realize, yes, this is still the poster business, and yes, print on demand is getting cheaper, but the kids still want their Impressionists and Pre-Raphelites.
Anyway, I think ImageKind’s main challenge will be to work with their hard-to-remember name, and become as ubiquitous as CafePress has become with user-generated t-shirts and mugs. To do this they will need to continue their nimble marketing and business development efforts. Also bear in mind that Art.com is no slouch… back after AllWalls bought up the Art.com domain name from Getty Images, they sought to differentiate themselves as a place for the “professional artist” crowd, and they’ve continued to maintain this separate storefront / brand differentiator even after their merger with Allposters.
So while ImageKind’s site tells its prospective creative contributors that “anyone can create a work of art with our printing and custom framing engine,” the analogous page on Art.com talks about “…even more opportunities for exposure to buyers by listing and selling your art across multiple sales channels.”
ImageKind wants to help you, the person with a non-art career, feel like an artist.
Art.com wants to help you, the artist, feel like you have a career in your art.
ImageKind offers you a Vanilla-powered forum where you can post and read messages from other ImageKinderlach.
Art.com offers you free Art.com-branded (and probably VistaPrint-private-labelled) business cards to all the Registered Art.com Artists.
ImageKind is taking the Flickr / PhotoBucket concept and giving it some commercial legs.
Art.com took those circa 1999 artist mega-gallery portals, made a more compelling offering, and hooked it up to a massive shopping audience.
So you see, there’s room to play here. Not everyone is a “professional artist,” and I think what ImageKind is doing is smart. Plus, they have a really cozy feeling going for ’em… a genuine “we care about you” attitude. That’s worth a lot in this business.
Now, as for this business: This is a business where there is and always will be abundant, fragmented supply of the raw material — imagery. Many attempts have been made to try to move vertically through the art world supply chain and/or to consolidate a position in it… for example, as the largest worldwide bank of licensed images, or as the largest printer of offset lithographic and limited edition art prints, or as the largest domestic consolidator/drop-shipper of said offset prints. (Yes, I know that’s an awful, jargon-filled run-on sentence… click here for an excerpt from the Barewalls Interactive Art business plan, ninth revision, circa 1998, which should clarify all this.)
I still maintain my original Barewalls thesis, which was that in a fragmented, over-supplied industry undergoing disintermediation and changes of technology, the key was to own the customer relationship. How to bring the customer the product, whether on a mass-produced offset print, an on-demand photo print, a giclee, or on a wall-sized LCD panel, that would all change with time.
Hmmm. Seattle, Washington? A few years ago, these guys would have been snapped up by Corbis. Maybe it’s not too late.
ABOUT IMAGEKIND: Launched in May last year (almost a year to date), the company is led by Kelly Smith. It’s the first of three current projects at Curious Office , a Seattle-based incubator which he co-founded with Adrian Hanauer. In February this year they raised $2.6 million in a Series A round, led by Holtzbrinck Ventures, which included Crosslink Capital, European Founders Fund, and several prominent angel investors ( Tom Hughes, Erik Blachford and Oliver Jung). Apparently they’re getting some good site traffic and lots of member sign-ups… they’re a rising star, with potential for more.