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Art Sumo

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When we covered Art Sumo last May the startup was selling works of art from the developing world using a deal-a-day model. Now we're taking a look at the changes they've introduced over the last year to help widen their audience and make the purchasing of art more affordable.

Founded on the ethos that artists from the developing world deserve a wider audience for their work, Art Sumo set out to provide a platform for artworks that were in danger of escaping unnoticed on the world stage. One year and one month on from when it was founded, we’re taking a look back on the progress Art Sumo has made over the past year. When Springwise first covered the initiative back in May 2011, founder Naysawn Naderi had grand ambitions for the three-month old project. Now with thousands of customers spread across the world, artists hailing from Africa, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines, and orders coming in from Dubai, Australia and Singapore, it seems that their premise of art without borders is becoming a reality. This global perspective is helped by the three person Art Sumo team, who are spread out across Vietnam, the US and Chile. Back in May, Art Sumo was already employing the services of Art Hunters who help the business to form partnerships with little-known artists. The team have found Art Hunters to be a crucial go-between as many artists are unaware of the value of their work and need to be persuaded that there is a global market for the products of their talent. Since their beginnings they have built three partnerships with Art Hunters in developing countries, and have continued to work to ensure that the artist receives a fair cut of the profit. To encourage increased numbers of buyers Art Sumo is now introducing a reverse auction model, where the asking price for that day’s particular painting will start high and then decrease throughout the day. This is a twist on their previous deal-a-day model, with the intention being to avoid elitism by making the art affordable and to increase the pool of buyers, thereby raising more funds for the artists who are often struggling to make ends meet. Noticing that ‘despite our prices being some of the lowest you can find online, for some customers, they are still too high’, Art Sumo are also introducing a new line of prints, so that more customers can gain access to select works of art. Naysawn has a clear vision: ‘We believe that because of this model, we will eventually allow artists who are living on $100/month to increase their earnings five-fold via print sales.’ Naysawn has also recognized the importance of online marketing to spread the company’s message, and has plans to incentivize customers if they refer friends to the website. He is keen to inject urgency into the sales process, commenting that ‘the most popular online art commerce sites use a combination of social pressure and some type of ‘push’ to act now or lose the piece, in order to sell their products.’ The team are also in the process of introducing search engine optimization techniques to increase the number of visitors to the website. Naysawn sees the web as a crucial tool in the art world of today and comments that ‘users love connecting with art on a daily basis through email and online’. One challenge Art Sumo has faced is placing a price tag on the art they select. As Naysawn notes: ‘It is very challenging to price art, as it is so subjective’. However, the team are mindful that the artists’ livelihoods are at stake and the prices reflect this concern. Naysawn also touches upon another issue the company has faced: ‘We have a difficult problem: reliably sourcing original art from developing countries is not easy. There are often security, bureaucratic and political issues that complicate contact with artists living in these countries.’ Some of the artists live in countries where political instability and violence is an every day occurrence and this is often reflected in their art. Accordingly, the team behind Art Sumo have placed great importance on treating their artists with compassion and fairness. Naysawn is happy to outline his business practice: ‘Art Sumo provides complete transparency with regard to pricing. We purchase paintings from artists up front at 25 percent above market rates and split all revenue from print profits with artists 50/50’. They also purchase limited rights to every artwork, so that if a piece isn’t sold the artist is then free to try and sell it elsewhere. Although Art Sumo already offered a deal-a-day model at launch, the team quickly discovered that to succeed, it would be necessary to broaden their market appeal through the introduction of both prints and a reverse auction model. By combining these new features with a global network of partnerships and a strong online presence, the company is now better equipped to cater to a wider audience worldwide. A lesson here for entrepreneurs in every sector now looking to expand! You can read more about Art Sumo in our article here, or visit the Art Sumo website here.