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[#DIGART] How Net Artists Make Money Online

Art Fag City Editor-in-Chief, Will Brand, breaks down the net art market for us.
May 9, 2012, 8:21pm

This week we’re exploring the Digital Arts Market (or lack thereof). We’re asking the tough questions: What will it take for a sustainable digital arts market to form? Is that even a possibility? Can the digital arts make money? And will they ever be incorporated into the contemporary arts dialogue? We invite you to participate in the discussion in the comments section, on your own blog (send us the link!), and on Facebook and Twitter (#DIGART). Let's get the conversation started!


Last week Art Fag City Editor-in-Chief, Will Brand, wrote an in-depth review of the online exhibition “C.R.E.A.M.,” curated by Lindsay Howard for the Art Micro-Patronage platform. The show is categorically a show about the digital arts market. Not only is Art Micro-Patronage a platform that attempts to apply the micro-donations model to net art, Howard’s show takes the absence of a digital art market as its theme and inspiration. Howard writes, “C.R.E.A.M. showcases the work of artists who are politically engaged in open source art and technology while using their creative practice to address issues related to the monetization of net-based work.”

Brand’s review dives deep into the subject matter and examines each work individually—It probably amounts to the most text ever written about an online-only art show. But perhaps Brand’s most significant contribution came in the form of a Google Doc list where he attempts to list all the ways Net Art has attempted to make money. In the context of this week’s #DIGART discussion here on the blog, it seemed a list worth reposting and a conversation worth continuing.

Partial List of Ways Net Art Has Tried To Make Money

This list is incomplete. Comments are welcome.

· You can sell a website's code and the right to control access to that code, as Olia Lialina did with her My Boyfriend Came Back From The War (1996). (A lengthy interview about this process exists, conducted by Tilman Baumgartel.)


· You can sell a work in a limited edition with or without also offering it online, as Rhizome did with Sara Ludy GIFs at the Armory last year (n.b. Rhizome are a prominent example, not the first example). In cases of limited editions, the storage medium can be anything from a flash drive to a DVD to a Dropbox.

· You can sell a work in a limited edition, and make it open-source, as with 0100101110101101.ORG’s

· You can offer a work for free on YouTube, then base the price of that work as a limited edition on the number of YouTube viewers, as with Petra Cortright's video catalogue.

· You can sell a work in an unlimited edition for a set, modest fee, as curator Laurel Ptak did back in 2008 (n.b. similarly, Ptak was not the first to do this).

· You can sell a series of works in essentially unlimited editions, increasing the price as more collectors buy in; this is the model of Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach's GIF Market (2011), and was attempted before by Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin's The Shop, in the early 90s, which sold unlimited editions of multiple objects and doubled the price upon each purchase.

· You can develop ideas, and then ask people to commission them, as with MTAA's "Website Unseen" projects (1999-present).

· You can sell ephemera, as Thomson and Craighead did with their Dot Store (2002).

· You can sell minutiae and bragging rights, as with Lisa Jevbratt's 1:1 (1999-2002), from which individual pixels were offered for sale on eBay.

· You can put ads on your site, as with (among others) Cory Arcangel's Punk Rock 101 (2004), in which he offered Kurt Cobain's suicide letter next to Google Ads banners.

· You can paint a portrait, then shake its sitter down for cash, as with exonemo's “A web page” (2003), which depicted—and subsequently was purchased by—Google.

· You can be backed by a corporation in the first place, as with Japanese cosmetics firm Shiseido's CyGnet project.

· You can sell code (which is reproducible) along with a domain name (which is not), as Rafaël Rozendaal has; Rozendaal is also notable for very publicly including contractual requirements forcing collectors to maintain bought webpages in perpetuity.