Andy Warhol once said "being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art." Case in point: deviantART, often described as the Pandora of the art world.
The 12-year-old site is a social-media pioneer. A platform for art discovery and ecommerce, it's also one of a handful of social networks born at the start of the dot-com era that are still alive, kicking and making money.
The site boasts 250 million images and 22 million registered members in 3,000 genre communities. And it made a reported $10 million in revenue in 2010. (A 2011 figure is not available.)
But its newest project could push deviantART to a new level of prominence. The site is teaming up with New York Times bestseller Clive Barker to release a crowdsourced book.
It's called the Odyssey project, the second crowdsourced book from the site. The creator of the Hellraiser movie franchise is writing the prologue and, along with deviantART staff, will select subsequent chapters from community submissions.
The final product will be published online and in print, with proceeds donated to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the horror master's favorite charity.
"I am incredibly excited about the Odyssey project," Barker wrote in an email. "DeviantART is a place where artists can thrive and embark upon that which has been my life's work; the creation of worlds. Now, I eagerly look forward to the experience of creating a new world, together, with the deviantART community. The possibilities are endless. The potential, vast. I am enthralled by where this journey will take us."
Fan literature, art work, poems and drawings will be accepted during the eight-week run with writing prompts posted each Monday. Last year's crowdsourced book project received 10,000 submissions, so the final product is likely a few months away, and won't be available to scare you this Halloween.
Deviant's founder and chief executive Angelo Sotira founded the site in his early 20s in Los Angeles during a time when few investors wanted anything to do with something that looked like a risky entertainment venture.
Years later, they're singing a different tune, and Sotira is a seasoned veteran in online business. He's doing something he loves, and it's apparent when his eyes light up as he walks me through varied galleries that show how deep deep of a vertical that deviantART is, and yet how nuanced the subject matter is.
There're so many galleries that you can get lost for hours. The very engaged community adds 200,000 images a day, forcing deviantArt to keep multiple data centers around the country to keep up with traffic.
The organization has a profit-sharing arrangement with artists. Sales are primarily lithographs and image prints; deviantArt does fulfillment, framing and shipping, and takes 70% of each purchase.
DeviantART's only real competition is Art.Sy, but that site is geared toward fine art, while deviant is for the masses, Sotira says. He says his site is for the 99%, reflecting the diversity of people's interests, everything from galleries on black and white photography to cute animals to anime characters to noir pin-ups. Images are ranked via shares and crowdsourcing.
Sotira said his site appeals to people who want to explore art, generally, and their specific interests particularly in a tangible, contemporary way. His site's online galleries are this generation's museums, with dedicated artists and fans who engage in dialogue. And it's a place to create a custom art feed, in a way that's more engaging and refined than a Flickr or Photobucket.
After a dozen years growing the brand, Sotira still has big plans. Very big plans. He wants the site to be the world's art feed, envisioning deviantART providing curated content that appeals to almost any interest.
Toward that goal, his staff has spent the last three years developing a product to turn that desire into a reality. The site has developed advanced search algorithm similar to what Netflix does with films, a tool aptly called "more like this," which shows images based on a person's community and actions on the site.
Sotira called the site a place to expose artists to social media and tech, giving them a way to reach a larger audience and make their work easier to access by the masses. "There's no clear path for artists," Sotira explained. "Our responsibility is to find what the Internet means for artists."
Sotira said that giving artists and consumers a way to express themselves and see what people react to creates a healthy, competitive environment where artists can get inspired and speak to their fans. "It's an art feed for every person."