Anybody who's been in this game longer than a few years knows keeping track of what's been made, who has it, what sold, when it's due back etc. etc. is
a. An incredible pain in the butt.
b. Absolutely critical.
It's also one of those business-y things that (at least when I was in school) was never taught because it was about business and business was bad. On one level it makes sense not to focus on business execution in art school - there's so much to assimilate and internalize and do to obtain any kind of mastery in an artmaking, that without that kind of focus purely on art, students may come out unprepared to actually have a studio practice that's meaningful.
I don't want to imply that my college instructors didn't have advice - they were great. Ron Leax (who just retired), my sculpture instructor at Washington University, taught me core critical thinking and craft. And Heather McGill, my instructor at Cranbrook (who ALSO just retired!) on top of critical thinking taught all of us to work hard, and told us to move to New York. It was probably much easier advice to follow in the 90s than it is now! But for better or worse, folks in my cohort came out of school with little sense of how to proceed in the art world, or how to organize our output in a way that would be maintainable over a lifetime.
The bottom line is that any kind of creative practice needs to have discipline in order to continue. There's the grit one must have to go to the studio regularly, the stomach for continued and ongoing rejection, and the determination to move through self-doubt to confidence in value of one's work over a period of years. That part can be learned by example - looking to models who you want to emulate and seeing how they did it.
And then there are just nuts-and-bolts basic business things that keep your studio practice organized. And artwork inventory management is one of them.
I use a solution I built in FileMaker for this over a period of many years - since the late 90s - but I'm sort of an oddball case because my day jobs have all revolved around FileMaker (as a software developer or project manager), so I've had access to the tools and knew how to leverage them. Also, I'm a nerd and track my studio time to the minute when I work on a drawing, and what art inventory management tool is going to tell me Cloud City took 66.93 hours?
None of them, sadly.
So...what do you do if you don't have access to a $329 software package and a day job doing database design - and have normal artist needs unlike me?
There are plenty of other ways to skin the cat, some free, some paid.
Paid inventory management solutions
The landscape of art-specific inventory management systems is pretty uneven, with some expensive options that have a ton of features, and some more reasonable offerings. There's a more comprehensive round up from 2015 on Christine Wong's blog here: Artist's Inventory Software Reviewed that has some products I don't really know much about. Her comments about a lack of exhibition history tracking in Artworkarchive.com have been addressed since that posting, but she makes good points in general about the tradeoff between light and robust feature sets. With that in mind I thought I'd call out a beast in terms of functionality (and price) and compare. More below.
ArtworkArchive.com is a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) offering that's been around for several years, and has a robust set of inventory management features, as well as some light contact management, good sales tracking that understands editioning, and interesting dashboarding/reporting tools. At the professional tier you can also use it for document management (say, attaching condition reports or consignment forms that you received via email or scan to an artwork record).
They also have an artists' profile directory service that's part of the core package, which is searchable by medium and region.
In my opinion it's the best option for those starting out, the pricing tiers offer room to grow, and it's very reasonably priced - the mid-tier "Professional" level is $108/year.
Artworkarchive.com pricing tiers:
Artsystems has been around since 1989. Their product line focuses on several channels and is customized for each: galleries, private collections, institutional collections and artists.
Their artist specific offering, StudioPro, can be compared to artworkarchive this way: it's much more expensive, but provides MUCH more robust business management tools. Here's the pricing model. Note that the monthly charge is $99, vs $9 for artworkarchive.com.
There's a reason for that price difference: StudioPro is designed for studio practices that require a much more business-based approach. I'll give an example by comparing the way the two products handle sales.
Here's how artworkarchive.com does it.
It's got the basics you want: who did it sell to, for how much, who sold it, and what your net was. It's simple and easy to use, with a modern, clean UX, which makes it a pleasure to interact with.
One look and it's easy to recognize how much more goes into a sale than a few key fields. Currency, tax jurisdiction, multiple items on a single sales invoice, shipment tracking, discounting and so on. Good business tools help you adhere to straightforward business practices. QuickBooks for example is the industry standard in accounting because it models accounting so perfectly.
Still, why so much more for a product like this? The bottom line in software development is the more features you support, the more expensive your product is to maintain - it just costs more to make artsystems products. Artworkarchive.com can offer a lower pricing tier because their product does fewer things - the surface area of things to debug, refactor and regression test when you add something new is just much smaller (and therefore cheaper) to support. There's no wrong answer in pricing, and essentially these are two different products for different ends of the market.
I think the key takeaway here is that if your studio practice is generating a significant amount of sales or management overhead, you may want to look at a robust business management package like StudioPro. If you just need a simple way to organize your studio and manage sales (or like a streamlined experience) ArtworkArchive.com is probably the way to go.
Other Paid Solutions
There are lots of other options out there that, frankly, I haven't done research on. The following two cloud based solutions are priced in the mid-range and probably offer more features than artworkarchive.com - and less than artsystems.
Masterpiece Manager - cloud based, $19/month - I see this one recommended quite a bit.
Artcloud - cloud based, $19/month
I'll make the obvious point here that Google Sheets can be used for all of this if you don't mind keeping track of things in a very manual, list oriented way.
But if you're looking for a target application in the free software space, there appear to be options. I haven't dug into them yet so will save that for a followup post. Here's what I'll be looking at (so far). Let me know if I should look at anything else!