Things to look for in software for your mailing list and inventory

I’m often asked by artists which software they should select for their mailing list and inventory. I can’t answer that question since I’m not a user. I just provide a list of available database software and tell them to check it out. It feels a little inadequate, but ethical. Also, as long as I’ve been doing this, I still can’t see a clear preference from artists.

I can, however, tell you some of the things that I would want in a database. I’d make sure the program had the ability to:

  • Print labels and reports directly from the program without having to export data
  • Change formatting or add fields
  • Categorize the mailing list (friends, family, collectors, prospects, . . . )
  • Add photos
  • Export data in a CSV file format
  • Import data from a CSV file format (especially if you currently have a lot of information stored in Excel)
  • Search for records by keywords, media, name, or whatever

What am I missing? What couldn’t you live without in a good database?

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18 comments to Things to look for in software for your mailing list and inventory

  • I think you covered it pretty well! It’s VERY important that an artist’s mailing list be easily transferable to a spreadsheet format (or .csv file as you mentioned) – a mailing list is useless if you can’t email it to a gallery or show director so that they can make sure your people get invites. For this reason, I don’t use an art-specific database program – I tried a few, but I wasn’t satisfied with how well I could share info with others who don’t own the same software. I just keep everything in a Microsoft Access database file – it allows me to keep multiple lists (painting database, mailing lists) and print labels and reports quite easily. The only drawback is not being able to import photos for each painting record, but this isn’t really very important to me. I guess the other drawback is that you have to have a decent working knowledge of Access to make a functional database. I think I’m just comfortable knowing that a file type like this will most likely always be supported, and that I’m not going to have to change or transfer at some future date – that worries me with some of the artist software products…

  • I’m opposite to Stacey. ;) Since galleries here don’t ask for mailing lists generally (and data protection means I probably wouldn’t give them a list – though I have in the past given address labels ready for envelopes) that aspect isn’t important to me. Images are vitally important to me, so my database absolutely has to have them. I use the database for visually choosing work for galleries and sets of work for exhibitions. I also print thumbnail image consignment sheets so the gallery has a visual for the paintings. I like to print out mini images and make mock-up wall arrangements too. I’m quite happy though to have multiple programmes. I have an accounting database, my Flick database, and my email list separate. 3 softwares but each does what I want it to. I’m looking for a better client/mailing list management tool but it’s not failed me yet, I just know I could improve that part of the system. An alternative to Access for someone who wants to design their own could be FileMaker, which can import images and is cross-platform.

  • Hello … typo alert … “mailing list anD inventory”, right? Great responses above. Thank you! By the way, Tina, what do you use for your accounting and your email list?

  • It’s an interesting – and some might say perennial question – and I’ll add a link to this post in my weekly round-up post on Sunday. I think the thing you left out is “Is it compatible with my current operating system?” and/or “Will it be instantly out of date the next time you upgrade?”. I noticed that these sort of systems seem to take a little while to get to grips with changes in operating systems and/or may not be compatible with Macs. Tina’s spot on about data protection and privacy regarding people’s addresses (mailing or email). I had a post about this on my blog back on June 19th – in which I listed the features from different packages – see Which is the best e-mail newsletter software? http://makingamark.blogspot.com/2008/06/which-is-best-e-mail-newsletter.html

  • Perfect timing for me to read this as it is what I am currently trying to choose. (Thanks for good info in the comments too.)

  • Very helpful topic! I have been through trials of many of the available software options and find them mostly a little too ugly. (Flick looks pretty nice but is missing some features I want). I am currently designing my own software in Filemaker. It incorporates many of the features listed above as well as a way of keeping track of what it costs to produce each piece.

  • I took a quick look at the GYST website: http://www.gyst-ink.com/products/overview.php and the product looks pretty impressive. Unfortunately, they don’t provide a demo version, so you have to take the leap and purchase the full product before you can really explore it. If I do that, I’ll post a review.

  • Joe

    Besides what you said, a database should track your exhibition information – where a painting currently is, what galleries and shows it’s been in, when, and at what price. I currently have 68 paintings out there in various galleries and I’d hate to loose track of what was where. I also like to track where my paintings have been, so I can show something fresh at a particular venue, instead of binging the same work back again and again.

  • Here’s something else to consider for your database: Is technical support provided? Burnell: Too bad that GYST doesn’t offer trial version. I hope they have lots of screen captures on there. Maybe Google “GYST reviews” and see if you find out anything.

  • I think Microsoft Access might me pretty good.

  • Thank you SO much for addressing this issue-I am in the beginning of the process of creating (and actually sending out) a mailing list that is of a quality both representable for me artistically as well as professionally. In addition, thank you to Katherine Tyrell for the link she provided-very good stuff. Julianne Richards

  • Nancy: I haven’t used Access in years, but I’ll go on the record and say . . . ew. I thought it was awfully difficult and far too rigid. Julianne: Get that mailing list working!

  • The link you quoted is now dead. Where has the list of software moved?

  • Peter: I have fixed the link, but you can always do a search on this blog using the function in the sidebar. Try this:
    http://www.artbizblog.com/2009/06/bookkeeping-and-inventory-software.html

  • Alyson this is terrific…and so is everything on your blog. I think it is perhaps the most important art bog on the web. THANK YOU.

    SInce we are building the world’s first Web 2.0 artist software I am really keen on learning what we can do to make it as close to ideal as possible from comments in this dialogue and other social network input.

    For instance learning just how vital the images are (we thought Artists would know all their own work – D’oh!) was an eye opener, so now we’ve provided attachments features to enable attaching photos (more than one OK) as well as other pertinent files such as artist commentary, history notes, frame details, condition….

    Similarly the export of CSV is included throughout – every bit byte and nibble can be exported into CSV files for our database. This is particularly important if anyone wants to avoid being locked-in with a vendor. We think we – and any other vendor – should have to continually earn your loyalty, so portability is always supported. Of course the ability to drop a list for upload into email list managers is there as well…an obvious “must have”.

    Finally I was heartened by the comments of Katherine T. who is aware that mini-vendors come and go and you can get stuck with a non-upgradeable obsolete database that is useless pretty easily. In addition, hard drives expected life is only about 3 years (our PVR drive just died so that’s a current estimate) and few people really back up effectively (I use 3 layers of backups). Couple that with Operating system changes and you are into buying, replacing and upgrading all the time just to stand still.

    Enter Web 2.0. We are offering our solution on a SAAS model – Artist Business Software-as-a-service which is the first time anyone in the world has done this. The benefits are many…not least of which the software is always current, and everything is always backed up to commercial standards (and available anywhere). Upgrades and new features become available to everyone at the same time, all the time. And data is stored separately for each member in their own “folder” using a technique called multi-tenant software architecture (if anyone cares).

    Members pay once a year for a subscription that is competitively priced.. introductory rate for indiviual artist: $ 6.97 a month…. pretty good value we think !

  • […] easy to access at a moment’s notice. A computerized database gives you this […]

  • Just a note for anyone reading this much later that David’s solution mentioned here isn’t viable. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work out.