Imagekind, the Web site for artists, raises cash

imagekindlogo.bmpImagekind is a Web site that lets artists upload their artwork for sale, and gives them the freedom to sell it at whatever price they want.

The six-month-old Seattle start-up has just raised $2.6 million in venture capital, which gives it ammunition to go after the industry’s leading site, Art.com. It will announce the funding tomorrow.

Art.com dictates prices more rigidly — it doesn’t let artists set their own price, and apparently only pays them a 10 percent royalty. Imagekind is more new-school, taking only a charge to cover the cost of printing, framing and shipping and small profit ($8.99 is the base price), but letting artists charge however much they want. Some artists are marking up to $300.

VentureBeat heard rumors that Art.com, of Emeryville, Calif., had expressed interest in buying Imagekind. Amazon.com actually made an offer. However, Imagekind decided to go it alone. Art.com, a 12-year-old company backed by Benchmark Capital and Polaris, has more than 500 employees worldwide and reportedly has $150 million in revenue. Imagekind is tiny in comparison. It struggled to get its first 100 artists last year, but now 6,000 artists have uploaded art. Sales have hit 1,000 pieces a month.

We spoke to President Kevin Saliba, who wouldn’t elaborate on the purchase offers, but said the intent is to carve out a No. 2 position behind Art.com, while focusing on higher quality printing paper than Art.com. To that end, it also does its own printing, and has a partnership with a large frame retail chain, Northwest Framing. The site is built with AJAX and Flash.

Imagekind’s funding comes from some high-profile investors. The round was led by Holtzbrinck, the German publisher that recently bought the German version of Facebook, Studivz, and which has become more active in the U.S. recently. Also participating were Crosslink Capital, the Samwer brothers (early investors in eBay Germany), Erik Blachford (former Expedia chief exec), Nick Hanauer (first investor in Amazon.com) and Bill Trimarco (of Larsen-Juhl, a framing company). Saliba said the 15-person Imagekind raised the money in order to do more marketing and expand to places like Europe.

Rumor is the valuation is in the $5- to $7 million range.

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