The same can be said for many that are working a full time job for a company. Just because a doctor has 20 years of experience does that mean he should deserve to earn a living doing what he does for his profession? I hear, understand and respect what you are saying, but there is no reason why an artist cannot make a living selling his or her work just as a doctor or a lawyer, we just choose different paths.
Selling your art is no difference than working a 9-5 job and in many cases is harder and more demanding. I know for a fact that I or anyone for that matter will not make a living off eBay or any single venue, that wasn't my point. My point was that selling prints cheap creates a false market and drives prices down.
As far as deserve goes, does anyone deserve to have a job or make a wage that can support a family or themselves? The answer is no if you look at it form the artist standpoint. Unfortunately, to many being an artist is looked down upon and many do not take the artist serious as it is considered a hobby or for the lazy, which is completely untrue. Again it goes back to as you said educating the public.
Personally I treat selling art like a business and have spread myself over many different markets. I do not rely on just one market in general to sell my artwork to earn from it. This year though the trend has been lower sales. I do however spend quite a bit each month on marketing material, sending to galleries and collectors on a regular basis to keep my name in front of them all the time, but to be honest in the many years I have been in the art field, it is the only field where return on your investment is quite low. I will continue to do it because I love it. I am not in this to give prints away but to earn a living. When you work hard every day at something, no matter what field you are in, you do expect to earn a living doing what ever it is you do.
I never understood why many think that artist don’t deserve to get paid for the work they do. I personally feel they do deserve to get paid if they are professional and are good at what they do, especially if they are dedicated just like with any other profession. I see no problem, paying anyone what they are worth. The only the question is, can I afford the prices they have set for themselves?
Now is a whole other issue.
It is very difficult to make a living purely by selling prints. However it does get easier the more your name and work are known. I think that many people still find it surprising that photographic prints sell for more than $100, and are shocked that they can sell in the thousands of dollars ( and more). However it's gotten easy for people to buy your work online, never having seen anything more than a jpeg if they can Google your name and see that you are an established artist. For others selling prints on ebay not having that recognition makes it a far harder sale.
The venue where art is sold has a huge effect on the perceived value of the work and maybe that is one area where having your work sold on ebay could hurt sales. But it all depends on the reputation of the artist and the quality of the work. Personally I would be hesitant to buy even an Ansel Adams or Weston print on Ebay unless I knew that the seller was a well regarded collector or gallery. So much that affects the perception of a print's value is also based on the provenance of the print. This does not apply to lower priced prints, but once people are forking over significant amounts of money, they want the assurance of a brick and mortar gallery.
I think eBay can work for an established artist selling a second line of their work, inkjet prints at a modest price instead of selling their traditional prints at a far higher price. The risk of buying an inkjet print, of an image they like for $50 or $100 bucks, by an established artist who sells silver prints for many for times that price, is a small risk. It might be a good business model for a photographer.
Posters of my work routinely appear on eBay which is something that I do not appreciate because they tend to advertise them as "art prints" or "art photographs" and I am always concerned that it may confuse people or somehow devalue my silver prints. I have no idea how well the posters sell online, but they have been selling them there for years. I only hope they bought them from a licensed reseller and did not print them off original posters themselves.
Selling cheap was mentioned. I think that historically the majority of artists have undervalued and underpriced their work. I think that most people get into art for the love of art, for the loving of doing it. They would do it anyway if they were wealthy, but ultimatley decide to sell their work in order to live but also in order to perpetuate their art. Most hobbyist artists, who are not reliant on their art feeding them grossly undervalue their work.
I've seen many threads here where people talk about selling their work at prices that cause them to lose money. Where is the logic in that?
I'm used to licensing work, as you know stock sales of photography is bread and butter for advertising photographers, and as timing would have it I sold poster rights just this week for 6 more images. But still it pains me to see poorly reproduced versions of my work in huge numbers, and selling so cheap! I always feel a need to apologise for the print repro.