Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Selling Pics OnLine: A Perspective

This is a post from a forum I participate in. The question was about selling pictures online.

As an owner of one of the sites mentioned (the PHOTOtool) I would like to offer a few observations on online sales. I do have a unique insight as we see hundreds of different ways photogs do it. This gives me a bit of a catbird seat view. (This wont be an ad for the PHOTOtool, just observations of what I see happening with photogs who want to sell online.)

1. Photographers tend to think that putting an image online in any kind of tool is all there is to it. "It's online finally, now I can sell it." Uh... don't you believe it. Selling images online is a difficult road to take. Not impossible, but difficult for those who aren't willing to bust ass to sell the work.

2. Pricing an image online seems to sometimes take a very wide slice. I have seen photographers price their 8x10's at $900 and more and then wonder why they aren't selling. If you have never sold a print for $900 at a gallery, an auction or an art show or an... then chances are that you aint gonna get one sold online. Also selling 4x6's for a buck is, well, stupid.

3. Lack of credibility is the number one reason that images don't sell online. Putting a few images on the PHOTOtool or Smugmug or whatever can be a very disappointing endeavor. It takes time, interest and credibility to sell online. I have seen some wonderful shooters not sell a thing and some mediocre ones sell hundreds (literally).

4. Lack of marketing the image. There are some great ways to market images and lots of ways to not. (" I just don't have time." I don't have a blog." I don't want to enter descriptions." I don't - well - I hear a lot of excuses on why photogs don't have time to be, well, photogs.) There is a wonderful blog or two that I know of that have experienced significant print sales. Here's one:
www.durhamtownship.com/ - now go Google "A Walk Through Durham..." see that - over 250,000 returns.
Here's another one:
www.chromasia.com/ Technorati shows exceptional traffic. Both of these photographers started with print sale prices that were quite a bargain... now they make a pretty good fee per print. Believe me when I say you gotta go after it hard.

5. Lack of understanding of what sells. I really don't want to go down this path, but read it again. If you don't know what is selling, haven't done the research into trends and such... well. Ok.

Good news. There are some ways to increase sales. Research, creating buzz, building credibility, exploiting a niche... all so much easier to do with the internet. Here's how you do it. (NOTE: if you are the next Ansel Adams and are terribly sure that you are wildly sought after - they just don't know it yet... then stop reading now. This will be directed toward those of us who realize our realities.)

1. Create a blog and make sure it is interesting. Cat pictures, your babies first steps and assorted street scenes without releases... naww. Find a niche. Kill in it.

2. Enter gallery contests where ever you can find them. Jen Beckman's gallery in NY ( www.personism.com/ ) has the "Hey Hot Shot" contest a couple of times a year. Enter. Find out what others think.

3. Create a local buzz. Here is a partial list of places to show your work: Hospitals, Medical Plazas, bookstores, insurance offices, small galleries, coop galleries, restaurants... Get your work out there.

4. Do a book, or two... hell, three of them. Print them at LuLu. Press release the heck out of them. Offer them for sale on your blog, your website, your local bookstore, restaurants... whatever. Credibility.

That said the best reason for online sales is direct client work. Portraits, weddings, sports events... that is where a good online sales tool can really work for you. And that means people coming to your site. And they buy prints. And they see your images for sale, and your books, and your blog... hmmm - I see a strategy developing.

Three success stories on the PHOTOtool involve a gentleman desperate to leave his awful 9-5 job finally making that leap - in a town of less than 70,000 from shooting sports teams and posting the images - now he is getting assignments and being called to shoot events all over the county. Another husband/wife team started shooting motocross bikes for their friends. Now they shoot every weekend all over the west and he has left his 70k corporate gig for this full time. Assignments are starting to come in now from cycle manufactures and parts folks. A retired schoolteacher now makes more than she ever made as a teacher shooting pets and pet owner portraits on location. Her consistent work ethic and diligent use of online sales has made her work much sought after.

I know a guy who sells a ton from his Exposure Manager account, and a woman who does nearly 30k from her sales tool (cannot remember which it is, may be EM...). My concern has always been keeping the sales tool I use professional looking and my own. I personally could never send a client of mine to anything called Smug Mug, or Yahoo pictures... ya know.

One last thing... I am predicting Flickr will introduce a sales tool this summer. They have all the parts, about a gazillion images, and a way to fulfill print and stock... look for it.

Just thought I would share this post with you all.

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