Today it is rather easy to offer your photography for sale but are you ready to actually sell your work?
Selling Photography – These days it is so easy to set up an account with a POD such as Fine Art America or Pixels that I have to wonder if camera manufacturers will be begin trying to market cameras as a cash machine.
So many camera owners (notice I didn’t say photographers) seem to think all it takes to sell their photography is pointing their camera at something, uploading the images and voila! people will buy.
Most of them find it not so easy to sell their snapshots. Sure maybe once in a while they get lucky and someone buys one of their garden flower photos or their “Look! I saw a duck!” type images but I’d say the serious art buyer is looking for more depth than a camera operator. They want some proof that they are buying from a serious artist.
What’s missing from the typical amateur cameraman goes beyond quality. Professional quality is that base line standard as you are competing on a world market with professional photographers. Beyond basic quality standards, buyers are also looking for :
A unique vision
A body of work
Quality buyers see right through a facade of someone simply trying to cash in with their latest camera purchase. By looking at an artist’s work you can tell if this person is a weekend warrior who dusts off his camera a few times a year when off to the next national park or cruise trip vs. a working artist.
Art comes down to authenticity. Is the photography a result of an intended, well-thought out, pre-visualized idea? Or is it just a lucky shot? Is the photographer authentic, do they know their subjects, have they spent years learning about their subjects? Does their passion for the subject show through their images or are they simple recording their travels not really seeing the essence of what they are photographing?
Look at their body of work. Is it a bunch of random images toss together or do you see a reoccurring pattern of ideas and concepts? Do you see a unique vision or simply a collection of random snapshots?
Personally I can’t stand gallery shows that have a single image from a number of artists as it is not until you see a series of images from the same artist or photographer that you can understand their vision. The amateur photographs portfolio will be all over the place while in the profession or more serious artist, you’ll see a unique pattern as they display their vision of the world.
I think buyers pick up on this intuitively. They prize images from serious artists pursuing their own unique vision over the random snapshot.
Would be photography sellers would be advised to work on their own personal vision before attempting to sell their work. Develop a body of work with a distinctive style before expecting someone to pay for it.
Art Sales – Selling art is a lot like going fishing. You never know what sale might come along but there certainly are ways to increase your success rate. Think about two different Fishermen – Bob and Pablo.
Fisherman Bob sits on the dock near his house all day using the same bait. He picked the location because he didn’t want to invest in a boat and it’s easy. He catches nothing but minnows but at least he got out of the house for the day.
Meanwhile, Fisherman Pablo buys a boat and heads out to the deep end of the lake where the big fish live, he tries various lures until he finds what works, pulls in a boat load of lunkers and invites the neighborhood over for a fish fry.
Selling art is no different. It takes more effort, more investment and more experimentation to figure out what will work best for your art business.
You can sit around for years using the easiest or first sales channel you found waiting for sales to magically appear, perhaps using a bait-less hook or you can study the competitive landscape and various sales channels and figure out which will work best for your art and your promotional efforts.
Whatever sales channel you choose (or multiple), it still requires work to get noticed. You need the right bait – great artwork and you need to drop your line where the fish live. You have to offer different bait or lures for Bass then you would for Trout. You have to make your bait more attractive than the natural alternatives and often you have to make full fish hungry with offers they can’t refuse. You also have to make it easy for the fish or art customer to eat or buy your work. Let’s face it, if you are a fish or a person buying art we all like convenience.
Folks, being an artist means running a small business. For some reason artists have a hard time understanding this fact. They think that being an artist is some kind of pure en-devour divorced from the reality of things such as expenses, taxes, accounting, marketing and economics.
An artist is someone who produces a luxury good. These goods are sold for income and on the other side of the balance sheet there are all of the expenses involved in producing that good – gas, studio rental, time, material costs etc.
It is not enough for an artist to simply know their art materials and how to produce the product. That is probably 50% of the business. The other half is all of the stuff the typical artist seeks to avoid – the “boring” stuff like promotion, marketing, accounting, planning, taxes, logistics etc.
Earlier in my career I went to Boston University’s School of Management with a concentration in Marketing. We studied accounting, business strategy, market research, pricing, marketing, etc. But I went in with a strong entrepreneurial streak having made and sold various items all throughout high school. Later I applied what I learn in school and in a career in the publishing industry to my fine art photography business.
Certainly not every artist needs a degree in Business Administration to pursue a successful art career but these are the topics to study and understand though reading, workshops, seminars or simply asking the right questions to the right people.
Basic understanding of economics, the laws of supply and demand, certainly can go a long way to understanding how an artist can meet up with potential buyers of their artwork.
How does an artist get better at business? You become better at business by understanding the market, understanding the buyers motivations and understand the niche you represent in the market place.
One thing to do right away is to start keeping track of your expenses. Income is just important but real income accounts for your expenses. You might find that you are selling your work at a loss after figuring out your time, gas, storage and cost of materials.
Set yourself up as a legit small business and operate as such. Make goals and budget accordingly. Figure out where you need to promote your work, how much work you need to produce, what prices the market will support and the steps needed to take to achieve your goals.
Create a five year plan. Where do you want to be in five years? Then break down the plan into 1 year, 3 year and 5 years goals. Reevaluate the plan every year and make adjustments.
Identify your target market. Who is your buyer? Identify the buyers of your artwork and understand their needs. Why do they buy artwork? How often do they buy? Where do they buy? How do they buy? What needs does art satisfy to the them? You know why you enjoy producing art – what makes buying art satisfying to your buyers? How will you find these buyers? How will you get your art to them? Who will handle the transaction? Etc.
Behind The Scenes is where you can control your sellers account on FAA an Pixels. It contains your account information, public profile, marketing, stats, sales data, sale balance, pricing, etc.
To find your own “behind the scenes” first log in to your account and then hover over your name in the upper right. A drop down menu will appear and “behind the scenes” will be the second choice. Click on that and you’ll have access to all of the behind the scenes setting to set up your account.
Spend a lot of time in Behind The Scenes and you’ll discover all you need to know about offering your work for sale on FAA and Pixels.
In the real world art pricing is based on an individual artists reputation, skill, past history, career point, show history etc. While many POD sites treat all artists the same and have fixed profit margins (typically low), FAA and Pixels allows the individual artist to set their own profit margin.
This allows a more established artist to sell at higher prices or perhaps allows for a strategy of volume selling with a lower profit margin — in any case the pricing strategy is left to the individual artist.
FAA and Pixels are a middle man between the artist and the various vendors that they use to fulfill the orders. The vendor (the one who actually prints the t-shirt, mug, or art print) gets a cut of the overall price and FAA/Pixels takes their cut for processing the orders and running the website. Then there is the artist’s cut which you determine. Will it be $5 or $500 for a 20×20 inch canvas print?
In the “behind the scenes” area you will have to put in your profit margin that will be added to the vendor cut and FAA/Pixels cut to determine the final price to the buyer.
You can add profit margins for any print size as well as for products such as mugs and phone cases. This is the amount you will receive if the item sells.
If you don’t want to sell a particular print size or a certain product – leave the box completely blank. Don’t put in a “0”. A zero means that it can still sell and you will receive nothing.
Don’t follow the suggested prices from management. They are very low and you can do better.
You can price individual images each time or set up “Default Prices” in “Behind the Scenes”
You can change your prices universally using “Default Prices” and then applying the new prices to some or all of your images.
Is it worthwhile to pay $30 a month for a Premium Account on Fine Art America and Pixels? Yes – if you are serious about running a business selling your artwork on Fine Art America and Pixels. You can set up a free account to test out the system and upload 25 images. A free account is great for seeing how everything works and getting your profile ready, but don’t expect to sell anything. 25 images is a drop in the bucket to the thousands of new images that get uploaded every day on these sites.
The chances of some buyer finding your images with only 25 is like a needle in a haystack. Consider that you will be in this for the long haul and it might take many months if not years to start selling your work. It takes time for your promotional efforts to pay off.
So any way, consider the $30 a cost of doing business that will most likely be paid off with a sale or two if you market your work.
Pixels vs. Fine Art America
Pixels and FAA look awfully similar don’t they? Except for a few logo differences and colors they are virtually the same site although Pixels has more of the product stuff such as mugs and t-shirts whereas Fine Art America sticks to the more traditional art offerings such as canvas prints and framed art. But its the same company, same artists for the most part and same vendors fulfilling the orders.
If you sign up to sell your work with one of them, you will be on the other one too. All of the “behind the scenes” stuff is shared. Make a change to a price or upload a new image on one site and it changes on the other on too.
Why do I get so many visitors from the same cities?
If you watch the visitor count in “Behind The Scenes” you see your images being visited by the same cities over and over. Especially if you promote your images on social media such as Twitter. Instantly after Tweeting you’ll see 20 or so hits from these cities.
Are these real people looking at your work? Most likely not. Most of the views are from search engine bots that constantly scan the web for new content and uses these software bots to analysis and index web pages and images. Most of what you see recorded in “behind the scenes” will be these software robots or “bots”. To get real people to see your work you have to stop wasting time looking at “views” and get out there and actively promote and market your artwork. Don’t worry about view counts, worry about attracting buyers. It only takes one view from an active buyer to make a sale or you can get thousands of bot views and not sell.
How and when will I be paid?
If you are fortunate enough to make a sale, you will receive notification via email. You can also check sales in “behind the scenes” under “sales” or under “balance”. Payments are made each month on the 15th via PayPal. But you won’t be paid right away. FAA/PIxels has a 30 day money back guarantee so you have to wait for that period to end. It could be up to two months before you are paid depending on when the order comes in. And the buyer could cancel to order, have used a bad credit card or returned the item. So basically don’t count your chickens until they are in your PayPal account. Fortunately returns are rare but they do happen and they stink!
I think at this point I’ve heard every complaint there is for not creating great photography or not selling your work. Let’s recap.
I don’t have a good enough camera
If only I had a F1.8 blah blah blah expensive lens
If only I lived in a more exciting location
If only I had a home studio
If only I had that new camera
If only I had a full frame camera
If only I had that mirrorless camera
If only I could afford expensive vacations
If only I lived in the country
If only I lived in the city
If only I went to photography school
If only the POD featured my work
If only I showed up higher in the search engines
If only I could write better
If only I was better looking
If only my friends were models
If only I had a cute dog
If only I got started earlier
If only there wasn’t so many competitors
Blah, blah, blah. Come on already. If you are not executing a plan to improve your photography and improve your photography sales in this day and age, then I’m sorry, you are just being lazy.
At no other time in history has it been so easy to learn about photography – for free and to learn how to sell your work.
At no other time in history as it been so easy to bring your photography to the market and promote your work.
At no other time in history has the market for fine art photograph or stock photography been so open to so many people.
At no other time in history has it been so easy to learn, improve, create and sell your work.
Seriously, with digital photography there is no need for a darkroom full of smelly chemicals or the need for special equipment or the costs of film, paper and chemicals. At not other time in history can someone rapidly improve their skill quickly because of digital photography.
The Internet provides all the information one needs to learn and get feedback on their images. Online classes such as CreativeLive provides professional level instruction for free or little cost.
Online market places from Ebay to Etsy to Pixels to Fine Art America etc provide simple access to buyers of artwork. Stock agencies provide any image supplier from professional to amateur access to the professional image buying market.
Sure you can complain that you haven’t found overnight success and the competition is fierce but when was it not? Artists have always had to hustle and work there way to the top one step at a time. We’re not digging ditches here. We are creating imagery. Of course there will be a lot of competition. At some point you just have to realize it ain’t going to be easy and you have to work harder and smarter than your competition.
I have my largest portfolio on edward-fielding.pixels.com and this site offers the most combinations of museum quality prints in the form of framed and matted prints, canvas, metal, wood and more. Plus decor products such as throw pillows, phone cases, bags and more.
In the past few months I’ve punched through the 1,000 sales mark and my collectors keep growing, discovering new, never sold before images from my portfolio of nearly 5,000 fine art photographs and artwork as well as repeat sales of fan favorite images.
Decorators have also discovered a few of my images for their clients and have received a professional discount for large volume buyers through Designer Prints which is a service to those in the trade who need to purchase in volume for their clients or for resale.
Here are some of my top sellers:
If you want to sell your own artwork take a look at some of my advice on selling artwork articles:
I had to chuckle when a new artist on Pixels and Fine Art America was complaining about their lack of sales on the forum recently. They couldn’t understand why they hadn’t made a sale yet despite having over 1,000+ views.
Really? 1,000 views and they expect the sales to come flooding in? Think about how many people walk by an artwork at a gallery or even at a mall store window before something sells.
And that’s real people. People in a retail environment. People with a wallet in their pocket or cash in their purse. People who are already in the mood to do a little shopping.
What is a 1,000 views on the Internet? Most likely its bots. Little software robots that index the internet every day. They come to a page, scan the contents and report back to the search engine from which they came. They are not buyers. Bots are most likely 99% of the traffic that an internet page receives and bots are not buyers.
Then there are the lookers, tire kickers and browsers. People looking for free clip art, people looking for free screen savers, people who are just curious, people who are simply at work – bored and playing around. And perhaps a few are serious buyers.
So out of that 1,000 views, how many are valid potential buyers? Perhaps three?
Now take that three and consider the competition. Pixels and Fine Art America says they have upwards of 125,000 living artists who use their site to offer their artwork for sale. 125K artists who are uploading something like 6,000 new images on a daily basis.
So this is the kicker from this artist who can’t believe they haven’t sold anything yet.
“Granted, I only have 8-9 drawings posted” and only joined in 2016 and has zero followers. In other words hasn’t done much at all.
POD means Print On Demand not ATM
Uploading images to a POD site and “offering” work is not the same as marketing, promoting and selling your artwork. POD sites are not ATM machines. They don’t spit out money without putting in some effort.
Despite what you might have heard, art does not sell itself. It needs to be seen and it needs to be seen by a lot of people before the right buyer reaches into their pocket and parts with their hard-earned money to purchase said artwork.
Do you have any idea how many buyers there are in the world wanting to purchase your artwork? Does it appeal to hundreds? Thousands? Millions? A few? Just one? No one?
Some of the work I offer in my portfolio of nearly 5,000 pieces of photography and artwork has never sold – perhaps yet or perhaps never. Some have sold a few times and a few have sold nearly fifty times. Some sold in as little as three days, others took three years to find a buyer.
Some have less than 100 views and have sold. Other have thousands of views and haven’t sold once.
What does it take to sell artwork on Pixels and Fine Art America and other Print On Demand or POD websites?
There really is not secret formula to selling artwork on POD sites. Good work, that is in demand, lots of it plus marketing, promotion and time for people to find it is the secret.
Professional, top quality work
Unique work that sets you apart from the pack
Work that fits the audience of the website
Lots of inventory to choose from
Social Media activity
Good titles, keywording, descriptions
Time for the work to be found by search engines and potential buyers.
I had a recent discussion with some Fine Art America photographers about WOW photographs vs. HoHum photographs and if it made since only to upload your WOW photographs for sale to the public.
What’s a WOW photograph? Well, basically any photo that grabs peoples attention. Something that makes people stop and take a look in this modern world of image overload. A WOW photograph is captured and of a subject matter that is interesting and unique.
HoHums are scenes that that have been shot a million times and don’t offer anything new.
HoHums are shot in 12 noon with harsh over head light while WOWs are shot at sunset.
WOWs look good as thumbnails and grab attention.
WOWs are a unique way of looking at a iconic subject.
HoHums are background noise, WOWs are the main event.
HoHums say “look I saw this”, WOWs take you there.
WOWs make you want to go somewhere and take the same shot. HoHums make you wonder why the photographer even brought the camera to their eye.
WOWs are determined by the photographer and the buyers. Not all WOWs are landscapes. For someone looking for artwork for their diner, the gleam of bacon on a mouthwatering breakfast sandwich might be the WOW they are looking for.
HoHums have been seen a million times. WOWs bring a different take on the subject.
WOWs favor the well prepared photographer and the busy photographer always looking for the next WOW subject.
The group concluded that while HoHum photographs might sell once in a while, usually because there is no other competition yet in the category but WOW photographs will sell over and over.
This sunset shot of a lobster pound in Clinton, Connecticut is a good example of a WOW shot. A great detailed subject with lots of interest to people who live near the ocean and shot during a beautiful summer sunset. It has sold multiple times.
This steam train dream concept shot is a created WOW because of its uniqueness and well crafted drama. It has sold multiple times.
Even food photography can be taken to the WOW level with good composition, preparation and lighting. This shot of balsamic roasted onions has sold over and over as a stock photography image.
WOW photography takes advantage of composition, lighting and subject to create a since of drama and intrigue.
To Get to WOW You Need to Shoot a lot of HoHums
I shoot a lot of HoHums. Every photographer does. Even Ansel Adams, who shot all the time considered 12 images to be a good crop for a year.
But the HoHums typically either get trashed, sit on the hard drive or maybe become stock photographs. The WOWs are the images that grab ones attention from just a thumbnail in Abobe Lightroom. They are the ones that get the extra attention of post processing in Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and perhaps even OnOne Perfect Effects.
HoHums are practice. HoHum photographs are for learning what not to do. HoHums are experiments. HoHums get you comfortable with your equipment. HoHums are training. HoHums are neccessary so that when a WOW opportunity presents itself you are ready to capture a WOW.
Now the Catch 22 on online selling is that you need enough product in your store to attract buyers. Online selling deals with the concept of Long Tail retail and marketing – i.e. having a deep inventory of products to appeal to a diverse market.
If you only upload the 10 WOWs you’ve achieved so far, you won’t have enough inventory to attract anyone to your portfolio, so you have to upload some photographs that are to exactly going to knock the socks off anyone. But as long as they are not utter trash its ok. Keep the quality consistent even if the subject matter might not be earth shattering.
The problem newbies have is they haven’t shot enough to pick out the best. Probably they are not ready to sell to the public but they want to and thus start uploading utter crap that only turns off buyers. Better to wait until you have a few WOWs under your belt before leaping into the world of selling your work.
Just keep in mind that you are not offering your work in a vacuum. You are competing with all of the WOW photographer created by professional photographers. You have to bring your A game if you want to WOW buyers.
Can I make a living selling my photographs online?
In danger of sounding like the overgrown fifth grader, PeeWee Herman, my response has to be “I don’t know, can you?”
I can’t predict people’s future or have any idea of someone drive to succeed. When someone asks “can you make a living licensing stock photographs from microstock sites” or “can you make a living selling artwork or photographs from PODs or Print On Demand sites” the answer has to be – “maybe”.
Some people do very well on stock photography sites and fine art sites like Fine Art America, Pixels, Red Bubble and Society6. Some sell enough to make a living at it even if its a modest one. Then again some sellers live in third world counties where the cost of living is low. Or they have a very spartan existence and eat ramen noodle three times a day.
The idea of living off of one’s artwork or photography buy simply uploading a few images and then kicking back on the beach is a fantasy. Any photographer I’ve seen that has been successful has had to really hustle to make a living – they shoot weddings, they shoot events, they teach workshops, they shoot non-stop.
Alamy recently had an interview with a photographer that reached $250,000 in sales but that was after 15 years and uploading 27,000 images into his portfolio. 27,000! Imagine finding, creating, processing and uploading that many images. Imagine the time and effort involved. Its not easy! It takes dedication and working at it every single day to find worthy subjects.
From what I’ve seen, most photographers starting out in the game thinking they are going to make some money with their camera tap out the depths of their imaginations with garden flower photographs. If garden flowers are the best you can come up with, you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Then there are the landscape photographers who dust off their cameras a few times a year when they are off on a holiday. They stand in the National Parks next to hundreds of other vacationers getting the stale Kodak moment shot and then expecting to retire on the results. Hate to break the news to you but very few people make a living as a landscape photographer. Unless you have a sales force and chain of galleries in vacation spots like Peter Lik or magazine assignments from National Geographic and Outside Magazine, you probably will not be making a living as a landscape photographer.
To make any real money with your camera, you have to shoot people. Learn to make people look good and you’ll make money with your camera doing portraits, senior portraits, weddings, fashion, etc.
Then there are the gadget hounds. The guys with the latest and greatest cameras and lenses. You know the guys who spend more time on the camera forums arguing about which lens is the sharpest than they spend actually taking pictures. These guys spend all of their disposable income so they can have bragging rights the next time they are on vacation. They are busier looking at people’s camera straps then the vistas before them. They are the ones who wander up to you while you are trying to compose a show with “I see you have the Canon X123” and try to get you to talk about camera gear. The working photographer has no time for this, they are busy working!
If you decide to go professional with your photography, every purchase counts. When you are in business for yourself every lens has to pay for itself. The hobbist can buy a macro lens and play around shooting insects in the garden but the professional has to ask – what is the market for ugly bugs? When will I make back the hundreds of dollars I just spent on this lens?
The best advice I can give is to do your research. Here are a few books to get you started.
Back in the day I was the Director of Market Research at BYTE magazine. My job was to prove the value of our readership for the ad sales staff. I used to cringe when the young, inexperienced sales people used to come back to the publisher with some truly awful deals that would basically be giving away ad space. Any fool can give things away for less than their value. A seasoned professional or informed amateur recognizes the value of their work and the market needs.
Why do people give away their photographs and art?
The global art market achieved total sales of $63.8 billion in 2015. People want to buy art and photography for their home and office. They need to purchase art and photography for commercial purposes such as advertising, web pages, brochures, magazines, books, etc yet some people continue to give away their artwork and photographs or seriously undervalue their work.
Why is this? I can think of five reasons:
Ignorance – They don’t understand the value of images in today’s marketplace and don’t realize the value of what they have. I recently sold an image for $360 profit a friend gave me. He didn’t understand the value of the image he had and I offered to sell it for him. Images have value in the fine art market and commercial market. It is just a matter of realizing it.
Exposure – Photographers and artists are often under the impression that giving away their images will somehow lead to future sales or recognition. The problem is that millions of images are given away every day on social media and there isn’t enough “exposure” to go around. What’s the value of this exposure? Perhaps 1 cent in today’s market. People value what they pay for – no one brags about art they got for free. And no one who has gotten something for free is going to pay for it the next time. They’ll just look for another free source the next time. And the value of someone looking for freebies as a “collector” is worthless. You want to cultivate a follow of people who value what you are offering, not people looking for freebies.
They are amateurs or hobbyists – The amateur or hobbyist is not looking to make a living on their photography or artwork. They simply enjoy producing images for fun and are happy enough for others to look at their images. They don’t want to the pressure of having to ask for money and would rather just give away their images. They live for likes and shares. The problem with this mindset is that it brings down the over all market and prevents the amateur or hobbyist from ever becoming a professional. After being conditioned with instant success from likes and shares of their freebies, they are unprepared with standing up for the true value of their work and asking for money for their time, skill and effort. The advanced amateur or hobbyist is setting themselves up for being asked to shoot weddings, soccer games, portraits for free.
They want to build up a portfolio – This might be the best reason to actually giving away services for free. If you need to create a portfolio and need access to models or locations or maybe even a good project idea. But there is no reason to give your time and effort for nothing. Barter and exchange services instead. Trade headshots for modeling time. Create a video for a local business in exchange to some free time at the gym or on the massage table. Don’t work for free, instead exchange one valuable service for another.
They don’t know how easy it is to take their goods to market – Some artists and photographers simple don’t know how easy it is to participate in the art and photography markets. In the old days perhaps the only way to sell your art and photography was to take your portfolio around to galleries or sell directly to the public. But with the Internet there are countless markets amateurs and professional photographers and artists can participate . Stock agencies cater to professional image buyers and online galleries and print on demand sites sell directly to the public. I explain how to sell via POD sites in these blog posts: