Click to recommend this page:
When people think of selling their photography as fine art prints, they
struggle about what price to charge, whether to sign them, whether to
frame them, how to display them, where to exhibit them, and many other
questions. They then go ask people on discussion forums for advice, which
results in copious opinions based on speculation about what they think
the market is like. While pricing fine art is hard, there are better
way than to simply guess.
The first mistake people make is assuming that lower prices
bring in sales. As the logic goes, as you build a name and reputation,
you can then command higher prices. But that's not how it works; there
are other factors involved, and we'll get deeply into them in this
article. To do proper analysis, we need to apply the most basic and
fundamentals of economics, the first of which is the relationship between
price and volume. Your goal is to optimize your financial return at any
given point in time. Simple example: selling 10 prints for $10 each
yields $100, but a sale of one print for $250 yields more than twice as
much. The real question is which is easier: ten sales at a
lower price, or one sale at a higher price? That's why more intelligent
analysis is necessary than merely guessing. There are many factors that
affect sales volumes and perception of value, so let's get started.
Let's begin by outlining our strategy for assessing prices:
- Understand your own artwork.
- Identify your target art buyer.
- Determine where they buy.
- Ascertain their decision-making process.
- Set your price points.
Each of these items are complex, and we'll get into them, but you need to
start by setting your compass in the right direction: By understanding the
art-buying market, which is extremely broad, you can establish how your
own work fits into that, which helps you identify your target customer,
which helps you determine where they go to purchase. Once you're in the
right place with the right buyer, understanding their buying decisions
is critical. This last step helps direct you in ways to better "package"
your product, including setting price points.
Who Buys Photography as Art?
There are essentially three kinds of art buyers, and although they are
discrete categories, they do overlap, so prepare for the caveats to the
rules that follow. For now, let's just define each of the classes of
buyers: collectors, aficionados, and consumers.
This group sits at the top of the food chain. The collector acquires
well-known works (pick your context), whether on a large scale or
small, and does so mostly for the investment potential (i.e., financial
return). While he has an appreciation for the medium, and is extremely
well-informed about the craft and who's who in the photo world, his
primary interest is business. While
the collector may also buy certain pieces for their intrinsic beauty
and other qualities, it's more rarely the case they bother with pieces
that aren't produced by an unknown artist. Also, because this market
segment tends to be somewhat incestuous, unless you're a part of it,
this isn't likely to be a target domain for any emerging photographer.
The second kind of photography buyer is the aficionado: one who
buys art for the sake of the art itself; resale value usually plays
secondary in purchasing decisions. This is a very broad category,
with overlap into the "collector" class at the high end, and down to the
"consumer" class at the low end. So, we need to subcategorize.
The High-end Aficionado
This is the art buyer that knows the art world well, but doesn't
collect or invest because of limited funds. This presents an opportunity
for the accomplished (but still relatively unknown) artist who's exhibited
before and is generally well-received. Getting an opportunity to exhibit
work at public TV or radio events, or other high-brow, educational, or
elite functions is a great way to get exposure into this class. Donating
art for fund-raising drives that attract affluent benefactors is another
avenue, though it doesn't yield income. (Remember, it's the exposure
that matters; the income will come later as you get better known.)
The Pretend Aficionado
Many people are attracted to the art market that don't know much about
it, but the pretend aficionado doesn't know what he doesn't know.
For example, he may know Henri Cartier-Bresson's name and some of his
works, but he may not always pair them together correctly. Yet, he
speaks confidently about the art form, unaware of when he makes factual
errors. Normally, one would overlook the pretend aficionado, except
that he buys from artists who are good, but not quite experienced.
The Aficionado "Wanna-be"
The wanna-be is ambitious about art and is still learning.
His inexperience makes him overly cautious in what he chooses to buy,
often waffling so much that the sales cycle tends to be lengthy and, at
times, frustrating. But, he loves photography in general, even though
his tastes are often inconsistent and undeveloped. On the upside, the
wanna-be is not afraid of spending money for artwork, although he usually
buys less-expensive works that the other groups wouldn't touch, making
him more accessible to the emerging artist. He is also very accessible;
he's often at fairs, street markets, cafés and other venues that
specifically exhibit art.
In terms of these definitions, the consumer has no appreciable knowledge
of art and doesn't want to. (If he did, he'd be classified in one
of the aficionado categories.) You know the consumer: he is often
found nodding his head in disbelief upon seeing a black a and white photo
of a chair in an empty white room selling for $500. Most consumers buy
photography in the form of postcards, calendars, posters, trinkets,
and framed prints for about $50 or less at tourist shops. Poster stores
in shopping malls may also sell some well-known photographs as framed
pieces, but these are just high-end posters. Consumers will also buy
photo books, but this is not classified as an art sale. It's a consumer
product, and the business isn't photography, it's publishing.
If you want to "make money," the consumer is the most accessible audience:
they're easy to find, there are millions of them, and what they don't pay
in higher prices, they make up for in volume. This, in turn, requires
quantity, which means you need to set up a significant infrastructure to
offset the costs and administrative overhead. Those who attempt this path
often find that the business is not so much about photography, but that
of distribution. Like publishing, it's completely different. The "best"
way to sell art to the consumer is by licensing photos to companies who
already are in (or sell to) the retail sales channel. For that, you need
to get into the business of stock photography, which is not about selling
prints. The second best way is to create a dedicated sales infrastructure
that involves having an inventory of good prints, and a willingness to
sit for weekends in art fairs, promoting yourself to local art venues,
and submitting works in competitions for name-recognition value. We'll
touch upon these ideas in this chapter.
One last note about selling to the consumer: many consider the consumer
market to be a career-killer for the true "artist." Because it is frowned
upon by art directors, gallery owners and museum curators, those who are
serious about developing their credibility as an artist try to avoid anything
consumer-related for fear that it will come back to haunt them.
There is another class of buyer that can be a member of any of
the above categories: those who spontaneously and impulsively buy
things. And this is the type that most beginning photographers believe
accounts for the majority of buyers. They think of the consumer at the
grocery store, waiting their turn at the cash register, paging through
the magazines, and then suddenly, their turn comes up. Decision point:
do I buy this thing I've invested some time in reading, or not? Quick
glance at the price, and decision action.
Many photographers think of similar scenarios: consumers browsing the
photographer's website, or casually walking through the displays at
an art fair, etc. They imagine the unintentional shopper thinking,
"Hmmm... I've got to go now, but now that I've invested time into
looking at this, and I kinda like it, should I buy it?" So, the
photographer tries to anticipate when the consumer does the quick
glance at the price, so he tries to pre-negotiate it by making it low
so the consumer will buy.
Reality doesn't work this way.
Of the rare art buyer who happen to be impulsive, it's usually because
they need something and they've been thinking about it in the backs of
their minds now and then. What do they need? Usually, a piece over the
laundry machine, or something behind the desk at the office.
This is an unpredictable and often unreliable group, but the randomness of
their popping up unexpectedly can account for an appreciable percentage
of sales if you position yourself well physically. For example, you
live in tourist communities, or exhibit works near design centers or
other places that sell home or office furnishings. This might give you
access to someone who just bought a new house or moved into a new office.
Some hire professional art buyers to acquire art for them to solve this
need, so getting close with such people is a good idea. (Again, hang
out at the design center for a while.) Also, commercial space is often
filled with art that is acquired by such professionals. Because quality
and cost are both critical here, not to mention the lower-risk assessment
of not having artwork damaged or stolen in a public space, buyers for
these types of venues sometimes acquire works not from famous artists,
but from undiscovered ones like you and me. (Of course, this rule of
thumb varies considerably; the local City Hall may choose a dreadful
piece solely because the artist is a famous icon from the city.)
There are no strategies to target the spontaneous buyer, because he
just follows the same buying patterns as the others. However, the
one difference is that he goes through the process at an accelerated
rate. That is, when he decides he needs to buy something, whether
for need or spontaneity, he goes through the purchasing decisions
quickly. The key lesson to learn when recognizing this buyer is: stop
selling. We artists get excited when someone shows interest, and often
oversell the piece because, well, most people back down, and we don't
want to let them go. This results in long discussions about the photographic
eye, the process, the places you visit and experiences you've had.
The spontaneous buyer doesn't care about that and may just cut to
the chase and talk price. The worst thing you can do is push him beyond
his comfort zone. Lead, but don't push.
Which Buyer is Right for You?
Summarizing the previous section, we've identified the art collector
as being out of reach for most photographers who are either entering the
market or who've not yet made a substantial name for themselves.
The other end finds the consumer, which involves selling images to
product companies who then sell to retailers.
For the purposes of selling prints as income (as opposed to "career
development"), most photographers find that the best target audience
is the art aficionado, in all their forms. Note: this does not mean
that you may not find sales opportunities in the other categories.
However, when it comes to planning and investing in longer-term
strategies, it's better to focus on the correct market segment for you,
and pick up the extra sales along the way if they happen.
Public spaces, corporate offices, art fairs and festivals, cafés,
and other places where you can set up shop are all candidates for
direct-sales. Such venues may not necessarily turn sales right away,
but the important thing is, they get you out there. I've learned a
lot about the culture and the community of photographers in art fairs
and festivals, and I've earned my ribbons and awards to the point of
personal satisfaction, even though some of these events never turned
into profits. While rewarding and only mildly profitable in the
aggregate (that is, over time), the learning experience made it worth
the merit badge of distinction, at which point I decided to move on. I
know other photographers who've continued on this track, some of them
doing quite well. But, make no mistake, even they acknowledge that
it's a labor of love more than money, and that they could probably do
considerably better financially by stepping up their ambitions.
Getting started involves getting to know your communitythe venues, the
events, the people. Usually, the first place to look is the newspaper or
on the internet for local activities. Art centers are a good source for
finding the calendar of photography events (which are often mixed with
other art-related affairs). Some places are harder than others to get
accepted, so the easiest way to start is by entering competitions.
If your work is reasonably proficient, you can get noticed by a judge
or two and maybe get some ribbons. The best strategy for this route are
"blind juried competitions," where the judges don't know who the artists
are. Blind judging removes the disadvantage of competing with well-known
names in the field who often get awards based on their reputations
(See Techniques on marketing your photography business.)
Also, it's not enough to just enter competitions; you have to use
those events as public relations opportunities. By sending announcement
postcards to potential buyers or individuals whose relationship would
be strategic to your development is advisable. Be sure to invite owners
of other venues where you'd like to exhibit your work in the future.
Personally escort such people to see your work if you can. If you've won
ribbons, even better. Marketing yourself well is often about combining
opportunities to form new ones, or leveraging one success to support
a new one. And while you're focused on all that, you may be pleasantly
surprised that aficionados have been picking up some of your pieces.
I specifically don't get into the details on what you need to buy or
do to set up a booth or other sales fixtures, because it's a very
extensive list, and just having a checklist of things to buy (or do)
will never help you sell anything. The discussion here is on strategy,
not how-to details, which itself, could warrant another book entirely.
One way you can really optimize your returns, however, is by broadening
your sales inventory to include more than just expensively framed prints.
Your photos can sell in a variety of formats, ranging from unframed
prints to small 4x6 frames, to a rack of postcards and such. You might
also share space with other artists, to reduce costs while adding
perceived size to your selling space. Again, attending events like this
and talking to many artists (not just one or two), will give you a
good sampling of what you can expect. This is also important because
different geographic regions have different expenses and buying patterns,
which may help you ascertain how well your art fits into the culture.
Buying Art: Criteria in Making Choices
Assuming you've found the appropriate venues to display, exhibit, or sell
your work, the next set of issues to raise is: what do you sell and how
to best present it? You may think it's just about picking really fine
looking pictures, framing them, and putting them up for sale. But, as
anyone experienced in this will tell you, they are constantly surprised
by what other people like, and by what actually sells. This is why
it's important to know yourself, know your market, and know how you fit
Professionals often broach the topic of "what sells," which assumes
buyers choose the "best" picture among a group (as if "best" is
deterministic). Because one can find situations where anything sells,
a more intelligent question is, "How do people make choices in the art
they buy?" And a sub-text question is, "what decision-making processes
do people go through when choosing?" Now we're getting somewhere.
Our perception of value usually starts when we make our first financial
mistake, like buying a stereo component that breaks on the 91st day of the
90-day warranty. Next time, given a choice between items that are
otherwise identical, people often lean towards the more expensive one,
or the brand name they recognize, or the well-known retail store with
a reputation. There are many elements involved here, but people are
usually wary of "the cheapest" item from a list. While price is an
important element, it isn't the whole story.
In this, and just about every aspect of commerce (and especially in art),
name recognition has more to do with perception of value than any
other aspect. People are willing to pay a higher price for a brand
they trust. In art, it is the brass ring that everyone strives for.
Only well-known career professionals get to experience this, and by
the time they have name-recognition, they don't follow the same sales
strategies as the rest of us do to move their artwork.
For the rest of us who cannot rely on name recognition to affect price or
saleability, we need to look at other decision-making factors that affect
people's perception of value. Because of art's intangible qualities,
people tend to employ two different forms of analysis when evaluating art:
comparative analysis, and complementary analysis. Let's discuss each.
An example of Comparative Analysis is found in the exercise of picking
wine at a restaurant. Most surveys on how people choose wine (which can
be found in annual food-related periodicals) show a pretty consistent
pattern year over year: when ordering at a restaurant, people often
opt for the wine whose price lies about two-thirds up the price list
from the least to the most expensive choice. Because most people don't
know wine that well, their "perception of value" is governed by the only
methods they know: heuristics learned from experiences buying other
things (stereos, cars, groceries, or even art). The lowest price item is
generally accepted as being the one to avoid, and the highest-price
item is thought to appeal to that strange demographic where "money is
Of course, this isn't necessarily true for buying everyday items, like
a hammer, for example. But the analogy with wine is more apropos because
the psychology involved in the art-buying process is more similar to that
of the wine-buying process. Art, unlike a hammer, has no "functional"
value in the home; it's value is based largely on perception. But, because
it is also a reflection of you (your taste, sophistication, values, etc.),
people's comparative analysis, whether valid or not, tells them that more
expensive items are worth it.
Complementary Analysis is when "environment" plays a significant
role in purchasing decisions. For photography, this can be a photo's
frame, the room it's in, and the lighting, all of which can "compliment"
the work. Similarly with the wine example: the environment includes the
restaurant, food, and other elements. The major difference is that wine is
often sold before the person actually drinks it, or eats the food. Even
still, complementary elements still influence perceived value of a given
wine, or a given photograph.
To witness how complementary analysis applies to selling art: have
you ever gone into a gallery and expressed interest in a particular
picture? The sales person usually takes you to a back room, hangs the
photo on a specially-lit location, offers you wine and cheese, and
then fades the lights up and down to illustrate how the mood shifts
dramatically in the picture's scene. (A wine shop won't do this to sell
you a bottle of cabernet.) The effect, of course, works, which impresses
most unsophisticated buyers; the reality is that this effect works on
just about any picture (although the technique is more often used
with paintings). The technique works, so it's used a lot. This is
"complementary analysis" in action.
We see how comparative and complementary analysis play a role in selling
art, and how it affects perception of value. How about pricing art?
Abstractly speaking, a photo priced at $1000 is less likely to sell if
it's next to one priced at $100. The $100 piece, however, is more likely
to sell for $200 because of comparative analysis. This is an oft-used
technique for people who have no intention of selling the higher-priced
item, but want to raise the perceived values of the lower-priced ones.
By contrast, a series of pictures (i.e., a collection intended to show
as a group) are often priced identically, piquing the buyer's sense of
comparative analysis. Studies have proven this time and again, which
is why you rarely see artwork mixed in with non-comparable works.
(By "comparable," I do not mean in the artistic sense; I mean in the
"perception of value" sense.)
To best sell and price your own work, you need to choose pictures that
enhance each other in style, taste, and even value. You can introduce
a "killer shot" that's printed very large and framed exquisitely (i.e.,
expensively) to raise the perceived value of the lower-priced prints,
to employ the best of both kinds of value perceptions, comparative
The most perplexing phenomenon I've ever witnessed in any business I've
been involved with is figuring out what people are willing to pay for art.
My story is not a unique one in some respects. Initially, I thought like
everyone else: start with low prices to generate interest, and then raise
prices as I became better known. I immediately encountered two problems.
First, lower price points attract a lot of tire-kickers, who require
considerable time for various discussions, yet rarely result in a sale.
Second, sales don't make an artist "better known." Nor do sales spawn new
sales. Being better known happens when you enter into the public eye in
some other way. Having your photography reviewed by critics, or exhibiting
in important venues, are two examples of this. There are many ways to
get visible, and that is entirely a marketing process.
When it comes to emerging artists, it was clear right away that I wasn't
going to suddenly get interest just because I hung a "for sale" sign on
my website. For the first couple of years, I priced low to attract
sales, but this just turned into a sink hole of time that I couldn't
afford to maintain. At one point, I considered not selling prints at
all just to keep people from asking questions that were sales-related,
but never turned into sales. But, instead of withdrawing completely,
I figured I'd just raise my prices so that people would just stop asking.
I raised the price for my smallest print (8x10) from $25 to $200, and I
added bigger sizes up to 40x60" with ridiculously high prices.
Ironically, I found that higher prices had quite a different effect
than I'd anticipated. Immediately, the tire-kickers went away, but the
sales surprisingly started to climb. Unexpected, yes, but what was most
interesting was how the demographic of my clients moved from the generic
"consumer," to those who were more artistically inclined. They didn't
bog me down with questions; they just bought prints. The unsophisticated
consumer is unlikely to spend more than $50 for a print, but those who are
used to fine art don't wince at higher prices. Similarly, they don't ask
the kinds of questions that consumers do because they already understand
the market, and by extension, the product. My initial miscalculation
of pricing structures was evidence of my lack of knowledge of the very
market I was trying to penetrate. There are other aspects to the culture
as well, not just in pricing, that also had to evolve, which underscores
the point: you need to be very cognizant of your own work and that of
your target audience.
Because I've decided to sell solely and directly through my website, I've
chosen a particular sales model that may not necessarily translate to how
you choose to sell. You may need to manage your sales process differently.
If you're selling into markets where prices range from for $150-$300 for
reasonably-sized prints, such as art festivals, street markets, fairs,
cafes, etc., then this is quite different than selling lower-priced
prints at the $10-35 range in gift shops.
One cannot and should not extrapolate wider connotations about the industry
or what your experience will be based on the experiences of others who
shoot different styles or sell to different markets. There are no studies
to draw conclusions on a wider scope or longer-term effects for pricing
policies in any one market. One reason, of course, is that many ingredients
are part of the final sales recipe, including marketing and the actual
art itself. (It would be inappropriate for me to make claims on whether
the quality of my work justifies the prices I get for my prints.) Still,
one factor that does seem to come into the mix: price plays a big role
in the buyer's perception of value.
If you are selling art through an agent, gallery, distributor or other
reseller, they are generally your best advisers on how to price your work.
But, be careful not to go to them for direct advice to you unless they
are actually representing you. The mysteries of appropriate price points
can be as elusive to them as it is to me and you. Take any "specific"
advice with a grain of salt.
Signing and Numbering Prints
Many people who sell art feel the need to sign their prints, and most
of these people also believemostly through observation of othersthat
they should number their prints as well. It makes sense, of course, and
artists are well-known for their pride and care for their artwork. I do not
have any objection to signing prints. While art collectors are usually
insistent upon signatures and numbered, limited edition prints, most
everyone else doesn't care. More surprisingly, I've found most people
prefer that I don't sign or number them. This isn't an insult, it's just
an aesthetic, but it depends on your audience. People who buy my prints
have no idea who I amthey just like the photo and want a copy. My signature
just gets in the way. Perhaps if I got famous, I'd get more requests for
my signature, but till then, my ego is not hurt that people don't care if
I sign my prints.
There is another advantage to not signing prints: it's adds a huge
chunk of time to the print fulfillment process. I would make a print,
have it shipped to me, where upon I'd sign it, then re-package it and ship
it to the customer. This not only added a few more days to the delivery
process, but added more expense as well. What's more, if I were out
of town, I couldn't fulfill orders till I returned. Because of these
and a few other minor reasons, I no longer sign prints unless people
specifically ask for it. (I do get requests from time to time, but it's
more because there are some who feel a closer association with the artist,
not because of a perception of value.)
As for numbering prints, this is another aspect to art photography that is
somewhat misunderstood by artists. The only reason to number your prints
is to indicate that you will only make a limited number of such images
at that size, an implication that isn't as widely known. There's only
one reason to limit the number of prints: to enhance the value for collectors.
The only time this value is appreciated is if you are famous enough that there
is a demand for limited edition prints. If you're not, then it's somewhat
pretentious to number your prints. It's as though you're telling people
that you're more important than you actually are.
That said, it can be an effective marketing technique, and in business,
this may actually be smart, though perhaps objectionable to those with
more cultured senses. Still, there are as many pretentious art buyers as
there are artists, so if a buyer sees you sign and number your print, they
may perceive more value in your work than what you would have otherwise
garnered. (Sad-but-true: many people become famous, not because of
objective opinions from well-respected experts and critics, but from
the clever marketing hype by the artist himself. I'll leave it as an
exercise to the reader to determine who may qualify for this distinction.)
Although the alert reader may sense an air of disdain I have for
unjustified and unapologetic self-promotion, I actually do respect
those who can actually pull it off. Indeed, such a technique may be
most effective in fairs and other public venues where pretentiousness
flies through the air like the smell of popcorn wafting through a movie
theater. But, at the end of the day, you have to weigh this against the
pitfalls: you may not fool enough people to make it worthwhile in the
long run, and those you really want to impress (the smart art buyers or
gallery owners) know better. Sending the wrong impression about yourself
may work against you too.
Even the most brutal art critics have said of the most famous paintings
that the frame is better than the piece itself. This often has the effect
of enhancing the artwork beyond its own merits. Indeed, photography
is no exception; nothing adorns a photograph better than its frame,
so it's critically important to choose the most appropriate frame for
your works. This is not a green light to get the most expensive,
or the most elaborate frame, even for a mediocre photograph. This is
especially true for black and white photography. Here is a classic case
where "less is more," and the print often looks best in the most minimal
and modest of frames.
Framing styles and tastes vary dramatically. For example, a popular
method is to use a very wide margin around the photo with matting that
isolates the image as much as possible from whatever else might be
around it (pictures, windows, doors, etc.). Similarly, people often
opt for thick frames to establish an even firmer border. On the other
end of the spectrum is the minimalist design, featuring very thin metal
frames and extremely wide mats around very small prints. Color pictures
make it tempting to choose mats whose colors match or contrast the picture
inside, which can be quite effective for specific prints, especially those
that don't share a wall space with anything else. (Hence, these tend to
be larger prints where the colors of the image and the mat/frame combination
are chosen to compliment the interior design of the room.) Take any
trip to a framing store and you'll see that the selections are so broad
that your head can spin with ideas, all of which seem ingenious at first.
And then you try a few.
For my work, I've eventually come to the conclusion that a simple
black wood frame (about ¾" thick) and a plain bright white mat
is best. I may choose an all white frame/mat, or all black frame/mat,
depending on the context, and in rare occasions a thin silver metal
frame can be effective. Matting tends to be anywhere from 3½" to 5"
wide all around the photo (with an extra ½" on the bottom). This
satisfies two important needs that you might consider:
Many pictures with the same framing in an environment gives a better sense
of balance and intention. It looks less busy, drawing the viewer more
to the picture itself. (Oddly, this doesn't work with paintings,
which require almost an opposite approach.) With photographs, a
lack of consistent framing can make a series of photos appear almost
amateurish. (If not the photos, the interior design itself.) Hence, the
goal of "intention" has a subtle, almost subliminal influence on the viewer.
Using simple, basic neutral framing and matting design (like black, white or
grey, and using plain wood or metal with few decorative accents), allows
photos to be used in any room, in any house or office, and with just about
any photograph. This also makes it simpler for customers who are undecided
about what they want.
If a customer requests a framed print, I have the lab ship the product
directly to my local framer, who frames, boxes and ships directly to
the customer. Aside from an initial consultation of selecting the style
of matte and frames noted above, I am not involved in this process at all.
This is a time-consuming and difficult task, often requiring lots of
physical space and supplies to boot. If you are making a lot of prints,
then this may be worthwhile, but few photographers get to that point
early in their careers (so they're not reading this). If you're just
starting out and are interested in doing your own framing to save money,
you're being penny-wise and pound foolish. Your time is far more valuable
than your money, and you should be spending that doing far more important
things. Leave the framing to the pros and concentrate on building
other areas of your business.
It is important to illustrate at this point that I only print, frame
and ship upon receipt of an order. I don't create inventory, ready to
sell. When I got started in the business, I had printed a number of
pieces that I thought would sell well, and placed them wherever I could:
cafés, restaurants, dentist waiting rooms, and my dog's vet
clinic. Although I've heard success stories of people selling many prints
this way, I don't know any of these people, and it's never happened to
me. (I have gotten calls to do other assignments, which is good, but that's
more of a marketing strategy than it is a sales strategy for prints.)
To this day, I still have most of those early prints in my garage (or
in my house). Because I sell over the internet, I don't have to have
an inventory of framed pictures, reducing my cost of doing business. I
realize that not everyone will run their business entirely on the web,
which brings us full circle to the point of this chapter: to sell prints
successfully, you need to find the right venue for the right audience
selling the right product. Your choice in mats and frames needs to
satisfy the two objectives noted above, or you too will find a garage
(or house) full of unsold prints.
Regarding the glass, framers advise using Plexiglas instead of regular
glass because it's lighter and doesn't break (as easily), thus making
shipping easier, less expensive and less likely to result in a damaged
product. Two great reasons! The catch is, Plexiglas looks worse than
real glass in front of a print. I'll use "Plexi" if the customer
requests it (especially the non-glare kind), but I never choose it on my
own. (Similarly, non-glare glass is like Plexiglas in that it alters the
color balance, and distorts the ultimate image. This is a tradeoff with
the glare of light if the photo is placed in a highly lit environment
where reflection can impact the viewing.)
Because I print digitally by a professional lab, print fulfillment is
simple. When a customer places an order, I upload the digital image to
whichever photo finishing lab's website that I happen to be using at any
given time, and they turn around the print and drop-ship it directly to
the customer. If it's an order for a framed print, I have them ship to
my framer, who turns it around and ships to my customer. My goal is to
spend as little (zero) time as possible in this process. When you consider
the time, materials and other resources necessary to print and ship
a product, this is one of those few occasions where I wholeheartedly
endorse outsourcing to the fullest extent. Because this is a rapidly
evolving market, there will undoubtedly be various options for doing
this more efficiently and less expensively as time goes on.
For those handling shipping themselves, the first question people wonder
is: what is the best material in which to package a print? The answer
varies on the type of print, its size, and the material. For unframed
prints, the easiest answer is a tube. You can get good ones anywhere:
the post office, the drug store, a UPS or FedEx outlet (or any other
express shipper), or even a hardware or stationery store. Hard cardboard
tubes are perfect; the print is never bent accidentally, and it's best for
size and convenience versatility. What's more, just about any tube can
accommodate most print sizes (provided enough width is given), and many
prints fit in one tube. Most printer paper rolls just fine and unrolls
as well. Also, since most people frame their prints, the fact that it's
rolled won't compromise the framing process.
Some like shipping prints flat, which is also ok in principle, but
it's bulkier, harder to produce a shipping-safe package, and is more
susceptible to damage under unusual situations. Still, for smaller prints,
I'll use a flat envelope (like FedEx Express Package) and add cardboard
to secure it. This is usually safe, and I've never had a problem. Seems
obvious, but if you're feeling insecure, don't worry about it. It's just
a matter of experience.
I used to ship using the post office for years until the first time a
print got damaged. There was no recourse because I didn't sign up for
the insurance, etc. While I've never had the post office lose a print,
it has happened to others. For this and other easier logistical reasons,
I use an express service (which the post office also provides).
FedEx is nearby and I like using their website to generate express
shipping labels, so I happen to favor them at the moment. UPS is equally
good, and while I have used them, they are slightly less convenient
for my particular geographic reasons. (It costs extra money to have
packages picked up, which is why I drop it off.) All carriers are equally
annoying for international shipments, but this isn't their faultit's
the nature of the world we live in.
The carrier you use becomes even more important for framed prints,
mostly because you've got more to lose, so you need more accountability.
Like buying a computer, where all vendors really have the same product
and the real differentiator is in customer service when something goes
wrong, so too is it for shippers. They all provide the same service,
but how easy, fast, and thorough they are in dealing with claims is
what differentiates them. When something breaks or goes wrong, all shippers
are way at the low end of the satisfactory scale, so it's really a matter
of choosing among bad options. I've had both FedEx and UPS damage prints,
and both have resulted in extremely difficult, foot-dragging customer
service when it comes to refunding money. Clearly, everyone's experience
varies, and just because I've had bad experiences, doesn't mean you will.
However, one major piece of advice I can offer is: when you ship, go
directly to the shipper; do not use an intermediary. The reason is
that if you go to a shipping store, they are the entity that has to
file the claims on your behalf, and the shipper will refuse to work with
you directly. The problem with this process is that the intermediary
shipper usually has no incentive, time, or even manpower to deal with
claims. In short, they don't care.
When it comes to prints, don't turn into a prima donna. You may love
your own work, but don't hold on too religiously to that feeling. What
you actually sell may surprise you. The goal is to promote what you
think is your best work, but realize that your second-choice pictures may
be the ones that move. How close you get to selling what you also think
is your best stuff is contingent upon how well you know your audience.
Why and how people buy artwork is as diverse as why they buy cars,
music, or sunscreen. When you look at masses of people as a whole, you
see patterns of behavior that you never could have expected.
Click to recommend this page: