I wrote a couple of articles (here and here) about selling photography online previously and was thinking about it today as I opened up one of the sites I sell (and lease) on. I was shocked and happy to see that someone (two buyers) had purchased 15 different images of mine — three canvases and 12 Glicee prints.
Well, no not really. Every little bit helps though, right? As photographers who are playing in the Fine Art game we work at having multiple income streams, other jobs, sell on multiple websites and do our best to keep ourselves out there as well. Something like selling 15 images is a big deal, for me anyway and likely for many of you.
I have said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again many times but no matter what you’re trying to do, you have to market yourself and your work. Just because it’s on some site, sitting there, does not mean the right buyer will just magically find it. You still have to do the work, keyword, post new work regularly and be active in order to come up higher in searches.
Eyes on your work
The biggest benefit to these print on demand and similar sites is the amount of traffic they get. I used to have my own gallery-type site, for quite a few years I tried one and then another company that hosts those types of sites for photographers. In all those years I think I sold two random images to some random person who happened to find images based on my keywords. The rest of my sales there came from people I knew, who knew me.
The print on demand sites have hundreds of thousands of visitors and people looking specifically for artwork. Some of them work with businesses and art dealers to find pieces for clients, some are consumer customer based. The one thing most of the more popular sites have in common? Visitors to their site. These sites draw in the visitors who may or may not have ever found your work on your own website.
Of course, there are drawbacks to this as well. You rarely know who your customer actually is. It’s very likely you will have no idea where your work is being hung. This makes it difficult to promote yourself to similar customers. Some of these purchasers may be hotels or businesses which would look incredible on your resume. The other drawback is your cut, as many of these sites take anywhere from 20% to 60% of the final sale price. If you were selling direct, you’d be making more money, you’d also be doing a lot more work to find and land these clients.
Selling direct and being your own marketer isn’t easy for most of us. We’re behind the camera for a reason. We don’t want to come off as pushy or salesy so we just post to social media once in a while, hashtag the crap out of our images and hope that the right person or company sees it and falls in love with our work. Happily ever after, right? The thing is, that may happen once in a great while, but it doesn’t happen far more than it does. So, you can choose to float along, half-heartedly trying to promote yourself and your work, or you can experiment with some of the print on demand sites out there and let them promote for you. Remember though, they are not promoting only your work, they are promoting thousands of other artists as well.
No matter what you decide, you still have to do the work. There is no magic formula.