Image Courtesy: BuyaPhoto.net
Prints don’t sell on the Web. You can sell digital downloads through microstock sites. You can turn your photos into books and offer them on online stores. You can even put your pictures on products and offer them as t-shirts, mousepads and even skateboard decorations. But create a gallery and suggest that people who like your pictures should order up a print to place in their living room, their study or on their desk, and you can’t expect to make a dime. There’s too little demand, too little available wallspace and too much competition from other photographers with beautiful pictures of similar subjects. It’s just possible though that that old assumption about what sells on the Web might not be true. At least one site has been happily offering pictures submitted by photographers for more than six years – and making regular sales.
BuyaPhoto.net was originally created by Dean and Kathy Outlaw, owners of a photo lab in New South Wales, Australia, as a way for a local newspaper to upload photographs from its editions. Their lab would print the pictures on the newspaper’s behalf and send them to its customers. The couple approached other newspapers and the service began to grow. By 2004, the idea had become so popular that they decided to sell their lab, subcontract the printing work and rewrite BuyaPhoto.net as an online gallery service with enhanced print-on-demand features.
More Than 20,000 Print Sales Every Year
Today, the company has 80 active and contributing photographers, and offers images submitted by three newspaper groups covering more than 90 newspapers. Altogether it’s sold more than 135,000 prints, a rate of more than 20,000 every year.
The price for those prints ranges broadly. Contributors are free to set their own rates and different photographers operating in different fields can charge very different amounts. According to Dean Outlaw, some photographers are demanding AU$15 for a 6×8 inch print while others are asking for as much as AU$35. For larger photos, prices can reach as high as around AU$240 for 24×36 inch canvas.
“It depends what market they are in and also what sort of marketing money they are spending on selling their prints,” he says.
The most popular subjects that individual photographers sell on BuyaPhoto are scenery, flowers and events, the kind of decorative images that buyers might want to place around the home. Newspapers that contribute to the site tend to sell pictures of people featured in the publication, such as a child with his soccer team on the weekend, an item from the social pages or perhaps a shot from a current story. Most of those orders will come from the subject’s family.
The photos are sold through the site through three different channels. The gallery is the main part of BuyaPhoto and acts as a warehouse that stores all the images submitted by all the contributors.
“It enables photographers who are just starting out to be able to sell their images as prints or downloads,” says Dean.
RSS galleries provide a showcase and shopping cart for photographers who already have their own website but want to add ecommerce functions. A file uploaded to their website uses the photographer’s images on BuyaPhoto to create a gallery which is updated automatically whenever new images are made available for sale. The shopping cart and gallery are branded with the photographer’s logo but the logistics and page creation are handled by BuyaPhoto.
Finally, photographers who already have a gallery online, can add a piece of code that generates a buy button, allowing them to make sales without even uploading their images to BuyaPhoto.
Most Images Are Sold on Photographers’ Own Websites
Together those three tools make the sales opportunity simple to create, but actually bringing in the revenue is a lot harder. That more than half of BuyaPhoto’s contributors are professional publications with established audiences is likely to help its sales a great deal, but according to Dean Outlaw, there are a few things that an individual photographer can do to increase the chances of selling prints.
Most important is the quality of the images rather than size of the portfolio. Photographers should take a long, hard look at the images they’re planning to upload, Dean says.
“If their wife, husband or whoever wouldn’t want it hanging in their lounge then they should think seriously before uploading it for sale. Quality is always better than quantity.”
Keywording is vital too, a necessary aspect of online sales that’s familiar to stock photographers but still not very enjoyable. A small gallery on a photographer’s website can be easily browsed but images added to a large gallery such as the one on BuyaPhoto have to be found through a search engine. That means doing more than just shooting and uploading. BuyaPhoto has put some effort into strengthening the site’s keywording options.
And it’s vital, too, to get off the site and onto your own where “the photographer is not competing with another 80 photographers to sell their images and they get the full value of any marketing money they spend,” says Dean.
In fact, about 90 percent of BuyaPhoto’s printing work comes from photographers using either the RSS gallery or its PrintMe button to pitch their products to their own customers. It’s a figure that suggests that successfully selling prints on the Web may not be about putting them on a site like BuyaPhoto’s, which only brings 10 percent of the buyers. Rather, the sales depend on the relationship between the photographer and his or her community of customers. Uploading carefully chosen, comprehensively keyworded images to BuyaPhoto’s galleries may help but to continue making regular sales, a photographer will need to build a relationship with buyers, keep them coming into his or her website, and create the kind of decorative images that they want to own.
Selling prints on the Web then may not be impossible. But while you can outsource the printing, the billing and the payment systems, you’ll still have to find and satisfy the market — and that’s still difficult.