Choosing Your Photo Sales Channels


Photography: tarotastic

We’re spoiled for choice these days and that’s no good thing. If you want to create a website to promote your photography, you can take your pick of templates, tools and portfolio sites.

If you want to learn how to shoot better pictures, you could (if you’re not selective) lose an entire month browsing the back posts of Strobist and Digital Photography School, and that’s before you’ve even started looking for the most interesting groups on Flickr.

And if you want to make money from your images, there’s a whole raft of different ways to do it, from postcards and posters to Rights-Managed and Royalty-Free licenses and prints.

Actually, that choice is a little easier. While you’ll only need one website to show off  your images, you’ll want to sell your pictures in as many different ways as possible. When it comes to choosing sales channels, the best choice is to choose them all.

You’ll want a balance of stock sales, products and prints – and if you can get it, assignment photography too. That’s just standard business practice. Rely on just one revenue stream and if prices fall – as they have done in stock over the last few years – you’ll be in trouble. Keep the money flowing in a range of different ways and if one stream gets clogged you won’t be left completely in the lurch.

Sell your Stock Photography Everywhere

But even though the benefits of diversification might be clear, how to diversify isn’t. Choosing where to license your images, for example, means picking between a dozen or so different microstock sites, and that’s before you’ve even looked at higher-priced open source sellers such as fotoLibra and Farm Boy Fine Arts. The broad choice leaves plenty of room for mistakes, especially when tempting new ideas are regularly popping up and promising easier sales of images that have proved hard to move.

Pitcha, for example, aims to make selling through Flickr simpler – a much-needed service considering the frequency with which buyers contact photographers on the site and the difficulties of negotiating through it. But the site demands exclusivity, introducing an opportunity cost through not being able to sell the image anywhere else. That cost could be quite high as the site is “working with a $0 budget,” founder Dan Steel told us, and relies on word-of-mouth marketing to bring in buyers. Put your images in Pitcha then and they could sit there unsold for a while.

Put them on Clustershot though and you can still sell them elsewhere while uploading automatically from Flickr, setting your own rate and taking home 88 percent of the sale price. It’s still early days for both sites but it’s hard to see how Pitcha’s roughly 100 contributors won’t find that they’ve made a mistake.

In practice, most microstock sellers tend to spread their images as widely as possible by selling through a number of different sites. Until recently, that was always to maximize revenue. Although stock sites offer higher percentages in return for exclusivity, higher sales figures from a larger number of channels tended to be the smarter option.

“I would lose money if I went exclusive and besides I feel more secure by having my work in many sites around the world,” top microstock seller Andres Rodriguez told us once.

That security is likely to be even more important following the collapse of LuckyOliver and DigitalRailroad, which left some sellers racing to take back their images before databases were deleted.

So when it comes to selling stock, the question is less likely to be which services you should use but which services you shouldn’t. In general, uploading to five or so of the most dominant – iStock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, Shutterstock and 123rf — should be a fairly safe bet that doesn’t swallow too much time uploading.

Four Ways to Sell Photography Products

Sell your images as products and your choices are going to be smaller but harder. There are four main services that allow photographers to offer their pictures on items that range from t-shirts and caps to mouse pads and even shoes: Cafepress, Zazzle, Red Bubble and Etsy.

Each of those service is slightly different. Cafepress is the granddaddy of print-on-demand sales and also owns Imagekind; Zazzle has a wider range of products and also stocks plenty of corporate-branded items; Red Bubble is the artsiest of the four; and Etsy, which focuses on craft, demands a subscription fee from sellers.

Although some contributors use more than one channel (wallpaper seller Vlad Gerasimov, for example, uses both Zazzle and Etsy to promote some of his product range) not every site matches the items on offer. More importantly, while stock sites do much of the promotional work on behalf of photographers, product sites leave the sales work to the photographer.

Choose lots of sites then and you won’t just be spending a great deal of time managing your accounts, you’ll also be losing hours driving traffic. Picking the one most suitable service then might be your best bet.

There is another way to extend your sales channels though and it’s one that only a small number of photographers make use of. Instead of selling your images, you can sell your image-making knowledge. The traditional way has always been for photographers to teach in local universities or community colleges – a useful way for grizzled old pros to develop at least one regular revenue stream. More recently though, a number of tools have popped up that means any photographer can now teach and even choose between teaching online or offline., for example, is a new UK-based service that aims to bring together local teachers with people keen to learn in their area. It costs nothing to use and currently has around 35 teachers offering photography classes – and 58 students who have expressed an interest in learning. Interestingly, a search for Photoshop turns up 44 teachers, many of whom are also photography teachers.

“If you make a living as a freelance teacher, you can use it to advertise for free and find work,” co-founder Dougald Hine says. ” The site is big with music teachers and driving instructors, but we also get a lot of interest around things like languages, photography and practical skills like gardening, cooking, knitting and sewing — basically, subjects where there’s more room for informal learning.”

Photography might seem like the sort of thing that needs to be taught in person – and it’s probably more fun that way – but has found a way to teach image-making across the Web and offers a range of different classes. Creating your own one-person, virtual photography school is likely to take some effort but if it’s a choice you want to make, your next decision will be how to find the time to put all your revenue streams into action.

4 comments for this post.

  1. Mike Panic Said:

    I've been with iStock for nearly 7 years now, have been exclusive since they started the program and tried some of the other sites out there and took the images down after going exclusive. Why, well there's one main reason I took them down that I'll touch on in a minute. To be honest though, it's a royal pain to upload the same photo to site after site after site and deal with different interfaces, keywords, etc. etc. Staying with one was easier for me.

    The main reason - dealing with thiefs. If you find one of your images used improperly that you have uploaded as stock on 5 different sites, good luck figuring out who the thief bought it from in the first place.

  2. James Said:

    You can also submit your work to - a pretty cool new startup offering limited edition prints daily.

  3. Phil Wessells Said:

    Under the philosophy of market and sell in all place, you should try, too, for selling your photos. We do much of the photo production for flickr, Photobucket and others. Now on you can load your images and create listings for all types of prints, framed prints, calendars, posters, stock downloads (coming soon) and more. The site is free to list your images as well.

  4. Yanik's Photo School Said:

    I started Yanik's Photo School in April as a way to give back. It's a one-man show for now but I plan on adding more guest posts in 2009.

    You can't do it for the money, at least not when you start off. You need to be passionate about both photography and teaching.

    I love what I do and what keeps me going are the comments I receive from my readers.

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