Photography: Nancy Falso
If you’re wondering what to do with the artistic shots of landmarks you shot on your last foreign vacation, then you might want to think about selling them on Etsy. The craft site might be best known for its handmade items and vintage products but buyers on the site are also willing to snap up shots of cities, landmarks and famous sites — provided they’re artistic enough.
“Photos of places like Paris, London and NYC… tend to sell well,” says Nancy Falso, who has been shopping on Etsy for a year and opened her own store on the site three months ago. “But since there are so many they need really to have something special about them in order to stand out among the rest.”
Saturation is certainly a problem. The site offers more than 305,000 items in the photography section of its art category in forms that range from abstract to TTV, a format in which pictures are taken with one camera shooting through the viewfinder of another. Shoppers on the site are said to buy according to the seasons, with winter-themed photos selling as the temperatures drop and beach photos moving best in the summer. In October, for example, Falso sold this autumnal image of a squirrel in a pine tree. The self-taught photographer has also found that her desk calendars are currently selling well as customers start to look for extensions to their 2011 calendars.
Whimsy is What Sells
It’s the travel images though that are among the most surprising year-round choices. Georgia Fowler has been shooting seriously since 2007 and travels extensively. She’s lived in five countries and is currently based in France. Fowler was able to sell this image of a French menu board within hours of listing it on the site.
But that was unusual and Fowler has only sold a few images on the site since she started selling photography there in May 2011. Most of her store offers landscape images of France, she points out, shots that are attractive and artistic but which have little connection to a particular place let alone one as well known as the French capital.
“[P]hotos of Paris, blurry, layered, textured and heavily photoshopped is what sells best,” she says. “You could describe them as dreamy and whimsical styles. It has been mentioned in discussions on the Etsy forums that this could be because being a handmade site, a good photo isn’t enough. You have to show that you have done more than just take a stunning photo!”
The challenges of selling on Etsy don’t end with the need to convert your pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Empire State Building into vintage shots that look like they were captured in the 1930s. They also have to be priced properly.
Nancy Falso begins by checking the cost of printing in various sizes and adds the profit margin she wants to make (and says she needs to earn in order to make selling them worthwhile). She then looks at shipping prices and, finally, compares her rates with those of other sellers. (Lowballing might be tempting to win some initial sales but rarely works, she warns. “Buyers will only value your work if you value it yourself.”)
The result is usually a price of $25 for an unframed 8 x 10 inch print and around $15 for unframed 5 x 7 inch print. With the cost of printing included in that price, but not Etsy’s 3.5 percent transaction fee, that doesn’t leave a huge profit margin to cover either the expenses involved in creating the image or time spent selling it.
Don’t Charge for the Time
And that selling time will be an important factor. The biggest surprise Falso found when she began selling on Etsy was the amount of effort she needed to set up lists, organize her shop, update her treasuries, and stay involved in “teams,” Etsy’s version of Flickr’s groups.
“[I]t’s all quite time consuming, but all quite necessary if you want to sell,” she says.
“You definitely can’t just open a shop, upload your photos and sit back waiting for sales to happen.”
That’s particularly true when it comes to search engine optimization. Etsy allows sellers to include tags to make sure that their images turn up in searches but it’s also important to include keywords in titles, even if that does make those descriptions clumsy to read. Falso’s squirrel image, which was sold to a woman in Australia, had the less-than-catchy moniker “Stealthy the Squirrel photo print – 8×10 nougat brown forest green fall colors pine tree furry autumn fall whimsical camouflage.”
Even with the right images at the right prices, tagged and keyworded carefully, and promoted through teams and social media, sales might still be relatively rare. Nancy Falso says that she sells, on average, one picture “every few weeks,” a rate that’s she’s been told is rather good for a new seller. Many people, she remarks, wait weeks or even months before they make their first sale.
There are alternatives, of course. Georgia Fowler also sells through her own site and through Fine Art America. Ebay, she says, can bring a large audience to marketable images, but the prices are too low and everyone is looking for a “super bargain.” Nancy Falso has made sales on Society6 but says that she prefers Etsy because it’s more personal and she can check the quality of the images before she sends them out.
Etsy, then, is capable of delivering some sales for photographers. If the image is seasonal or travel-related and whimsical, well-tagged and promoted, it might generate the occasional order. But it’s unlikely that your presence on the site will do more than deliver the odd welcome check. Think of it as a fun place to mingle online with other creative types and to offer images that you had a good time creating. And think of the money it can bring in as a bonus that shows you someone likes your image so much they were actually willing to pay for it.