Wouldn’t it be great if selling your photographs was a great deal easier? Wouldn’t life be so much smoother if you didn’t have to deal with the printers, handle the packing and mailing or even collect your customers’ credit card details?
You could just shoot the pictures you want, put them on the Web and let some automated system sort out the headache of taking the orders, managing the prints, and processing the payments and shipping.
Of course, you can do that now. Put your images on Flickr, Imagekind or even Zazzle, and thos sites will deal with all the fiddly bits of the purchase themselves, leaving you free to shoot and upload.
But none of those sites is yours. Their buyers are looking for photographs, not your photographs. You get little reward from a new buyer at Zazzle for having a reputation for creating outstanding pictures and you don’t get to show your images in the same way or with the same freedom that you can on your own website. And if you want to sell the same photo in a number of different ways, you usually have to spread them out over a number of different sites, each with their own specialty.
“There is a problem with the existing solutions for photographers to sell their photos,” explains Ahmad Khariostami, co-founder of Fotomoto, a new photography fulfillment service. “First of all, if photographers want to sell photos, they have to upload their photos to ‘photo supermarkets’ and create a store there, and they have no control or a very limited control over the presentation of their photos.
“And then, for different products, they have to go to different ‘supermarkets.’ For example, to sell prints they have to create a store on ImageKind, and to sell licenses they have to send photos to iStockPhoto, and for postcards or calendars they have to go to CafePress. We wanted to offer all this in one place, the right place, which is the photographers’ own website!”
The service has only been live for a couple of months, and is still in closed beta. But Fotomoto sends out around 50-60 invitations a week, and has already signed up about 300 photographers who together offer some 35,000 photographs. Prices for the images tend to start at $20 and rise to several hundred dollars. Sales, says Ahmad, are in “lower three-digit numbers at this point.”
David Nightingale, a professional photographer and photography trainer, is one of the people who has contributed to those sales. David was contacted by Fotomoto in late 2008, but only implemented the code on his website, Chromasia.com, a month ago. Most of the images on his site are now available as prints through Fotomoto, and he has, he says, “made a small number of sales.”
“Previously, people would need to email us, then make a manual payment. Once we received the payment we would need to order the print, check it, mail it to the client, and so on. With Fotomoto all we need to do is upload the high res’ image when a new print is ordered,” David told us. “[W]e’re definitely satisfied and would recommend the service. It’s very well implemented, the print quality is high, and it’s a relatively painless way of providing a service to our clients.”
For David though, the benefit of Fotomoto isn’t necessarily the extra sales — he was selling prints anyway — it’s the time and effort saved by having someone else handle the logistics even as he continues to sell from his own website.
Print Sales Are Rare
But in practice, those sales are going to be relatively few (even with the discount coupons and analytics that Fotomoto provides). While prints might be the most attractive items for photographers to sell, they’re also among the hardest photography items to promote. Stock buyers need new images every time they release a new article or bring out a new brochure. Art buyers tend not to buy more photos once their walls are full. Josh McCulloch, a professional outdoors photographer, notes that while Fotomoto’s service looks interesting and might appeal to hobbyists and advanced amateurs who can integrate it easily into their sites without being limited to a template, it’s not something he would be using himself.
“I prefer seeing each and every print that goes to a client to make sure they’re happy,” he says.
Nor does he put much faith in the ability of print sales to make a large difference to a photographer’s income. Dismissing print orders as “few and far between,” Josh is betting on online consumption — rather than online ordering alone — as the main way for images to change hands.
That’s a direction that Fotomoto is moving too. In addition to expanding its range to include calendars and postcards, the company is planning to add usage licenses to the services it wants to offer photographers. It’s even considering creating a separate site where buyers will be able to browse all of the images offered across its contributors.
Of course, that would mean tagging and keywording, as well as uploading. And it would mean too that buyers who want a broad choice of images will no longer be looking at the photographers’ websites.
Selling prints from your own website using an effortless, automated system might be nice. But it would be nicest of all if you could rely on print sales to fund your photography. Not even Fotomoto can make that happen.