Selling Photos through Red Bubble

If you think that selling photos through an art gallery is difficult, spare a thought for buyers. Although a few have the budget to pay four-figure sums and more for photographs they like, there’s a much bigger pool of photography lovers who’d like to pay a smaller sum for an attractive photograph that would just look good on their landing wall.

There’s an even bigger group who would like to buy photo-based calendars that don’t show the usual fluffy kittens and ball-of-fur dogs that chain stores stock up on towards the end of every year.

More importantly, many buyers would also like to buy those photographs from living artists whose works they appreciate – and those artists would very much like to sell to them.

Blogging for Photo Artists

RedBubble was created to try to bring these two demands together. Launched in early 2007, the site aims to deliver for aspiring artists what blogging has done for aspiring writers and what YouTube has done for aspiring directors… with one exception: it wants the artists to get paid too.

The site is free to join and anyone can upload images, making them available for sale as prints, posters, calendars and cards, and on t-shirts too. RedBubble sets a fee to print each item and artists are then free to set their own mark-ups above the cost price.

So far, so familiar. Zazzle too allows artists to offer their works on products that range from plimsolls to mouse pads. Unlike that site though, RedBubble steers clear of big brands in order to focus on individual creators, while Etsy, which has a similar feel, tends to be more craft-oriented.

Judging by the result of its first couple of years in business, the service seems to be working. More than 90,000 contributors have already joined the site and after generating more than $1.2 million in sales in the first year, RedBubble looks likely to double that this year. Around 40 percent of those sales have been of photography products, not including t-shirt sales.

“We… don’t see ourselves as just a print-on-demand service but as an art site which means that we don’t promote things like mouse pads or a service of getting your dog’s photo on a mug,” co-founder and executive chairman Martin Hosking told us. “Right now we are growing so rapidly because we have really tried to deliver on the needs of living artists and allowing them to reach a global audience.”

Calendars are the best sellers, Martin says, because they combine accessibility with a high quality art product, but cards and framed prints also sell well.

$2.4 million Divided into 90,000 Equals…

A tougher question though is how well they sell, and what a photographer has to do to generate those sales. If the site is generating $2.4 million a year in sales and has 90,000 contributors, each artist is earning on average… less than $27 per year. Clearly, no one is going to get rich on that but equally clearly, the sales aren’t averaged out. Not all of the contributors will be active and while some may be making good  money, many are presumably making very little, if any, money at all.

In part, that’s likely to be down to their own marketing skill. While RedBubble handles search engine optimization, offers widgets that can be embedded in blogs and social media sites, and has active PR offices, as usual, the real marketing work is left to each seller.

“Our best sellers are making a reasonable part time living,” says Martin. “This is obviously growing and if they combine this with sales off RedBubble they can do OK.

“It is not, however, as simple as simply putting up your work then letting it sell itself. If you want to do well you will need to find multiple ways to promote yourself both within RedBubble and in other forums.”

Martin points to the Aussie Exotics sports car photography calendar as one example of a product that has sold “many hundreds” of copies. The photographer contacted sites directly to promote it, he says, winning a glowing recommendation from at least one site. Other photographers though, Martin concedes, are not as good at marketing themselves so the site offers a sales blog and a sales forum to help them learn the basics and pick up some new ideas. Those suggestions might include the importance of describing the works on offer so that buyers can put them in context and understand what they’re buying. Themed calendars also sell much better than calendars with a random collection of attractive images, and the images themselves have to be high-resolution so that they print at top quality.

Like non-commercial sites such as Flickr though, RedBubble also has groups that allow contributors to swap tips among themselves and arrange local meet-ups, a factor that has helped to contribute to the site’s rapid growth.

“People want to get together with each other (both online and offline),” says Martin. “They are motivated not only by the sales but the overall experience of sharing.”

So if you decide not to put in the effort at marketing and find that you don’t make any sales, at least you’ll make some new friends. And maybe one of them will be looking for a new picture for the landing wall.

32 comments for this post.

  1. samuel cain Said:

    I'm a RB member for more than a year and only sold a postcard, it's a very good site but for the moment photographers have to create their own sale, not enough traffic on RB to sale "alone". And they give a lot of tools for that (button, flash shows etc.)

  2. Matthew Erricson Said:

    Well in this day and age of highly competetive marketers its not enough just to be able to take good photos.My advice is to learn and get a grasp of how to market.Its imperative you do this.Ive been a phtographer for over 25 years and it was only recently I actually acquired the nesessary skill to be able to market my own photos.Although Ive been fortunate having a productive career,its amazing what new doors open when you learn this seemingly simple fact.
    Photo F stop

  3. Jo Star Said:

    Around our shop we refer to these as "vanity para_sites"
    They get a free art department and full retail markup. The end user or buyer does all the vetting. A sweet deal indeed.

  4. David Winge Said:

    The saga of my experience with Red Bubble and a warning to you.

    I joined a site called RedBubble thinking they were a good resource for selling prints, getting prints done and t-shirts printed, I could not have been more wrong.

    I loaded some print sized images and created a t-shirt design, shortly after this, I ordered a shirt, it arrived and looked good, the only problem is these were not preshrunk shirts, they do suggest washing them in cold water but what they don’t tell you is these are the cheapest cotton shirts in existance.

    No worries, now I know, so I order a large laminated print as a test, thinking I can order my book cover laminated for a display during my shows, this was April 12th. I’m informed by one of their minions that my print shipped on 4/17 and should be here in a maximum of 10 days. Then by May 5th when nothing had shown up yet… I’m writing in their customer service ‘forum’ and someone else tells me to be patient, it’s coming from Australia. HUH? Ok, whatever. In the meantime I order 9 t-shirts to have on hand for my book signing.

    May 27th, I have not recieved the print, the shirts do arrive BUT 3 of the large shirts are NOT PRINTED. WTF? Back to the forum… I post photos of the shirts: and I’m told all will be reordered and shipped.

    La la lala la …June 10 I receive the print (still wondering where the first one is and who sold it) the print has this god awful crease across it, just below the center of the image, it’s unusable! ...Saturday the reprinted shirts show up, not the 3 Large that were missing, one each Medium, Large and XLarge.

    Summary… they cannot read, they do not followup, their customer service is abismal and their attitude is one of go screw yourself.

    Thank goodness Red Bubble is not representative of most Internet merchants, just sucks to be the one to get burned by them.

    BTW, this is the reason my work is no longer available there.

  5. Rory Kelly Said:

    Redbubble is an incredible community on which I have sold dozens of cards and prints over the last year and a half. I have also bought several cards, prints and T shirts. I have been delighted by the quality of service and the products. I would recommend the site to anyone.

  6. Jackie Said:

    I too have had nothing but the best experience with Redbubble, along with others when it comes to buying and selling work. As for it being an Australian based company - only adds to it imo.

  7. painterperson Said:

    it would be good to hear what Redbubble has to say in answer to David Winge

  8. Steven Geer Said:

    After one year with Red Bubble as a contributing member and group moderator, I decided to leave as well.

    As far as products go, they lack in variety and tend to be over priced.

    Personally, I grew tired of it feeling more like facebook or myspace, rather than an artists' community. It just was not for me...however there are some wonderfully talented members on there. In the end, if it works for you- then that's what counts.

  9. Craig Bourke Said:

    Have to agree with Steven, products are way over priced for how poor a quality they are. I had a buyer contact me after purchasing a print through them saying how disappointed they were in it.

    Really did not look good for me...

    As for the facebook/myspace feel, do not ever offer some advice to people, you will be shot down all over the place, it seems the site is all about blowing smoke up someones arse rather than a good community to pick up tips on.

  10. wendyL Said:

    Hi, I have been a faithfull member of this site since the beginning. I have sold alot of images! I have also hosted atleast 4 groups since I have joined.
    Recently, I stuck up for another member when someone left a nasty comment for one of her images. His comment was "this picture sux" Not only did I send a sweet, yet diplomatic b-mail to him, but publicized his profile and rude comment! The woman (my friend) was really hurt by this! It was amazing how many people responded to my journal about this uncooth gesture. She was touched.
    Nevertheless, I was suspended! Not only did this rude character have no art of his/her own, but went to the quote unquote LOL RB gods and complained! I let them know that what they are doing with my account now is copyright infringement, and they should be ashamed of themselves for not having the backbone to go after this rude person themselves! I am still suspended, yet they can sell my work????? WTF

  11. trena Said:

    My husband and I are avid RB members. The ppl on there are so helpful... they offer you constructive criticism! I love hearing from the different members about how I can improve! Their comments make us do better! I would recommend RB to anyone!!!!!

  12. barbara Said:

    It was my experience that management of RedBubble was so inept I shut down my account. People copy your ideas like wildfire; after coming up with something creative and different, suddenly there appeared 10 or 20 similar ..well, makes it hard to stand out. Happened a lot. Mgmt never answers your email .. that drove me NUTS. Very unprofessional. If you stand up to a fellow artist because you get NO support (i did this once and only once) .. then, as WendyL says .. those who MAKE WAVES get talked down to like they are school children. They scold you anonymously of course. There are several wonderful artists and photographers and the chatter is fun .. but you need to spend many many non-money making hours; I hosted a group. Management of course didn't even acknowledge this nor say thank you for the volunteer hours and hours Hosting takes. One woman copied an art piece of mine, almost to the letter, and after redrawing my art and publishing it - I sent her a copy of my piece and she chose to ignore me, REPORTED ME and management scolded me (anonymously generic email of course). You will need a lawyer if you are on redbubble. In my experience and my solitary opinion, redbubble stinks.

  13. Rowland Jones Said:

    It's distressing to read when people get conned by any site: but on a lighter note is David WINGE your real name or are you being ironic? Sorry to hear about your bad results.
    If it's any consolation, I just submitted 10 shots to Shutterstock ..... and they rejected all 10.

    by the way I have been taking photographs for nearly 50 years, have a Masters degree in photography, taught photography and film at University in Liverpool, Chester and Stafford. Awell.... what do I know......

  14. Zehda Said:

    I have been on Red Bubble for 1 1/2 years now. I am very pleased with the site & the artists!
    I have seen some exquisite work on Red Bubble. A great deal of imaginative & fanciful work as well as beautiful realism.
    I love the site. It's easy to use & I feel appreciated as a n artist.
    I was reading your statistic about a possible yearly earning of $27 per artist per year.(hypothetically if every artist was making sales. I create mostly T shirt designs with some cards & posters, but I am pleased to report that I make $100-$125 a month roughly & I intend to keep participating. I am very pleased! I hope in future Red Bubble includes more T Shirt clothing styles.

  15. Mike Said:

    I have been with redbubble for about six months now and am very happy with their management of the site and the way they handle my sales which are not brilliant but still another useful outlet. I don't expect anything much because the site is free but even if I had no sales of prints etc. it's a good shop window for commissions.

    If David Winge [real name?] didn't sell anything, except to himself I can only conclude that his stuff wasn't very good and nobody wanted it.

  16. Amanda Said:

    Thanks for this post. It seems that RedBubble, along with Zazzle are too "gimmicky" for the clients I target. This is why I chose to invest in Zenfolio, not only for client's proofing, but for selling Fine Art Prints. They offer calendars and other products as well. Their prints are excellent quality as they come from mpix and I truly would recommend this site to anyone wanting something more than a "ehh" kind of photo product.

  17. Sheri Kennedy Said:

    RedBubble has stolen my images as far as I am concerned and I can not retireive them. I try to to respond to my email updates they send and they are bogus. All the links show up as "INTERNAL SERVER ERROR". My email updates are all bad links and I want to close my account. Red Bubble no longer has the permission to use my photography, my name and I want my pages of photography closed immediatly. Red Bubble needs to contact me or I am going to seek legal counsel. 5/25/2010

  18. David Winge Said:

    Rowland Jones Said: "It's distressing to read when people get conned by any site: but on a lighter note is David WINGE your real name or are you being ironic?"

    Yes, my name is David Winge, And I am now selling prints through Smugmug, I get good traffic and fair sales. As far as I can discern, Red Bubble & Zazzle have no quality control whatsoever, they grab the cash and send poor quality work.

    Mike Said: "If David Winge [real name?] didn't sell anything, except to himself I can only conclude that his stuff wasn't very good and nobody wanted it."

    Mike, I did not state or infer in my post that I only sold to myself, I was relaying my experience of purchasing some work from them.

  19. Alex Said:

    After a few months of being a member of Redbubble I found myself contributing to a topic on the General Discussions Forum, which interested me. As a result of speaking out, defending my Art and not agreeing with the Regular Group participants I was suspended from Redbubble. Following an Appeal, my Account was permanently closed on 20th July 2010 on the grounds of Personal Attack and Baiting. There was no transparency regarding the decision of the Panel and none of the questions that I raised were answered.

    I would advise anyone considering joining Redbubble to think very carefully before doing so and to investigate the Site before becoming a Member, you could loose more than your Membership because the Site does not operate in a fair, democratic and unbiased way.

  20. KAR Said:

    Thank you WendyL, you have help me make my choice

  21. Tim Said:

    I have been on Redbubble for over a year now, and have sold 26 images, some multiple times..and have yet to be contacted by a buyer about receiving poor guality work..Are there great images bet, can your stuff get lost with all those images to compete with, you bet...
    I know it has taken time for my images to rise to the top of search results (such as google)which reults in more sales..for those that have had problems, show me a site, any site, where no one has had issues or problems..they dont exist..every site goes through growing pains, mistakes happen, people get pissed off...thats life

  22. Chris Lord Said:

    I have been on redbubble since February this year. I have sold a few caerds a calender and a couple of prints. The cameraderie and atnosphere amongst the folks on there is wonderful in my experience and if you behave with civility you experience civility back. I spend a lot of time on there but it is rewarding time for me and I see a ton of wonderful work passing by all the time. I have been in touch with folks who bought my pictures and they are very happy with the quality. redbubble recently had a major facelift which caused all kind of issues with the members but it seemed that mangaement listened to all the feedback and most issues were handled and fixed very quickly, within the first week I would say and the hoo hah settled down to busy as usual. It's a great place to be.

  23. J Said:

    Red Bubble has stolen a lot of money from a lot of people, imo. If you only earn a few dollars they never pay out... so that means all of the people who just sell 1-2 cards have 'given' that money to Red Bubble. I guess Red Bubble management can take the money and spend it on their cars, homes, dinner, movies out, etc. Like all of these types of sites, when you promote "your" page on Red Bubble you are really promoting Red Bubble as a whole.

  24. BYRON Said:

    I have been with RedBubble almost since it started in 2007.

    It has and continues to be the most unique website online today.

    New members often make the mistake of thinking that RedBubble is there to sell your art. They are not.

    The purpose of RedBubble is to bring artists together from all around the world.

    RedBubble supports this by the sale of artwork.

    Sales are just the means to an ends, and not the goal.

    @ J...

    RB have not "stolen" anyone's money, the terms of payment are clearly explained. Your money remains in trust until such time as it reaches a certain limit and then you will receive a cheque, or you can request that the money is paid to you if it has not reached that limit.

    It is misleading and erroneous to make claims as you have.

    I have found the staff of RB to be very helpful and friendly, if somewhat over-worked... they are a small team, and they have a lot of members to support.

    To the other people who have had a bad experience with RB... it happens, some fall through the cracks and that is regretable. But bad experiences are not at all typical on RedBubble.

  25. jan piller Said:

    I deleted all my work off redbubble for many of the same reasons posted above. However, I will add one more thing not listed here. A week after I deleted all my work, RB sold one of my cards. Obviously they have them cached somewhere and ready to print. They are not responding to my emails or forum posts. I received a note from another member saying the same thing happened to her a full month after she deleted her work.

  26. H M Bascom Said:

    RB base prices are slightly higher than other POD sites. Being understaffed is no excuse for slow or poor customer service. Most of the print orders are outsourced (my orders have arrived from two different printers in the USA) so they are probably not overwhelmed by fulfilling orders.

    Copyright and trademark infringement is rampant on the site. RedBubble relies solely on members to "rat out" other members for violations. There is no review process so everything that is uploaded is immediately available for sale regardless of whether it infringes another artist's rights. When an infringing work is reported the infringing artist need only make a generic denial of wrongdoing and an automatic email is generated back to the member who reported the infringing work stating that the issue is "resolved." Members who report copyright/trademark infringements must then "escalate" the issue to bring it to the attention of a real person. I would guess that a lot of members don't bother to escalate their concerns once an offending member replies that they believe their work does not infringe another artist's rights.

    Not only does RB publish and sell work that violates copyright/trademark I have seen infringing works displayed on the Home Page. While members recommend works for publication on the Home Page a staff member must approve the selections before they are displayed. This gives me the impression that either (1) RedBubble staff are not educated in matters of copyright and trademark rights or (2) they don't care.

    I wonder how much of that $1.2 million in sales came from infringing works? Just asking . . . .

  27. CGT Seb Said:

    Redbubble has been rebuked by ts own lawyers for selling Neo-Nazi propaganda. The lawyers have now resigned.

  28. Lisa Said:

    Thanks for the great article. After reading it and all the comments they confirm my thoughts on Redbubble as not being somewhere I would recommend my readers to submit their work to.

  29. Tony Said:

    I am amazed RedBubble allows the Hitler and stuff on its site. Do many people know about this?

  30. Karen Said:

    Now the ADL are onto RedBubble over the sale of Hitler tees

  31. BearheartFoto Said:

    Being retired with no extra money as my wife took ill !! I do my fotos on a limited budget !! I would like to have a Web of my own !! I have been a Frelance Photographer
    since the mid 70's and retired Navy Reserve Photo Journalist since the 80's !! I done all kinds of foto work and never got into using the computer till the last few years !! I like the way your sytem works I am still learning how to use it best !! Thanks !!

  32. Ben Wigley Said:

    Red Bubble are the worse company that I have dealt with on the internet.

    I ordered a T-shirt with a picture of my car on it, which a friend of mine had drawn.

    The first order never turned up, after over a month of waiting I contacted Red bubble who told me to contact my local post office. I went and waited down the post office for 30 minutes one Saturday morning, only to be told that I had wasted my time and that the Royal mail would never hold onto my parcel if I had not had one of their calling cards. I then contacted Red bubble again who suggested that my local postman may have been at fault? My postman manages to deliver £100's of car parts to my house every day with no problems, but cannot handle a £15 T-shirt?

    After nearly 2 months I contacted Redbubble again and told them that I was very unhappy. they finally agreed to resend the T-shirt. After nearly another month the T-shirt did finally turn up and the printing was so crooked that the T-shirt was only fit for the bin.

    I contacted Redbubble again who asked for pictures. I sent pictures to them and then THEY ASKED FOR MORE PICTURES?

    At this point I was so annoyed I went mad. I demanded my money back and told them to pick the piece of crap T-shirt up.

    After well over 3 months I finally got my refund and I still have the crappy, poor quality T-shirt that they had sent me.

    The customer service that I got from Redbubble was beyond bad. I would never dream of buying from them again.

    Takr my advice, if you are an artist there are other websites that offer the same services but actually give a toss about their customers.

    Redbubble are a con, they use poor quality T-shirts and cant even print a design straight.

    Im sure that 100's of people are happy with their products, but if you are an unlucky one like me then good luck in getting your money back.

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