Photography: Richard Keech
The usual reward that comes from creating photographic art is the praise the images generate from friends and family. Images of beauty shot from the heart might be the most satisfying kinds of photographs to take, but they’re rarely the easiest to sell. Galleries are choosy and private buyers hard to reach but there are a few options available for photographers with an eye for beauty and an enthusiasm to market their work.
The rise of RedBubble over the last three years has provided one particularly useful channel. The site launched in 2007 and picked up more than 80,000 members in its first year. Sales of art made through the site topped $1.2 million that year, of which photography, in the form of calendars, cards and prints, contributed around 40 percent. Images on t-shirts might even have added more to photography’s contribution to the site but RedBubble offers fewer other forms of products on which to place its sellers’ artworks.
“We don’t see ourselves as just a print-on-demand service,” the site’s founder Martin Hosking told us at the end of 2008, “but as an art site, which means that we don’t promote things like mousepads or a service of getting your dog’s photo on a mug.”
That emphasis on artistry rather than commercialism has helped RedBubble to stand out, and it does appear now that contributors are understanding the difference between the various options available, offering different kinds of products through different sites to match different markets.
DeviantArt is Dark and Moody
Richard Keech is a former chef who turned towards professional photography three years ago. An Australian now based in London, he mostly shoots nature images, macros and landscapes, but has been expanding lately to people, fine art and fashion. He joined RedBubble in March 2009, offering images that are rich in color, atmosphere and natural beauty. His most popular image, he says, is a shot of a water droplet on bottlebrush, although his photograph of a Gay Pride flag waved at a Sydney Mardi Gras also sells well.
RedBubble though is just one of the online sales channels that Richard uses. He also shares his work through Picasa and Flickr, and sells his images on Zazzle and Cafepress, two sites that cater to a broader range of products with more commercial imagery, and puts his artistic pieces on DeviantArt.
“On RedBubble, I’ll offer works that are more fine art style,” he explains. “On Deviant, I’ll go with darker pieces and for Zazzle I try to match the images with the types of products: dark, moody shots don’t really go well on fun upbeat products.”
Understanding the differences between the sites, and choosing the right images to match the products and their buyers is perhaps the easiest challenge of selling art photos online. A tougher problem is that none of the sites that Richard uses promote the photographers. Their own marketing is focused on promoting the site as a whole; each contributor has to find their own way to push their product and generate leads.
Richard does a number of things to put his work in front of potential buyers. He includes links in his email signature to his website, his RedBubble store, his Facebook page and his Twitter stream, which runs a daily featured picture. He also uses RedBubble to print business and thank you cards which he uses whenever he needs to send a note. The cards include his RedBubble URL printed on the back.
Art That Sells Itself
Of those strategies, he says, Facebook and Twitter are the most effective although the current lack of Google Analytics integration makes tracking results difficult. RedBubble also supplies a selection of Facebook widgets, website banners and buttons that make it easy to send users from your own site to the RedBubble store. Richard’s website has a links page that includes a slide show of his works, powered by RedBubble.
Ultimately, of course, it’s the quality of the imagery and its ability to connect with an audience that will most determine sales. Richard admits that he has done little marketing and also concedes that despite matching his images to his channels, his art may not be the most sellable or appeal to the widest market.
“Others I know sell several hundred of pounds of images each month without doing much marketing but then their art has a much wider market appeal and tends to sell itself.”
And price may be a factor too. Like other platforms, RedBubble gives contributors a base price for the printing, packing and shipping then leaves it to the sellers to add their own mark-up. That leaves photographers with the difficult question of estimating the value of their artistry to someone willing to pay for it. With fees offline ranging from single figures to millions, comparisons provide little guidance.
The top-selling works on RedBubble tend to range between $91 and $152 for an 11.2 x 8.0 inch print. Richard’s own prints sell for $152 and his cards start at $3.99 which puts him at the higher end (although not as high as this $835.99 demand). It’s possible then that he’s overpricing, something that he could only test by lowering his margins. The average mark-up tends to be around 40 percent, with higher fees demanded by the better sellers.
RedBubble’s attempt to allow photographers to sell work that’s artistic rather than commercial has made it a valuable addition to photographers’ marketing toolbox, however much effort they have to invest in selecting their images, pricing them and promoting them. But the site also offers another advantage. It brings a community, much like Flickr. RedBubble members invite each other to comment on their works, organize meet-ups, discuss marketing techniques and even put together photo walks.
Even if you don’t manage to make a decent number of sales then, RedBubble will at least let you win praise for your art from your peers — as well as your friends and family.