There are many different ways of selling your photos. You can hang them in a gallery and hope they sell for thousands of dollars. You can submit them to stock companies and hope that someone buys them.
And you can stick them on t-shirts, mugs and mousepads and see people walking around in them, drinking from them and running their mouse over them.
That might not be quite as prestigious (or as lucrative) as having a one-person show at the Irvine Contemporary Gallery in Washington, D.C. but it can steal be a useful way to turn your images into cash.
Provided you know how to do it.
In theory, it should be easy. The Internet is now stuffed with choices for photographers and designers who want to put their pictures on items. Cafepress might have been the first with its range of t-shirts and clothing, homeware and gifts, cards and stationery, and arts and posters, but Zazzle wasn’t far behind… and neither was Red Bubble and Etsy.
The first thing you need to understand when looking to turn your photos into products and sell them then, is the differences between the store sites.
Etsy is Crafty and Red Bubble is Arty
Zazzle and Cafepress are fairly similar. Both sites allow contributors to create their own stores for free. Photographers can then upload their images and allow buyers to purchase them on a range of different product types. On Zazzle that range can extend as far as skateboards and shoes. The buyers pay the cost of production plus a mark-up set by the contributor.
Although Cafepress has a basic program that costs nothing, serious sellers tend to sign up for the Premium program that costs $59.95 per year and which provides greater visibility and more promotional tools.
Zazzle has also struck deals with the owners of brands as famous as Disney and Star Wars, making it a site for shoppers as much as producers.
Red Bubble and Etsy, on the other hand, tend to be much more artistic. The product range of Red Bubble, for example, is limited to t-shirts, wall art, calendars and cards, and the emphasis is on creativity and artistry more than the products themselves. Stores are free and, once again, contributors can set their own prices above the basic production costs.
Etsy though takes a different approach. The site focuses on handicrafts, although it also sells photographic prints, and charges sellers a small amount for each item they want to sell.
So which store should you use to sell your products?
In practice, it really doesn’t matter a great deal. You can think of Zazzle as being somewhat downmarket, Cafepress a touch swankier, Red Bubble a kind of designer store, and Etsy as a craft fair but because none of the sites has much through traffic of their own, it won’t make a huge difference to sales.
Your sales figure will depend on the buyers that you manage to bring to the site yourself.
Zazzle tries to make that easier with a bunch of basic and advanced promotional strategies while Josh Elman, the company’s Head of Marketing, has talked to us about the need to be outgoing and in-your-face about the fact that you have an online product store. Keywording helps too, he says.
“Don’t be shy about having a link to your store in your email signature, on your website, your profiles, etc. Most of all, be sure to tag and organize your photographs properly so people can find them!”
Create your Own Photographic Community
That’s all basic stuff and by itself, is unlikely to generate too much traffic. Much more important is targeting communities that are related to your work. Create a store dedicated to biking, for example, and you can talk about your designs in Facebook groups. You can even ask other bikers their opinion in forums (but not for sales – few people like sellers in forum threads so take the feedback and hope the sales come naturally).
That will also mean creating separate stores for each photography subject. Community buyers will want to feel that you’re as much an enthusiast as they are. If they’re right, you’ll certainly find those sales easier to make.
But perhaps even more important than approaching communities related to your topics is to create your own community. The hard way to do that is by being active on the store site’s forums, a place where buyers can chat with sellers. Some photographers have made sales that way, but it can be a lot of work.
A better option is to build a community based around your own blog or website. This is the approach taken Vlad Gerasimov, a photographer and designer who sells wallpapers on a subscription basis from his site and t-shirt designs on Zazzle. Note not just the professional quality of his designs but also the appreciations on his comment wall.
Buyers already familiar with Vlad’s work through his site — which he promotes on a word-of-mouth basis — come to Zazzle to find more. In effect, the site functions not as a store which Vlad has to promote alone, but as an adjunct to a website that he’s already promoting. For Vlad, Zazzle functions as kind of simple technical solution to the challenge of delivering goods that are already popular to an audience that wants to buy them.
One way to make photography product sales then is not to try too hard. Shoot good pictures. Build an audience for them on your website or even on your Flickr stream. Then tell your admirers where they can pick up your pictures in different forms.
Rebekka Gudsleifdottir, for example, an Icelandic art student, has used her icon status on Flickr to promote not just her photographic prints, which she sells through her website, but also her knitted sweaters. They have nothing to do with her photography – except for the fact she wears them in her self-portraits – but once you’ve built a community that loves your work, your brand power can be strong enough to sell anything that you endorse.
The best advice for selling your photography products then isn’t just to get out there, to market actively and tell people where they can find you. It’s to shoot images that you love and tell people who might also love them where they can see them. When that happens, they’ll click through to your product store and make their purchases.