At the beginning of April, I announced a special offer to the readers of Epic Edits — A selection of silver-gelatin prints from my darkroom for $25 each. The results of this offer? I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I had a grand total of 4 takers.

Don’t get me wrong — I completely appreciate the 4 sales I did receive! Definitely better than none! But I can’t help but be disappointed with the relatively low number of sales compared to the amount of work I put into the offer.

THE WORK I PUT IN

Even before announcing the print offer, I had to pick out 10 of my b/w film photos based on what I thought other people might want to buy. Choosing a small selection of photos for anything is tough, especially if they’re your own photos. After a day or two of contemplating, I finally settled on a selection of images from my personal favorites and the favorites of others based on Flickr stats (comments, views, favorites, etc).

Also before offering the prints for sale, I wanted to make sure I could actually print them. I’ve encountered a small number of photos that I couldn’t print in the darkroom with my current level of experience, so I was going to be sure that I could produce a quality print for each of my selected photos. Each of the 10 photos took about 1 to 2 hours of work in the darkroom, so probably 15 hours of my time.

Then, I wanted to show the actual prints to prospective buyers, so I scanned them in and posted them on Flickr. This way, people could see the crop and tonal range on the print rather than the film scan. Between scanning, processing (to match the look of the real print), and posting, this ate up probably another 3 to 5 hours of my time.

And finally we have the blog post with all the individual PayPal purchase buttons — tack on another 2 or 3 hours.

So in total, I spent about 20 to 25 hours of prep-time just to offer the prints for sale. Add on an additional 3 hours for the 8 prints I made for the 4 buyers (they all bought in the first 3 days and got a 2nd print for free). In the end, I probably put in 25 hours of work. Fair enough? Just follow me, I’m going somewhere with all of this.

So 4 buyers paid $25 for prints. That’s $100 in my pocket. Now (for each purchase) subtract $1 for the PayPal transaction, $1 for packaging, $2 for materials (paper and chemicals), and an average of $5 for shipping. That leaves me with $16 per purchase, or $64 total.

OUTCOME ==> $64 / 25 hours = $2.50/hr

Not exactly my idea of “raking it in”. So needless to say, I probably won’t be offering up darkroom prints at this price again — it’s just not worth my time to spend so much energy for so little return. Again, let me repeat that I’m totally grateful for the 4 people who did purchase prints — it’s a great feeling to have somebody actually pay you for your efforts.

The moral of the story: Selling prints is hard work. Expect anything between disappointment and excitement. But whatever your experience, enjoy it. I’m pretty happy I did all this work, because now I’ve got 10 good-looking prints to hang on my walls.

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Sorry to hear about this Brian. I’d be happy to take one of these at $25 if you are still willing to part with them. Just email me.

April 22, 2009 8:32 pm

Times are tough. People don’t want to let loose of the precious green these days. Makes it tough for us to sell prints. I am still sitting on photos from two shoots waiting for the clients to come up with the money to order prints.

April 22, 2009 8:55 pm

Prints are for walls, and wall space is a premium commodity for a lot of people. In my case I have yet to make a single image that would pass muster and get into rotation on the three wall spots we have at home for paintings and prints. Any image is basically not just evaluated on its merits, but is competing with the ones we already have and rotate in from time to time. And since we have those precisely because we really, really like them, that makes for a very high bar to clear for any new image.

April 22, 2009 9:27 pm

I had my exhibition a couple of weeks ago. Lots and lots of visitors. Very very impressed by my prints, which filled the whole gallery. Not a single print sold. And I understand them, because I have a hard time paying my crucial bills at the moment so theres no way I could have bought one myself.

April 22, 2009 9:37 pm

Thanks for sharing this experience. I was one of the 4 buyers and did it because it’s a cool way of connecting with another photographer and I thought the offer was super duper special / I liked the photos.

I wish you more luck on another attempt, please do not stop your efforts, I believe it’s worth it.

April 22, 2009 11:20 pm

@Eric I appreciate that! I might just take you up on it.

@Jerry Too true. Art isn’t exactly a basic necessity, so it’s understandable that people would shy from spending on stuff like this.

@Janne Another good point — and b/w prints are hard to pull off unless they match their surroundings well.

@Mattias Wow… not a single one? That’s rough man — especially for the effort put into a gallery exhibit. Let’s hope both our luck changes in the near future.

@Carsten Again, thanks for the support with that purchase you made. With a push from folks like yourself, I might be tempted to do something again down the road.

@Everyone…

Thanks for the feedback and discussion on this topic. My intent with the post wasn’t to gripe or come off as unappreciative (and I hope that I didn’t come off that way). I think it’s good for other photographers who haven’t gone through these trials to see the effort and possible results. Selling prints is really hard, especially online and particularly in a bad economy.

I think the other thing working against me is that I’m marketing to other photographers. We’re notorious for wanting to sell our own work while being tight with our money when it comes to buying the work of another. Even so, I believe all four of the buyers were fellow photographers.

In addition to the online stuff like this, I’m also trying to get into a few local shows, contests, and exhibits. As summer is ramping up, there are all sorts of things going on — so I’ll be happy if I can get into a few of them.

April 23, 2009 9:09 am

So $2.50 a hour for professional photographers time, sounds like about what most people on Craigslist would think is appropriate

Ryan
http://www.ryanhollowayphotography.com

April 23, 2009 9:18 am

Sadly, this seems to be the current state of the market. Be thankful that you didn’t have to sit behind a table at an art fair for eight hours as person after person walks by, compliments on the work, and leaves without a purchase. I had that happen to me in December, and it makes me not want to neevr try to sell that way again.

April 23, 2009 1:21 pm

I really enjoyed reading your analysis of this project. It is interesting to read other photographers’ experiences with endeavors such as this. I think your observation of selling to other photographers is very insightful … most of us have lots of our own work that gets hung on our walls, and buy less of others’ artwork than the average person would. I also think you should look at this as an investment in your work, as well. a) you learned a lot about how this whole process works, paypal setup, scanning processes, etc. If you were to do this again in the future, could you perhaps do it in less time? b) you could use the prints that did not sell as not only work to hang on your own walls, but frame them and take them as examples to other venues where you might sell similar pieces … or maybe you could frame them and try to sell them in a shop locally?

Anyways, I’m sure you have thought of all of this before, but I just wanted to say: don’t get discouraged! even if the only lesson you got from this is "this way didn’t work" – it is a lesson nonetheless and you don’t have to learn it again in the future!

Thanks for sharing.

April 24, 2009 11:55 am

And you forgot income & sales tax cutting into your "profit."

April 24, 2009 2:31 pm

@Ryan Sounds about right!

@K.Praslowicz Sadly, yes. And yeah, that scenario would be a bit more discouraging. But I think we should keep trying one way or another.

@Jessica I’m definitely planning on hanging a few of these on my walls. I hadn’t thought about pushing them out to local places… might be worth a try! I’m sure I’ll try again in the near future — maybe with signed prints or something… we’ll see.

@sam Thanks for reminding me. You’ve now cut my pay from $2.50/hr to about $1.50/hr.

April 24, 2009 8:54 pm

Maybe if you didn’t suck, people would buy your prints?

Don’t be so cocky as to assume that more people SHOULD be buying your prints…

April 26, 2009 7:39 am

Wow, people sure are ballsy when they are posting anonymously on the internet. Way to hide behind the keyboard. Keep up the great work, I am sure your mom is proud.

April 26, 2009 5:18 pm

On your next offer, maybe you should see which photos are most viewed to make a print offer.
Or do a small survey on "which of my photos would you hang on your wall or give as a gift" if you were able to buy it?
I liked the prints and the offer, and someday wish to sell my photos too….. however, on my walls, I’m hanging my own photos (haha no bias there, right?) Good Luck on the next offer :)

April 27, 2009 9:54 am

That second comment was not mine (for the record). As I am sure Brian can tell from the IP address that it came from.

Brian, did you take the moderation off of your comments? Seems the trolls are making it through the gates. ;-)

April 27, 2009 10:20 am

I thought that 2nd one might be a little over the top for you (though I wasn’t sure if you were just being a wise-ass)… I took it down.

And dude… trolls and spammers have been nuts lately — they’re getting better at the game too. It seems like I spend most of my time throwing out the trash.

April 27, 2009 12:27 pm

Thanks for posting this article… Sharing your experiences helps us all (and that works both ways, of course).

I’m wondering if part of the problem might be the selection. One photo for which you provide a story or explain your thinking or what it means to you might result in more sales than “here are a bunch of great photos”. People need to make a connection with the photo, and what you can do to help that along with boost sales. The same reasoning is why bands only release one single at a time…

Scott Bourne has been selling prints lately for a shot called “Fire Cranes in the Mist”. I think part of the reason for it’s success is that he has sold it as a photo that is very special to him, something that he has been chasing for a long time. He tells the story, and then promotes just this one image as what he is currently selling.

Just my thoughts… I’m not lighting the world on fire with my print sales either!

April 28, 2009 1:18 pm

Brian, We appreciate your effort. Thanks for the insight behind your selling experience. I also have been thinking of selling prints as most of us serious photographers contemplate. A thought on another way to sell is to upload to a photo lab and let them do the work and shipping. My cost per photo is about $10 per 16X20 plus shipping.
I have visited some huge Art Festivals recently with about 20 great photographers selling beautiful prints but the thought of the cost for making multiple prints at different sizes plus the space fee deters me. That is a lot of money up front. Maybe a local art gallery or talk to a bank manager about displaying some photos in their lobby. I just think of people cashing their paycheck with money in their hands and looking at the photos might help…lol.
Good luck.
Mark

May 10, 2009 5:18 am

Comment now!
















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