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Will they sell?

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Selling your photos – who will buy them?

Why a few print sales don’t make a business

Keith looks at the difference between selling a few prints and making a working business from it. Some questions you need to answer.

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Will your photos make any real money for you?

A while ago I wrote a short article entitled ‘Will it sell?

It concentrated on making sure that the prints you are making have a market i.e. they are the sorts of prints that people actually want to buy. The biggest initial mistake people make is to think that if you show prints, they will sell. No, that only works if the sort of people that see the prints are the sort that actually buy prints.

Keith Cooper and two of his prints

Who might want your prints?

What about if you’ve sold a few prints and are thinking that this might really be a way to make your fortune?

Apart from the obvious truism, that very few people will make a fortune from selling their prints, how much do you think you could make?

How much does it cost?

Is any money you make enough to pay for your photography hobby, or are you looking to break into bigger markets and make a living?

When it’s a hobby, you can be rather casual over your precise costs and easily neglect to include all the time and materials you are using up whilst learning and perfecting your photography and printing.

Once you decide that it’s a business, there are all kinds of things creep in, like taxes and insurance. It doesn’t take much before the authorities take an interest. If you advertise via a web site and sell at art fairs or ‘Car boot’ sales (Note for US readers – open air sales of ‘stuff’, often out of the back of a car – aka the ‘boot’ in the UK) then it may not be long before you are noticed.

The number one failing of people in ‘the arts’ in selling their work, is a lack of any real grasp of costs. If you think that the important thing is ‘your art’, then think again – or you are back to a hobby.

In photography, there is a lot of technical stuff to learn, if you want to make large high quality prints. This doesn’t come cheaply, but you need to consider it a sound business investment.

Hey – I sold two prints today!

Excellent – what about tomorrow? Does your market scale up?

Many years ago, I remember the bunch of unemployed wastrels living at the house of a friend of mine. If they could have managed the ‘get up and go’ they would have taken to the road and lived in old buses and lorries – but they didn’t.

One day they decided to bake some bread, thinking that since a relatively wealthy neighbourhood was a few streets away, they could make and sell ‘artisan’ bread door to door.

Out they went with six loaves, and sold them all.

Next they pooled various unemployment benefits and went to a local supermarket to buy bread making supplies. Lots of 1kg bags of ‘bread mixture’ (yes, I know that the raw bulk ingredients would be a lot cheaper, but…)

All night long they laboured, making many loaves of bread in an ordinary kitchen oven (and a lot of mess, but you guessed that?)

Out they went the next day with all their fresh bread – they sold six loaves.
[This is a true story – lots of other weird things happened at that house]

Just because you have been asked by a few friends for prints or sold a few at a fair, doesn’t mean that if you produce a lot of prints, the market will be there.

Some print business suggestions

Keith Cooper with Canon iPF8300

Getting serious about your prints

First you need to know your own work – don’t get hung up on only trying to sell what you think are your very best works. In this business, the one the customer buys is the best picture.

Don’t make the mistake of worrying too much as to why they preferred one picture over what you thought was a far better one. Look on it as market research and learn from it.

Secondly, who are these people you regard as potential customers? What do they buy, where do they buy it.  If you are aiming for a ‘higher level’ of buyer, then are you really going to meet them at a yard sale? My market here in Leicester in England, is different to one on the coast, and very different to one in the US.

Thirdly, if you are going to be selling many prints, then it becomes a shipping business – finding packing materials for a couple of prints might be easy, finding packing materials (and storing them) for fifty prints is a whole different game.

Moving ‘up’

Although I’ve written these few notes aimed at people looking to start out or develop their print sales, it’s worth noting a few points if you’re aiming at the more expensive market.

There is a longstanding myth that photographers are the best editors, printers or writers about their work – Nope, very rarely – seek help, the best you can find/afford.

Whilst I make a point of doing my own printing for large prints, I seek advice from others when planning the content for an exhibition or book. I am not always the best judge of my own work, I’m too close. I can also say this with confidence about most good photographers – just get over it ;-)

Have a plan – or more realistically, have several, since success in this market often hinges on chance occurrences. That said, favourable chance occurrences happen far more for those that have planned ahead.

Other articles about prints and sales

The business of photography

There are many articles on the site related to different business aspects of photography. They have their own index page.

In late 2020 I started making YouTube videos related to new articles on the web site. I’m expanding this to include video versions of many of the more popular written articles.

The accompanying video for this article:

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