Over the last couple of years I made a somewhat expensive and resource intensive journey to find a platform to sell my images. I thought sharing my findings might be a useful blog so here it is.
To understand my journey I think some background will help. I had a couple of goals. One was in support of my day job which has nothing to do about photography but has much to do about marketing. I wanted to learn how to market and promote products on the web. The second goal was a bit egotistical but I wanted to know of the images I’ve been creating is marketable.
I started this journey by building a website. The website was pretty basic at first. I spent some time looking at other photographer’s websites which helped me to lock in on a certain look. One technology I found which I think is really cool is CoolIris. Cooliris allows a person to view images in a gallery in a very interactive manner. Right now the technology is free but they are a startup and I figure soon they will need to put in place a business model. The Cooliris gallery is the centerpiece of my website. To show my images, I used Adobe LightRoom’s ability to create web galleries to showcase my images. I use Adobe’s Dreamweaver to build the site. I write as little HTML as possible but find myself needing it to get certain looks I want.
I started with Lulu as my first online platform to sell images. At the time they were providing photographic prints along with books. It appears to me that they never really had their heart in support photography. I ordered a print from Lulu as a test case and wasn’t really impressed with the quality. Uploading and setting up image galleries was also difficult. In addition, Lulu charges a royalty per item shipped. This appears good at first since startup is free but creates a situation where it is difficult to manage your own pricing. I admit the integration of the website and the “LuLu Storefront” was not ideal. People would have to view images in the LightRoom gallery and if there was interest to purchase the image, they would select a shopping cart and again have to find the image to purchase. This wasn’t completely Lulu’s issue but also my own in how I built out the galleries. In the beginning I did not want to be in the customer’s face about purchasing my images.
About a year later I decided to try something else. I looked at Zenfolio and Shutterfly. I went with Shutterfly because it was a cheaper solution (at the time). There is a Lightroom to Shutterfly interface which made for an easy upload of images. I set up a pro account costing me $99. ShutterflyPro really caters to those who are photographing events like school sporting events and want to quickly post images in galleries on a hosted website. For me since I am trying to sell images to people who may wish to hang these pictures on their walls, the product offerings weren’t what I had hoped they would be. Print quality was good. I am sure parents would love to have pictures of their kids hitting the ball and winning the game using this service. My biggest complaint is how Shutterfly handles cropping of images. The flexibility is limited, buggie and not very flexible. In addition, editing multiple images was hard and inconsistent. The point of sale function was also something I felt would be difficult for a customer to use since images would need to be recropped. (I still use Shutterfly for photobooks and am happy with their capability here).
In the mean time, I found a “Brick and Mortar” gallery that would sell my images. It appears to me purchasing prints for your home is a very personal endeavor. This is where I’ve had my best success for the items I am selling. My problem is that I am printing images on ceramic tile which has a higher baseline cost and with a markup I have to pay the “Brick and Mortar” proprietor (justly deserved) and the price I think people are willing to spend on my images, I am not really making much by way of take home money (ie, keep your day job, Rob).
I also tried Flickr to share images with friends. But the ease for people to download and do what they want with the images was contrary to my need to find people interested in my photography and willing to spend money for it. I still use it but partially for traffic generation.
This weekend, I revamped my website. I created a set of images I am calling my “Signature Series”. They are my favorite images printed with a faux mat/white stroke, signed and titled. I printed a couple at BayPhoto and was wowed by the quality I consistently receive from that lab.
I streamlined the home page of the website and posted all of the “Signature” images on the Cooliris gallery. I removed the LightRoom web galleries and am now using Smugmug’s gallery/ebusiness platform. In addition, I rolled up my sleeves to write some HTML code and modified the Cooliris mRSS feed to bring users to the Smugmug gallery when an image is selected. There is also a Lightroom to Smugmug interface so uploading is easy.
Smugmug provides two sources for printing images EZprints and BayPhoto. It is great of have choices. In addition, Smugmug provides many of the print options available from BayPhoto. (I just wish they also provided the ability to mount the images on boards.)
SmugMug provides a lot more flexibility on building a gallery page than does Lulu and Shutterfly. The list price to get started is $150 but I found a discount coupon by Googling “Smugmug coupons” and saved 50% for my first year. I’ve seen a number of websites based on Smugmug and am still scratching my head trying to figure out how they do what they do on their sites which leads me to believe I have a lot of work left to do.
I’ve entered a new phase by starting a “Google Adwords” program for this site. I’m going to run a low cost ad campaign and learn what works and what doesn’t.
So going back to my goals…
I’ve learnt a lot through this process and it does help me on my day job where my “Fortune 500” company runs many online ad programs and a very extensive website. It has also provided me with a place to experiment and learn (like the Podcast I started on iTunes).
By way of making money, well I am still in the red. I’ve found giving away my prints provides better satisfaction to me right now than in selling them.
Last week I gave the Scituate Light House image to my dad. He is from the class of 1945 and not much on complements. He was so impressed with the print he said that this was something he would hang on the wall in his living room.
Well that’s good enough payment for me.