Part 1 - Introduction. How to start selling stock photos (microstock)
Part 2 - Stock photography business
Part 3 - Taking your stock photography to the next level
Part 4 (this page) - Selling fine-art prints, self-published books
Part 5 - How to grow your photo business
Good quality print of an artistic picture, framed professionally, makes serious aesthetic impression. You can see many examples around - in cafes
and restaurants, in offices, in hotel lobbies, in airports, in people homes, etc.
There are online services that can take care of all the logistics - i.e. charging the customer, printing picture from digital file, matting (framing), and sending it to the client. Authors will get a percent from each sale. You only need to register with that service, and upload your pictures. So what's the trick? - Marketing. These services advertise themsels, but there are thousands artists with hundreds thousands pictures for sale. Your chance of getting noticed aren't very high. Keep in mind that there is no quality control of submitted pictures, so a great portion of the content of such sites is crap. Indeed not an ideal situation for potential buyers unless they know exactly what are they looking for.
With that information, it should not come to you as a surprise that free inscription to many of such sites provides very limited possibilities; and that your will get much more if you pay for extra service. That makes me wonder whether these sites get more money from ambitious artists rather than from real art sales (I am not saying that there are no sales - I am just saying that there seem to be not that many sales).
So the trick with getting sales is to know the client needs and to advertise yourself via all possible channels. Knowing your client needs means first of all that are able to produce good quality pictures. Besides the good quality it's crucial to understand what style and what content would sell and what wouldn't. Just as an example, reportage war pictures are very unlikely to sell well as fine-art prints. Advertising yourself means be an active member of the online community, be active blogger, involve all your friends and relatives, etc., etc.
RedBubble is Australian company operating worldwide, and having people in many different locations. In one sentence RedBubble is free, and it is artistic community with commercial possibilities. Unlike other print on demand (POD) services, RedBubble is completely free. There are no "basic" and "premium" accounts - all accounts are at the same level, and any member can upload and sell as many pictures as he or she wants. There is no entry inspection - any member can upload any images that are in line with terms of service. RedBubble is an artistic community place, not an art store. That sounds similar to DeviantArt (see below), but in fact RedBubble feels completely different. Members can share their art works (photographs, drawings or paintings) and they can choose whether the work is for sale or not. Another option is to share/sell t-shirt designs. Members can comment each other work, can mark any work as their favorite, and can add other members to a watch list. Selling art work is an option, and it's up to the artist to define the margin on top of base RedBubble price. Art pictures can be ordered as post-cards, as unframed prints, as laminated prints, or as framed prints (with several framing options). It is important to know that the artists have to promote their work by themselves. I am not sure how much marketing RedBubble is doing, but if you want your art work to be purchased on RedBubble you need to advertise it yourself. It's worth to note that RedBubble has very quite simple and logical interface. There are ways to combine images in groups for promotion, or to promote individual pictures. These are a few examples:
Imagekind is another POD service. It focuses on high quality photo and art prints (no t-shirts). It has many more framing options comparing with RedBubble - many more types of paper, more types and colors of frames, different matting and glazing options. All work uploaded to Imagekind is for sale. There is community at Imagekind but it's hard to say that it is community driven. Similarly to RedBubble artits can put other artists in favorites list; and can comment the work of each other. However forum is completely separated from the main site. Artists can register at Imagekind for free, but free accounts are very limited. Artist can upload maximum 24 images with free account; and they all have to be in one gallery. The number of keywords is limited by 10 per image, what significantly reduces sale opportunities. Artists can upgrade to Pro ($7.99/mo.) or to Platinum ($11.99/mo.) level, that offer unlimited number of uploads. Uploads can be placed in various galleries; much higher number of tags per image is allowed (50 and 100 corresponsingly) and there are some other benefits. In my option free account allows to get the feeling about the site, it interface and about other artists, but artists would have to upgrade to paid account for any serious commercial activity. Still, promotion of your art is pretty much in your own hands. Similarly to RedBubble there is no moderation of uploaded images at Imagekind. Imagekind has very clean, simple and logical interface. Combining images in groups doesn't make sense with small gallery and with number of tag limited by 10, so I can't test it. Promoting individual images outside of Imagekind is possible, similarly to RedBubble:
artistrising.com is a division of art.com that focuses on POD from un-known artists. It is much smaller and younger than any of the above services.
Out of 3 services, artistrising has the most complex interface that isn't easy to understand for novice users. Also, the site is the slowest for me.
Artists can register for free at artistrising. Free account allows up to 50 images to be uploaded, that can be placed in up to 50 collections. Premium account is $50 /year and it allows up to 2000 images to be uploaded (and categorized in up to 50 collections).
Another difference between two accounts is that Premium level allows Fine Art prints while free account only allows Poster prints to be set up. Fine Art is meant for large size high quality pictures; and setup of every single picture will cost artist some money (variable fee).
Unlike the other two services, artistrising has to review and approve all submitted images before they will be available for sale. In theory it should make the site more attractive to the buyers and prevent crap from appearing at the website. However, if promotion will still be made by the artists themselves, the overall quality of site content will not make much difference for buyers (i.e. if they will come from elsewhere to see specific artist/specific work).
There is forum at artistrising, and similarly to the other two sites the artists can comment each other work; and can add other artists to their Favorites list.
DeviantArt is extremely popular artistic online community and not really a marketplace, although it supports selling art work online.
Different approach is taken by cafepress.com. Their focus is souvenirs - i.e. pictures on mugs, t-shirts and other objects. Not really "fine art" objects; and the quality is reported to be so-so.
There are services that allow authors to prepare their own books that will be then printed on demand.
Lulu.com is probably the most known of such service. Whether you are writer or journalist or photographer or a mixture you can upload your content to lulu.com (text and/or pictures), prepare the layout - and then anybody interested can buy a printed copy. Lulu will take care of collecting money, printing and sending the book to the client. Authors will get a percent from each sale.
Authors don't need to pay anything. Money only get involved when a printed copy is ordered, and charged to a buyer.
Again, there are thousands of ambitious authors and it's hard to get noticed without active self-promotion. At the moment of writing this article there are about 11,000 books offered on lulu.com in category Arts & Photography. So in order to succeed you need to promote yourself but you need to understand your customers first, before starting active self-promotion. You need to know the market. Selling photo albums is very hard. Selling illustrated stories might work better; travel books can possibly sell better - you need to know what sells better and what you are capable to produce.
Lulu.com offers additional possibilities to their authors. For a reasonable fee you can obtain ISBN code for your book, and make it available via book retailers (such as amazon.com). You can get additional marketing services from lulu for a fee that will increase the chances of selling your book.
Another well-known book publishing on demand service is Blurb. Until recently Blurb was a publishing service, but not a marketplace - i.e. it was possible to make a book available to anybody, but authors weren't getting any commission. It has changed now and it is possible to set a margin for authors.
Another approach is to use self-publishing as a marketing tool (instead of a source of income). You can print a catalog of your pictures that you will order yourself for showing to your offline clients. Some of the clients might even want to order their own copy of your catalog.
Whether you make book for sale or as marketing material, the content needs to be of a high quality. If you never done photography professionally I would recommend you to start elsewhere (read further) before trying any photo book publishing.
If you decide to try self book publishing, you need to be aware about different print quality depending on paper and printer used. It's hard to say which provides better quality - Lulu or Blurb - because they both have various printing and binding options, and each uses several different printing devices. From some reports I've seen in the internet Lulu seamed to print better quality books, but the things might have changed.
Last update: January, 2010