Selling Prints

So this blog post was inspired by something a friend posted on Facebook earlier today, and that was a link to her boyfriend's kid selling photo prints online. Inspiration comes from weird places, eh?

Anywho, the link was to a generic marketplace called Fine Art America, where they offer a bunch of pre-determined print types and sizes and take a cut for "facilitating". As a working photographer, I don't think this is the right way to sell prints, even if you're a hobbyist. Here on Squarespace, selling prints is something of a pain in the ass without the benefit of a plugin or built-in marketplace feature, and I have to manually fulfill orders. That's annoying, but it allows me to use any professional lab I want and often times, the discount I get from Adoramapix - whether it's through them running a sale or sending me a discount code - makes my profit margin worth the time it takes to manually process orders.

It's still a pain, and it's what happens when you use a portfolio-building template website that was never designed with photographers in mind, such as Squarespace. My gripes with the company are no secret, but the hassle of switching proved to be too much of an undertaking, so I live with it for the time being. With that said, there are other, much better platforms for building a photography portfolio that require absolutely no coding skills and were designed specifically for photographers.

1) Photoshelter was designed specifically for photographers, by other photographers, and has an integrated marketplace system that allows you to choose a professional lab to automatically fulfil and ship print orders without you ever having to touch the product. You get the cash, they take a little off the top and the rest goes in your pocket. I used a couple free trials with Photoshelter, to the point of building a fully functional portfolio and store that were both ready to go had I decided to make the jump.

The two biggest reasons I had for not switching - aside from some minor template design flaws that I could have probably lived with - were 1) the complete lack of an integrated blog feature like this one. Yeah, that sounds strange, but writing about random shit is a great way to draw traffic and have more people find my website, and it's something I wanted to be able to continue to do without having to pay for another domain and another Wordpress account dedicated exclusively to Tales From The Pit, and then have to go through the hassle of linking that to my Photoshelter website all while maintaining two full-time Wordpress websites. And 2) the lack of domain hosting with Photoshelter. Since my domain is hosted through Squarespace, I would have needed to buy an account at a website like Domain.com, pay them to migrate my domain to their servers and host it, and then also pay them to link my domain to Photoshelter. That became too costly and, along with having to manually point my own nameservers, too complicated. Someone with more technical DNS knowledge should have an easy time doing that.

2) SmugMug was designed much in the same way as Photoshelter, but less as a portfolio-hosting platform and more thought into the marketplace and monetary aspect of being a photographer, in my opinion. Smugmug works in a pretty similar way, but I believe I was able to build an entire custom website, which proved very complicated for a guy with no web design knowledge and no desire to fumble around endlessly trying to make something out of nothing. The upshot with SmugMug was that, rather than setting your pricing for print sales, you had the option to set your profit above the lab's cost to you for the print and shipping and all that good stuff. SmugMug gets a small percentage and you keep the rest, with the ability to set, say, a 400% profit above your initial cost. That's a nice little feature and saves the math involved in pricing your prints accordingly so that you make money and aren't just selling prints for something to do.

Like Photoshelter, SmugMug partners with professional labs to automatically fulfil and ship your orders, and they get a small cut from each sale. My reasons for not switching to SmugMug from Squarespace are largely the same as my reasons for not moving to Photoshelter, in addition to the web design knowledge needed to build a functional portfolio. There was no dedicated blog feature and no way to link one, along with the inherent problem of needing to first migrate my domain to GoDaddy, who is a SmugMug partner, and then - albeit much more easily - link my domain from GoDaddy to SmugMug. Getting the domain moved away from Squarespace was the much more complicated part here, and I didn't particularly like GoDaddy when they hosted my domain for www.soundboardmagazine.com due to connectivity and functionality issues that resulted in switching hosts.

3) 500px is one I'm a little less familiar with but used a free trial of their premium (paid) services. I found their templates to be rather complicated and not very professional-friendly in the sense that it felt more like designing a portfolio for a hobbyist and not really having any major benefit to marketing myself and my services - which is something Squarespace also heavily lacks. The general confusion with building a portfolio through 500px was enough of a turnoff that I didn't get very far with them and ultimately abandoned my efforts.

The good news is they offer an entirely free place to store and share your photos, and you can advertise your services and/or license prints through their marketplace. That was the biggest benefit I found - the ability to sell licensing to companies who want to use your photos. You weren't necessarily able to set pricing, but I believe 500px starts their licensing fees at $250 and goes up from there depending on the type of license being sought, and you keep 80%. That's a huge benefit for a photographer looking to turn work they've already done into extra money on the back end, or a hobbyist looking to make some money off some cool images. Like I said, I didn't get very far with 500px, so I can't really say much more about them, but selling definitely seemed a bit easier than with Squarespace.

There are obviously other template-based website builders where you can host a portfolio or even just sell prints - Photoshelter and SmugMug also allow for client proofing with their premium packages, which is another thing Squarespace lacks and absolutely needs to address, but the partnership with many professional labs is the attractive point for someone looking to sell prints.

Now, you might be asking what labs are the best. The truth is there are so many, and there are definitely labs that are better than others, but to this point I've ultimately chosen to go with convenience and profit margin and I therefore use Adoramapix. They're local to me and only about a 15 minute drive, in addition to running somewhat frequent sales and emailing me discount codes on a regular enough basis that it's worth my time to continue using them.

But, I've also used H&H Color Lab. It's at this point that I should probably mention that I only print metals for myself, and I do offer metal prints in my store, so I can only comment on metals from personal, hands-on experience. H&H does a phenomenal job of printing, and while I have had issues with Adoramapix in terms of color rendering and scratches on the prints - and the fact that they don't store your file anywhere and have absolutely no way of recreating an exact copy of your original print should there be an issue that requires a reprint - the biggest reason outside of discounts and profit for not using H&H on an exclusive basis is that for me, I don't like the quality of their float mount or the difficulty of mounting said float on the wall.

The Adoramapix float mount is a fairly heavy, and therefore sturdy, wooden mount that comes with another wooden piece with pre-drilled holes for the screws they provide (they also give you a cool level for mounting) so that you can easily screw the mount into the wall and then seat the bracket on it. It's heavy and it's not going anywhere once it's in the wall. H&H gives you a cheap-feeling plastic mount with holes in it for placing screws that you have to take physical measurements for, mark out spots on the wall that correspond with the distance between the screw holes from both each other and the top edge of the print and bracket, then put the screws in the wall and hope they're in the right spot. I've spent so much time trying to align screws with the float mount for the two prints I got from H&H that it just wasn't worth it, and they still felt super flimsy by comparison.

The really cool thing about H&H is that, as a new customer, when your place your first order, they will give you a $50 credit which, before the price hike, bought you 1 1/2 8x12 metal prints. So I got two 8x12 metals for a grand total of $16, and they ship FedEx two-day at no charge. That's a great deal and I would recommend taking advantage of a couple free prints, but not much more than that.

There are many, many other labs, some of which I need to experiment with in the future. The two most commonly referenced labs I hear about are Bay Photo and Blazing Editions. Both seem to be a little on the pricier side, but I've seen metals - and photo prints - by Blazing Editions in person, and they seem to be the go-to choice for photographers doing gallery displays. I have no personal experience with either lab, but they're both next on my list of professional printers to try out. If you've printed at Bay Photo or Blazing Editions, I've turned on comments and I'm curious to hear about your experiences, good or bad.

That's all I've got for now. Deuces.