You’re a photographer. You’re not a professional (you don’t make your living with photography). You think your images are pretty good (and people seem to like them). You’ve been thinking about selling a few to make extra money on the side. I’ve written a few articles for Northrup Photo about making money with photography, you can Read Them Here (I would appreciate your comments/questions on the article itself, it helps to guarantee my status as a contributing author).
This short extract talks about profit and venues specifically, where the Northrup articles talk about the How-to of selling your photography (more detail). When I talk about Retail versus Wholesale I’m referring to different revenue streams. Retail venues (selling direct) include: online eCommerce stores, cafes & restaurants, coffee shops, flea markets, and family & friends. Wholesale venues include middlemen (agents selling on your behalf): galleries, stock agencies, and micro-stock agencies all come to mind.
Retail prices are higher and enjoy greater profit margins (typically 50% or more). Wholesale prices are lower, because you’re selling to a middleman who has to make a profit, with smaller profit margins (usually 30% or less). Wholesale venues come into their own when they sell in volume, they can usually reach many retailers (where the individual can only reach a few). Photography lends itself to retail distribution, and most of us would fall into that category.
Here is a list of the retail venues (and their profit margins) that I use on a regular basis:
- Online eCommerce Store. My store is integral to my website Indochine Photography. To visit my store and see it firsthand Click Here. My partner Fine Art America sponsors my online store. I can ship my fine art prints anywhere in the world within 3-days, and my customers can customize their order (i.e. size, presentation format, frames, mats, canvases, etc.), and it includes a full shopping cart function that can accept all forms of payment, and a complete money-back guarantee. I control the prices and keep 100% of my profit margin on prints (I earn an extra 10% commission on any base materials sold: frames, mats, canvases, etc.).
- Cafes, Restaurants, and Coffee Shops. These are great venues for displaying and selling your work. It provides free wall art to the business owner (manager), and allows them to earn a small commission on any images sold. I will typically pay the business a 10% commission to display and sell my work, leaving me with 90% of the sales price (less printing/mounting costs).
- Flea Markets. Many neighborhoods and communities have flea markets where local artists display and offer their work for sale. Sometimes there’s a small fee to set up a booth, and other times it’s free to the residents (and even guests). Like any other retail venue you set your price and discount structure, and enjoy 100% of the sales price you set up (less costs: printing/mounting/fees).
- Family & Friends. There’s a temptation to give away your work for free. I’ve certainly done that on occasion, but you’re losing money every time you do it (remember you’ve invested time, processing, printing and mounting costs). Family & Friends are notorious for wanting your photography and not wanting to pay for it. I send them to my eCommerce store to shop, and will often offer a onetime Discount Code for 15% to 25% off (FAA provides this service), leaving me with 75% to 85% of my original profit margin (they pay for the base materials and shipping).
What about wholesale venues and their profit margins? Remember (and this is important) you’re paying a middleman to sell your work. They have associated costs for providing that service, they’re running a business too. The advantage of using a wholesaler is their extended reach implying more sales volume. The idea is you make less money on each sale, but that you have a larger volume of sales. However, this has not been my experience with photography. Lets look at some wholesale-type venues:
- Galleries. Established galleries are typically brick & mortar buildings with a staff. They actively showcase and promote your work (some more than others). Sometimes (rarely) they’ll buy your work (owning it) at a wholesale price and then sell it at a retail price keeping any profit for themselves. More common, however, is they will sell your work on consignment with a commission split. Often as not the split is 50/50. While living in Yucatan, Mexico I sold my work through SoHo Galleries, we negotiated a commission split of 60/40 (60% for me and 40% for the gallery), because I did all of printing, mounting, and framing with them. When dealing with a gallery everything is negotiable so be shrewd. Already you can see the difference between retail and wholesale, with retail you’re keeping 90% to 100% of your sales price, and with wholesale that drops to 50% to 60% (and often much less).
- Stock Galleries. Stock Galleries like Getty Images and a few others can pay reasonable commissions, but nothing like in the old days (they’re just too many good photographers out there today—too much competition). Getty can still demand and get a few hundred dollars per image sold, but you only keep part of that. However, if your photography skills are good enough you might try breaking into that market.
- Micro-stock Galleries. This destroyed stock photography for serious photographers (good for buyers, lousy for sellers). Every Tom, Dick & Harry with a digital camera has flooded the market, and so you only receive cents on the dollar for every image sold. It’s labor intensive for what you receive in return, translated into Business-speak: it’s not cost-effective, low ROI (Return on Investment). Pursue it if you wish, you’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, but be forewarned it’s a royal pain in the ass.
My conclusion is simple and straightforward: For the majority of Indie-Photographers the best way to make money is by selling direct through retail outlets: eCommerce Store; Cafes, Restaurants, and Coffee Shops; Flea Markets, and to Family & Friends. You will be selling fewer images, but pocketing more money. Cutting out the middleman saves you money. If you’re approached by a traditional brick & mortar gallery (understanding they’ll want an exclusive on your image) consider it, the exposure alone might be worth it. The same goes for agents and high-end stock galleries like Getty Images. Never close a door, but be realistic in your expectations.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, and World Traveller