Room demonstration of my most popular print: Big Island Stars
I often get asked how to start selling prints. There is a vast array of answers to “How to sell prints”. But, I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that every single person who’s ever asked me that didn’t stop to first consider if they should sell prints.
It’s sort of taken as a given in our industry that once a photographer attains a certain level of skill, the only possible next step is to begin selling prints. After all, our gear is (really) expensive, travel can be extremely expensive, and boy, wouldn’t it be nice if the viewing public reimbursed some of those expenses by buying a print or two? And really, who wouldn’t like to make a little extra cash from their hobby?
Taking it as a given for the sake of this article that selling prints is actually pretty hard, let’s dive into the question of whether or not it’s worth your time to do it. There are 3 basic situations in which you’ll find yourself wondering how to sell prints:
People keep telling you that your work is really good and that you should sell prints.
That’s great. It means your work has progressed to the point of reaching public recognition for it’s quality.
Should you sell prints: Absolutely not. The statement, “You should sell prints,” has the subcontext, “Your work is pretty good. I won’t buy anything, but some other purely hypothetical person might.” And that’s where it all falls apart. Go ahead, next time someone says that you should sell prints, ask them which image they’d like to buy a print of. Be prepared for the conversation to turn a bit awkward at that point. They were volunteering someone else’s wallet, not their own.
You’ve studiously compared your work to that found in numerous galleries (both brick-and-mortar and online) and determined that it’s of a similar quality or better.
That’s great. Your opinion is inherently biased because you’re vastly more attached to your own work than that of strangers’ in a gallery, but it’s still a really good sign that you think your work measures up to (or exceeds) that of others’ being featured in a gallery.
Should you go through all of the effort to set up a webstore and start selling prints: No. Works in a gallery will (generally) sell because it’s literally the gallery’s job to sell the work it features. Unless you’re a marketing and sales expert with an established, lucrative, art-buying audience (i.e. a gallery owner), no one is going to buy anything from your webstore, regardless of either your perceived quality of your work, or the actual quality of it. Sorry, but it’s just not going to happen.
Someone asks if they can buy a print.
Should you sell that person a print? For the love of all that is sacred in this universe, what are you waiting for? Sell that person a print now!
This is pretty much the only situation in which you should start selling prints. People saying you should sell prints is worthless. How you think your work compares to others’ is worthless. People actively seeking you out to buy a print is incomparable. It doesn’t get any better than that. And, it’s the only situation in which you’ll actually sell something.
I’ve had countless people tell me I should sell prints. I definitely think my work matches or exceeds that which I’ve seen in galleries. It wasn’t until someone reached out and asked if they could buy a print that I actually sold anything.