Once your photos improve after practicing photography for a while, they will likely also attract a larger audience. And at some point, you might be asked if your photos are for sale. It is how I got into selling my images as prints more than ten years ago. In this article, I share an easy way to get started.
But first things first: When you start with photography, ideally, it should be out of the love for the craft and not to make money, because it takes time to create consistent income from photography. So, don't rush and focus on learning new techniques and creating a solid portfolio of high-quality images first.
Setting Up a Print Shop
As an artist, it's great to have a website, and in the long run, it's something to invest in, especially if you want to become a professional photographer. But most likely, you first started sharing your photos on social media or some dedicated photo-sharing platform. It might also be the place where your images are gaining traction.
You might now think that if you want to sell prints of your work, you must first create a homepage. It is certainly a good idea because it allows you to build your brand along the way. But if that's not your goal and you want to keep things simple and just be able to offer prints of your work, it's not a requirement.
Several online art marketplaces allow you to set up a store, upload your work, and start selling it in less than a day. You will spend most of that time tagging photos and adding descriptions. The effort is comparable to sharing images on social media.
For example, I want to share my experience with Redbubble, an online art marketplace you can use to sell your photos worldwide. It is possible because of Redbubble's network of manufacturers located all around the globe.
I've been using Redbubble for more than ten years to sell my art. The print options Redbubble offers are good quality — I've tested some of them for the feature video — delivery fees are reasonable, and it's possible to set custom margins. There's no fixed monthly fee involved, which is great to get started. Redbubble will take its share consisting mostly of manufacturing and delivery fees only if you sell something — but more on that later.
What I also consider important is that using Redbubble is easy for potential buyers of your art. Redbubble automates everything for you, including payment and updating the customer with information about the production and delivery of your work.
Let's talk about the custom margins you can set up on Redbubble. They are essential, and not all marketplaces allow this. Some have fixed prices, which limits the amount you can earn per sale. Setting the margins in Redbubble can be done in the central dashboard, where you apply percentages to the product categories you sell. Lowering or increasing the prices of your work requires just a few clicks.
Now the question is what you can earn on Redbubble. On the one hand, it depends on the margins you set, and on the other hand, more importantly, it depends on the number of photos you offer for sale and the traffic you generate for your art.
That last piece is crucial because having a global marketplace on which you can list your art doesn't generate many sales anymore. When I started with Redbubble, most of my sales were via the marketplace. Over the years, Redbubble has added a lot of different product categories and grown the number of artists on the platform. As a result, a photographer selling prints will get close to no traffic via the marketplace. The typical audience on Redbubble will either not look for your work or not find it.
It means that you must do the marketing yourself. If your social media following is large, it might not concern you. But for me, Redbubble has lost one of its advantages. Since you can now expect that the people ending up on your Redbubble store will get there via the links you share, you should be able to make an educated guess on how much you can earn based on the size of your audience.
But that's the same with any platform, even more so if you sell via your homepage. Eventually, it's all about finding ways to direct potential customers to our art.
There are several reasons for not using one of the global art marketplaces, and I will share a few with you. Some are specific to Redbubble, and some apply to any comparable platform.
Above, I mentioned that using Redbubble is free until you make a sale. The only cost you had to pay in the past was for printing and delivery. The margin you set up would end up in your pocket minus the taxes you must pay. This has changed: Redbubble has introduced different account tiers. There's now a standard, premium, and pro account. And it's not up to you to choose. Redbubble decides based on your performance and when you sign-up with Redbubble, you don't know what you get.
I was placed in the premium category once this change was introduced. Hence, I continue to use Redbubble as before. But if you end up in the standard tier, you will pay a fee to Redbubble for the sales you make. This fee gets deducted from your earnings. Redbubble is still free, and you will not have to pay for using it. But you better increase your margins if you end up in the standard tier to compensate for this fee. And that's the thing with using such platforms: You are subject to whatever policy and price changes they introduce. You don't have control over your storefront.
Another aspect that you might not like with platforms like Redbubble is the limited branding possibility. Your storefront on Redbubble looks like any other. You can add a header, a logo, and custom titles and text. But it's not the same as having a homepage. If you want to build long-lasting customer relationships, possibly conducting business with them several times, a generic platform like Redbubble is not the right place for you.
It's also not the right place to brand your work as fine art. That's because of all the other types of products on the platform and the limited ways to brand your work. Redbubble targets the masses, which makes it hard to use for fine art.
You've now heard some pros and cons of using a global art marketplace like Redbubble. To get started selling prints as a hobbyist photographer, it's a viable option. I wouldn't have used them for so long if I didn't think so. But due to recent changes on the platform and the decline of my sales via the marketplace, I started to move on. I want to offer my customers a more premium and fully branded experience when buying prints. There are again several ways to do this, some relatively simple with monthly costs of up to $50, others much cheaper but involving a lot more work to set up and maintain.
In part two of this series, I will share the option I selected for my homepage and what's required to set up a professional store.