Many photographers would love to sell prints from their website but holding stock is expensive, shipping can be complicated, and buying a quality print can be a significant investment of money and wallspace that won't appeal to a large chunk of your audience. Why not sell postcards instead?
Photographer Brendan van Son planted an idea with me a few months ago when he started selling individual postcards through his website. Customers choose a card that is handwritten and sent via snail mail, with different pricing options to choose from depending on the level of support customers want to give. Many creators use Patreon or BuyMeACoffee to ask people who appreciate their work to support them, but individual postcards grabbed me as a much nicer idea as not only can you let your customer/supporter decide how much to pay, they also get something physical and personalized in return. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a postcard, especially when it features a photo that you love?
The success of sending out these individual postcards led me to put together a bundle of my six favorites to sell as a pack, priced normally. If you don't currently sell prints, this might be an affordable way of getting started, testing the viability, and if nothing else, creating some pretty marketing materials.
How to Print
Van Son prints his own postcards but I needed a solution with a much lower up-front cost. Searching extensively for printers, I ended up choosing Moo for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve used its services before and have been pleased with the finish and quality of the products. The cheapest delivery option can be quite slow so give yourself plenty of time if you’re trying to save money. Also, in my experience, Moo's packaging isn't the best so you may need to request replacements if a batch arrives damaged which can mean having to wait before you can stock your online store.
Secondly, Moo offers an option that I’ve not found elsewhere: you can choose up to 25 different designs without incurring any additional costs, which makes this experiment much more affordable if you are ordering a small number of cards. Every other printer I found lists prices for batches of individual designs which makes it far more expensive if you want to order a variety.
I was pleased with my first order and have decided to stick with Moo as my printer as while larger orders tend to then even out between different companies, testing the quality each time adds to the cost of an experiment that’s never going to be a massive money-spinner. In addition, Moo's customer service was excellent, even if the packaging for my orders was slightly lacking.
I figured that a pack of six postcards sold together would make great gifts or give customers some decorative ideas for their home or office. They go well in cardholders, don't mind drawing pins or Blu Tack (i.e., adhesive putty), and can be arranged together with some coarse string and some wooden clothes pegs.
Presentation is important. The joy of these postcards is in their physicality and I tried to convey that in my storefront, photographing the cards in my hand and also including photographs of the packaging. I'm tempted to put together a short video to give customers an even better idea of how they handle.
I opted to go a little bit rustic with my packaging which I felt matched the trees in my photographs, using a simple brown envelope and wrapping this in recycled paper (provided for free by Amazon in almost every parcel they send out, it seems) tied together with some coarse string.
The storefront was fun to put together. I upgraded my existing Squarespace site from the personal plan to business which unfortunately meant a significant bump in price. As every photography YouTuber has already told you countless time, setting up a store is easy — and it was. There are cheaper options out there such as Pixieset and Pixpa which merit further investigation another time, and there are plenty of other platforms to choose from if you don't currently have a website.
Once it was all up and running, it was then a case of hammering my various social media channels and mailing list and hoping that people would order. Fortunately, they did, to the degree that I figured I'd set up a product listing on Etsy to see if that might be worth pursuing (one order and counting thus far).
Is It Worth It?
Financially, it’s not lucrative, though this will very much depend on the size of your audience. I’ve more than made my money back (both for the postcards and the website upgrade) but in terms of an hourly rate of pay given the number of orders I’ve received so far, it’s far from life-changing.
What it has been, however, is fun. During the last year, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time photographing the forest where I live, if simply because I’m not photographing anything else. Having an outlet for these images beyond social media has been refreshingly fulfilling — similar to how Instagram likes tickle your ego but on a level that’s far more satisfying. The process of creating the cards and the shop, not to mention the act of putting together every order, is gratifying, simply because of the knowledge that people will hold your work in their hands. Some of those who have bought the postcards have then gone on to enquire about archival-quality prints (no, they're not fine art — sorry), and as businesses start to open up here in France, I’ll start looking to see if any small local businesses are interested in selling them on my behalf.
Adding these postcards to my site has been an enjoyable process, particularly during the global pandemic. The products have a broader appeal than prints, it’s easier to hold stock, and the up front costs are negligible. If photography is a hobby or if you’re wondering if there’s a market for your work as prints, this is a fun way to create something physical that is also affordable, perhaps as a stepping stone towards more expensive products. It’s also a means of marketing your work and finding an outlet for images that you might otherwise not know what to do with beyond posting them to social media.
What do you think? Have you tried something similar? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.