Why You Should Start Selling Postcards Through Your Website and How to Do It

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. 

My OCD is such that this took much longer than it should have done and still upsets me.

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.

Inside an envelope, then inside some hipster wrapping paper, then inside a parcel designed for shipping slim books.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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33 Comments

Dan Crowther's picture

Just remember with Moo, their postcard terms are a bit counterintuitive. Their "Front" of the card is where you write a note, address it, and affix postage. (Also the overlay for those areas is turned off by default). And the "Back" is where you place your image.

Finally, in the US 4"x6" is largest "postcard" (technically 4.25"x6") eligible for the cheaper postcard postage rate.

Andy Day's picture

Yes! The front/back thing with Moo gets me every time. I've never heard anyone refer to the written side of a postcard as "the front". 😆

Jasper Stone's picture

Which Postcard package did you go with?

Andy Day's picture

Hi Jasper. I've been ordering batches of A6 postcards, original weight:

https://www.moo.com/uk/postcards/a6

If you're in the US, you won't have the same paper sizes (A4, A5, A6 etc) but the equivalent size is the smallest option available: 4.13 x 5.83".

https://www.moo.com/us/postcards/original

Gary McIntyre's picture

Great article, idea, and video Andy. Thanks for this.

Andy Day's picture

😊🙏🏻

Ali Choudhry's picture

Ok. Fine. I'll send you one of mine if you send me one of yours.

Andy Day's picture

That's a deal!

Kenneth Tanaka's picture

“Postcard” sized prints are most often used for promotion rather than as products. But it’s occasionally a format that appears as an art product. One example that jumps to mind is the late Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri who, rather whimsically, offered some of his signature images as packs of post cards.

https://tinyurl.com/4vzcxysz

More famously, and more valuable, photographer Mike Mandel created rather comical baseball cards of photographers in the 1970s, somewhat as a whimsical art project.

https://tinyurl.com/ve9taa3h

And of course Magnum holds week-long sales of small square prints from some of their members’ iconic works several times a year, these are larger than postcards…but not much.

It can be a good technique for keeping buzz if you have an established audience.

Tom Reichner's picture

This is a well written article and doing postcards the way you describe doing them is a fun idea. Thanks for that!

There is one thing that took me aback when I read it .....

Andy Day said:

"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), ..... "

I do not understand how archival photographic prints are not fine art. Perhaps your definition of "fine art" is a bit askew?

There are two types of art - functional art, and fine art. All art is either one, or the other. And all creative expression is art.

Functional art includes any and all creative expression that is used in a useful product. This would include having one's photo printed on a shower curtain, elaborately carved detail on a wooden urn, stained glass windows, art deco style furniture, etc.

Fine art is any creative expression that is made simply for looking at .... "eye candy". If creative expression is not part of a product or device that is used in a practical way, then it is fine art.

This would include any postcard that is not actually sent to anyone, and that exists only for viewing enjoyment, such as the way your postcard idea is being employed. So whether a postcard is fine art or practical art depends not on anything intrinsic about the postcard, but rather what is done with it; how it is used.

Fine art also includes any print of any kind that is printed and displayed simply for one to enjoy looking at. The reason people make prints from their photos is to display them and look at them. This 100% fits the definition of fine art.

All of the photos on my computer are fine art if they just "live" on my computer, where I look at them and enjoy them. If I were to have the photos printed onto a useful product, then that case usage qualifies as "practical art" rather than "fine art". But the same image, when viewed on my computer, is still fine art.

So, given this, I do not understand why you say that archival prints of your photos are not fine art. Do they not exist so that humans can look at them and enjoy them? If so, then they are fine art indeed, regardless of the subject matter or the perceived quality of the print or of the image that is printed.

The word "fine" in "fine art" has nothing to do with quality, it is simply a distinction from functional art.

If it is creative expression of any kind, and it is made to look at, and it is not used on a product, then it is fine art ...... no matter how low quality or tasteless the work is. Yes, that does mean that any time a child colors anything on paper with a crayon, if the intention is to have something to look at, and not to use that piece of coloring paper in a practical manner, then that fully qualifies as fine art.

Andy Day's picture

Click the link! For me, fine art is Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall. Not simply stuff that's been printed on fine art paper. Art, maybe. Fine art, no. 😊

Tom Reichner's picture

But "fine art" just means art that isn't functional art. "Fine" doesn't have anything to do with quality or anything. This is a common misconception to those who aren't familiar with the actual definition of the term.

Andy Day's picture

I think there's a lot of people — particularly in the fine art world — who would disagree with your definition.

Pan daBear's picture

As much as I’d love be a contrarian here, Tom is right.

Andy Day's picture

Yep, and I disagree! Entire books have been written on this topic. I've already written a thousand words giving my thoughts and don't intend to battle it out in the comments section. 😂

Pan daBear's picture

I mean it’s a pretty straightforward definition point here, but ok bye bye!

Tom Reichner's picture

Well, Andy, I will click on that link and read your article about it. But I am already afraid that the article will not define the term in a clear, definite, concise manner. If it is just like all the other articles on the subject, it will just leave things indefinite and subjective ...... and if that is the case, then it won't really be saying anything at all.

But maybe you'll surprise me with that article, and actually define things the way a dictionary would - in a way that leaves nothing subjective. If you do that, then I will be quite impressed!

Andy Day's picture

Ha. Would that it were so simple. You could just as easily define the term "culture", another word that's had entire books exploring its meaning. These terms are incredibly abstract and are characterised by complexity and contradictions. So no, I won't be impressing you today, sorry!

Pan daBear's picture

Could you give a reference to a book that would not define an archival print photograph purchased for its aesthetic value as fine art? I'm having trouble finding any. All I know are people like Paul Kristeller, Pierre Bourdieu, Paul Mattick, etc. who do. And I assume you're referencing modern works, right?

I dunno. maybe I'm just a dumb panda who eats bamboo all day, lol!

Andy Day's picture

I think Bourdieu would have been pretty quick to differentiate between decorative art and fine art..!

Pan daBear's picture

He'd be quick to differentiate between the interpretation of the image presented and the aesthetic value placed upon it, but not differentiate the methods of production and provenance of the image as you defined it. Finding and focusing on aesthetic judgment rather than an emotional response to a photograph was one of Bourdieu's defining structures in La Distinction.

So do you have a book that would not define an archival print photograph purchased for its aesthetic value as fine art?

Andy Day's picture

I think he'd also be interested in the social processes that go into the construction of the concept of fine art and that simply printing something doesn't automatically qualify it as such.

Pan daBear's picture

Yeah of course. But it doesn’t disqualify it either, as you did. That’s the point. Being snobbishly dismissive of something is easy, especially when you admiringly don’t have an understanding of what “it” (fine art) even is beyond its codified and historical definition. Just makes you look like a pseudo-intellectual.

A good example of the problem with your process: you commented that fine art is Cindy Sherman. So yeah, you’ve picked an educated example of an artist generally accepted as a fine art photographer. But you just used her name, not any particular work of hers.

So is anything she does fine art? Is an image Cindy Sherman takes on her phone of her shopping list fine art? Probably not, because context matters. And if you don’t have any context to build your argument off of (and no, saying there are books on a subject when someone asks for your definition doesn’t count as building context) you’re left with what looks like an arbitrary and uniformed position.

But again, I’m just a fucking panda. What do I know?

Andy Day's picture

I wish you had read my article about this! 😬🤦🏻‍♂️

"In short, what makes something fine art isn’t about realizing an artistic vision, nor is it about capturing what the artist sees rather than documenting a scene, nor creating a photograph simply for its aesthetic beauty. It’s not even about whether you write a fancy artist’s statement with lots of long words. Ultimately, it’s about whether other people think it is fine art, and the first step might be you calling your own work fine art. Just don’t expect everyone else to agree, and that might be a good thing."

Pan daBear's picture

Oh sweetheart I did. It was a cop out, especially that ending. And again, no links to those endless books that supposedly mirror your statement that an image bought for its aesthetic value cannot be fine art. Just a dead Amazon link to a Walter Benjamin book. Weak. 🧐💩👎🙀

Andy Day's picture

lol. ok.

Pan daBear's picture

Ok bye bye! 🐼❤️

Tom Reichner's picture

But fine art just means art that isn't functional art. The word, "fine", in this instance, doesn't have anything to do with quality or anything. This is a common misunderstanding among those who aren't familiar with the actual definition of the term.

Ali Choudhry's picture

I think your confusing fine art and functional art, Tom. I suggest you read up some more. Here are some articles I suggest.

Bogart, MH 1995, Artists, advertising, and the borders of art, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Costello, D 2008, On the very idea of a ‘specific’ medium: Michael Fried and Stanley Cavell on paintings and photography as ats, Critical Inquiry, The University of Chicago Press, Vol. 34. No. 2. Pp. 274-312.

Greenfeld, L 1988, Professional ideologies and patterns of gatekeeping: Evaluation and judgement within two art worlds, Social Forces 66(4) pp. 903-925.

Jones, PC 1995, Overview: art, commerce, and photography, Art & Architecure Archive, 51, 295 pg. 28.

Sobieszek, RA 1988, The art of persuasion: A history of advertising photography, Abrams, New York, NY.

Might I also suggest reading up on Arte Util and Tania Bruguera.

Matthew Osburn's picture

Great idea, thank you.

Bruce Hargrave's picture

It seems a whole lot of hassle and effort to sell this way. Two lots of postage, two lots of packing, unpacking and re-wrapping.

Perhaps the solution is to not hold stock, but for the client order to go straight to the print company?

It also becomes more financially viable that way. There are companies that offer this facility.

Kevin Harding's picture

Yep agree. I doubt anyone cares about my signature on a postcard. However thanks to Andy for this article/video.
As I currently reside in Shanghai I think I'll be offering postcards sent from here on my website (easy for me as I can pick them up from the huge camera mall I seem to spend most of my time in). Or people can order them to be printed at a local print shop for those that want a speedy delivery and to be able to send them to friends/family.

Tom Reichner's picture

Bruce,

I would agree with you - if the point of this postcard selling was to generate a little bit of extra income. But I think that the author, Andy, had something a lot more important in mind with this idea.

The whole point seems to be making a personal connection with one's client. That is why we would sell postcards. So, given that, can you tell me how doing it your way builds a stronger, more personal connection with the person purchasing the postcards?

The way Andy does it - the entire process that he described - seems like an awesome way to make that connection! The way one packages something is extremely important. Packaging the postcards himself gives Andy the opportunity to add a bunch of personal touches that one would never have the opportunity to add if one just had a print lab process the orders.

Smart people realize that the real point in doing the things that we do is to have people feel a certain way about what we have done. The intangible things completely trump the tangible things. They are the things that matter. The way someone feels about Andy's postcards is far more important than how many pennies Andy can save via automation.