Fine Art America – a new way to earn cash from digital photos?
One of the issues of normal “stock” photography – especially studio and people/lifestyle images – is that they tend to remove the opportunity to add an artistic flair to the image. Pure white isolation, room for editorial copy, deep depth of field – all these are part and parcel of a stock image. Photographers are driven by other aims though – the ability to create an image that wows the audience, or takes their breath away, but is it possible to do that and make money from the Fine Art prints that result from letting this artistic impulse have its head? I’ve thought often about printing and displaying my best images in a gallery (or coffee shop/restaurant), but there are a lot of upfront costs, and do the buyers of art in a local gallery really want what I have put on display? I would obviously be restricted to a small subset of my portfolio. My solution – try Fine Art America, but do it professionally with the aim to make money.
FineArtAmerica has a growing artist base, but, even more importantly, it seems to have growing presence among the art buying public. With photography, the basic business model is that the artist uploads digital images, keywords and describes them, and sets a price for different sized prints and greetings cards. FAA then manages the printing, matting, framing and customer relationship, paying the difference between their marked-up cost of the materials and the selling price to the artist. They have two packages for artists – a free package that supports 25 images, and a Pro package for $30 a year that allows unlimited uploads and a customizable artist portfolio/website. $30 is a huge bargain compared to the hundreds that SmugMug want for a similar service, and my experience on selling on Smugmug has been pitiful!
I have had a basic package with Fine Art America for a year or so, and actually sold one of my images. I hadn’t really set the pricing very well, and so I only made $25 for the print, but it was a nice boost to my artistic side! Last weekend, I decided to take the plunge and treat FAA seriously – signed up to the $30 package and started to sort through and upload my already keyworded stock images that I thought may be of interest to their customers. My stock portfolio is weighted more to travel and landscape shots than studio/lifestyle and so I think I have around 1000 images that make the grade. The big benefit of an unlimited package is that people are generally searching by keyword and so giving them the chance to see all your work might just meet the need that is in someone’s mind. Good selection is important – you don’t want prints to be returned for poor focus or dust spots on the image and you don’t want to make your gallery look amateurish either, but don’t discard that nice isolated image of a flower or herb – someone may like that specific design.
Sp, what is my experience to date – well, no sales! But 4 days is not a real test! Then, I found that it was nothing like as smooth as using ftp or a Lightroom export option (eg Smugmug) to upload images. There are two options – upload a single image and keyword/describe and put into a gallery one by one, or upload 5 at once and follow the same steps in parallel. Unfortunately, I found the multiple upload to be very buggy and almost useless, so I stuck with the single approach. With already keyworded images, I found that I could do one image per minute on average – so this is not for the faint at heart!
You do get to set defaults for most things – the price being the main one, but you can choose to add a watermark (I didn’t) and also choose to link to Facebook/Twitter to build some web presence for your site (I did). Pricing is completely up to you, but I did check around with other galleries and came up with this:
There is an option to bulk edit prices (for a selection or all your images) and so I can always change this in future if I think it is harming sales.
The only other tip I can think of is to work out your gallery structure in advance and create those galleries on the site. When you upload an image, you can choose one or more galleries by checking boxes, so it is easier to have them all available to you. Your photo will then appear under multiple groupings in your galleries. Also, note that your images will not immediately be available for search – it seems to happen overnight as far as I can tell.
My Fine Art America personal website is now online – only got 400 images so far, but I add more each day when I have some spare time. I’ll let you know how I get on with this new venture!
Update: I’ve found out that you can sponsor a particular keyword which is an important one for your images. As an example, I have a lot of images of Kauai, and so I have sponsored that keyword. Sponsoring is free – you just have to add a link in your blog or webpage back to that page in FineArtAmerica, in my case linking to kauai photos, or, to link to my Washington DC photos, I just add this link. Seems a pretty easy way to get some traffic to your best pages. I’ll have to think about how to do this properly!