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Any item that can display a photo is a potential revenue source for photographers. Magnets, T-shirts, mugs, stickers, cards, mouse pads, bags; the market is unlimited. There are several marketplace Web sites that create on-demand, customized products. You can easily set up your own online shop, then upload your photo, pick the products you want to sell, and watch the business come your way.
How much do products pay? You can decide, as you can set the markup. Sell a $9 T-shirt for $14 and you get $5. Also, you can put the same photo on a multitude of products, so one picture can go a long way.
Postcards are the lowest-cost printed products. You can make your own quite cheaply, which means low-risk and easy market entry for self-publishers. There are many online printers for postcards. You could make samples on your own inkjet printer, take them to local stores, and ask for feedback.
Another easy and cheap way to start your own photography publishing business is with notecards. You can paste standard prints to folded white card, add an envelope, and hey-presto you have a notecard. There’s an increasing number of printers that can make professional-looking notecards for you.
With a few samples in hand, you can visit local giftshops and bookstores to see if they will enter into a trial. You could offer the cards on a “no-obligation consignment” basis, where you give them the cards and return a month or two later and charge them only for the cards that sold.
Galleries and Art Shows
If you’re into fine art, try galleries and art shows. Make high-quality prints of your work, frame them, and display them for sale to the public. For galleries, look in the yellow pages, or meander down the local art district. For art shows, look in the local newspaper for street fairs and events. You can usually rent a stall to display your prints.
This approach requires some upfront money and time, to print and frame the pictures, and to be present at the gallery or booth. But you get to set your own price for your work and perhaps gain a reputation as a local artist.
Magazines are a good way to see your picture in print. There are a many magazines covering a wide variety of subjects, and they need pictures for each edition.
Look for photography competitions. My first published photo appeared in National Geographic Traveler magazine, winning a photo competition in the Jan 1997 edition. I think I received $100 for that.
Magazines are really looking for stories, so try packaging your photos with a pre-written article. Think of some interesting and unique angle about your trip or the subject of your photos. Write in the style of the targeted magazine, with a similar word count. You can re-purpose the same article for different magazines, that’s what a lot of freelance writers do. Check the magazine’s Web site for submission guidelines and address. I wrote some articles for Shutterbug magazine and Postcards magazine, which paid $1 a word.
Magazines often have fixed pay rates, so there’s no negotiation. Articles are commissioned and paid by word count. A typical article may be 300 words or 600 words. Photography rates depend upon the size printed, so a full page pays more than a half page, and the cover shot pays the most.
How much can you get for a magazine photo? Perhaps $50-$500 per image. For an article? About $1 per word, so $600 for a 600-word article.
For me at least, there is nothing finer than seeing your photos in a book. There’s something classic, complete, and enduring about books.
Be aware that it is hard to get someone to publish your book. Color printing is expensive and the market is small, which makes photography books high risk and low profit. Thus publishers only want well-known photographers who are established sellers. Your chosen subject and impressive photographic skills alone are unlikely to convince a publisher to bet a large amount of printing money on you. That’s partly why I chose to self-publish. If your subject is local and you’re willing to devote some time to selling, you can often make your money back on a self-published photo book.
Publishers are often looking for authors, to write a book for which the title has already been established, particularly for books in a series. So you could bill yourself as an author with pictures to boot.
How much does a book pay? A typical advance is $10,000 to $15,000 against royalties of 10-15%. That may sound a lot but it takes a long time to write a finished book, and you may have to pay your own expenses.
Let’s look at the Top 40 Photo Products Websites.