Canal Grande, Venice, Italy

Sell Prints. Print Money. It Sounds Easy.

Apparently, this is the bash-Peter-Lik week. I happened onto this New York Times article this morning. It is not charitable at all, but I’ve seen worse and myself I’ve done my share of bemoaning his supposed lack of artistic vision. Say what you want, however, but you can’t say the guys hasn’t got a huge amount of business acumen.

Anyway, if you are like me and you can’t find a way to sell more than a handful of prints every year, I think you should definitely read that article. Too long, you say? Well, you don’t actually have to read it all, because I have copied here below the paragraph that is absolutely essential to make you sell many more prints. This is from an interview with one of Lik’s repeat customers:

“We were not art collectors,” he said in a phone interview, “but we had this wonderful trip with our kids, and at the time the gallery featured some photography that Peter had done on the island, shots of places that we’d been. So we bought a handful of photographs that we were in love with — the serenity and beauty of places that he captured.”

Do you see it? This person bought a handful of prints, each one costing thousands of dollars, because they were in love with the places they had been to and that Lik had captured.

The general public is not composed of sophisticated art buyers that appreciate the subtle qualities of a Gursky print that tells absolutely nothing to most of us. The lawyers, the dentists, the investment brokers that have money to spend and houses to decorate, but also the middle-class families will buy the photographs that resonate with them, that romanticize the places they have visited and whose memory is rekindled by looking at a picture that is about a thousand times nicer than the one they took with their cellphone at high noon.

In a way, this resonates a lot with this other post by Nigel Merrick, though the latter is more about online sales than gallery sales:

People buy from people and, more importantly, they buy from people they like and who they can relate to in some meaningful way.

Nigel’s post is all about the importance of establishing a relationship between the prospective buyer and the photographer and, as you will discover if you read the NYT article, Lik’s galleries are all about building his persona, in addition to presenting prints that people can relate to.

Too many photographers, me included, think that all it takes to sell prints, either online or in a brick-and-mortar gallery, is to display great images, but I’ve begun to realize this is a mistake. A mediocre image that relates to the buyer will sell many times more than a great picture that doesn’t.

This interview with Paul Marcellini on Visual Wilderness is also highly relevant.

Now that I’ve given you this incredibly useful bit of business advice, I am going to gratuitously close this post with one of my pictures of Venice. If you’ve been to the city but don’t have any good photos of it, you should definitely consider buying a large print of this one. It’s a limited edition of 995 and starts at $2,000, but the more I sell, the higher the price goes, so buy one before it’s too late. Hey, if it works for Peter Lik, it must work for me too 😉

Blue Hour Venice

 

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Comments 6

  1. Congratulations on your “coming of age” eye-opener on the photography print business, Ugo.

    Business is about branding, and the vast majority of photographers out there are absolutely ignorant about building a brand (much less build themselves and their name as a brand). Harsh, but absolutely true.

    Here’s a (verbatim) copy of a comment I entered in a G+ post not long ago, about this issue (and precisely about Lik and his success):

    *****

    I have a post-graduate degree in Luxury Marketing Strategy. I know what Peter does, marketing wise. I recognise each of his brand-positioning moves.

    Photographically imo he’s great, albeit not as great as a pricing difference in his artwork would seem to point out comparing to others which (photographically) are on a comparable level.

    He’s had some mishaps in the past with his attitude (the Bella Luna debacle comes to mind), but overall he’s a consistent performer.

    His difference to his photographic peers? The positioning and the marketing. His/Their difference to the rest? They’re top photographers and artists.

    Btw, the marketing difference of the likes of Peter Lik is, more often than not, not a tenet of the artist him/herself. It is the result of a team of people hired by the photographer to create that difference. That brand positioning is the result of a business strategy, and not of the lone wolf. That is the reason why most photographers out there will not become Peter Lik, and vice versa. Most people do not look at photography as a fine art & luxury business. Least of all, because they are not knowledgeable of what it takes to create a brand in that segment.

    And that’s why comparing Peter Lik (and his results) to someone shooting with a phone or even a dSLR as them “all being photographers” is the same as comparing a Ferrari with a Prius on the basis of them “all being cars”: pointless.

    *****

    Btw, having a 995 Limited Edition starting at $2000 and with price progression works for Lik because of his brand. I’d say it won’t work for you until you get to that brand level 😉 But I hope I’m wrong, and that it DOES work for you right now.

    My Limited Editions are 50, start at 250€ and indeed have a price progression as well. One day I may get to Lik’s level, but it’s a long road.

    Oh, and of course, on the “what buyers resonate to” you are also spot on. Although that does NOT explain why Lik sells Antelope Canyon images for m$6.5 while others sell the “same” photograph for a couple of hundred.

    1. Post
      Author

      “Although that does NOT explain why Lik sells Antelope Canyon images for m$6.5 while others sell the “same” photograph for a couple of hundred.”

      You’re right, of course. Whoever bought that print (IF they bought it) did it because of the perceived investment value, to a large extent. They could have bought a photo of a turd, if they thought it was a good investment, and this is ALL due to Lik’s brand, which others don’t share. But having a subject matter that resonates with people’s memories explains why it’s much easier to sell pictures of Maui in a Maui gallery than it is to sell pictures of Barbados there.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Manuel.

  2. He needs to find the right buyer. He needs to find someone who is enthralled by the location, has the money for the print, but has no interest in price shopping other landscape photographers’ photos of similar locations. It’s like a timeshare sales model.

  3. It’s sales 101 really. What am I selling? Yourself, you are selling yourself. Art is personal, it’s part of who we are as human beings and you need to get comfortable selling yourself. People buy from people they like. This, of course is easier done in person but what you put out online in how you present your work, the type of work, your website and social media is all a projection of who you are. Who are you presenting to the world?
    I find a very high percentage of what I sell online are images that were taken before I ever started shooting RAW and editing. What does that say? People will buy what they connect with, what they are emotional about and what means something to them regardless of how many hours you spent editing an image, scouting locations and what equipment you use. My very first online sale was an image of leaf lettuce growing in my back garden. (Mind you the images are still composed well, lit well and not just snapshots – there is something to be said for (I think) the basics of a good image.

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