Ask the Experts: “Should I Sell My Photographs in an Online Marketplace?”

This month’s letter comes from a reader with a question about if selling their photographs through an online marketplace will devalue their editions.

Dear Kat,

I have been contacted by a company [redacted] that makes big prints and has a site where they sell them as limited editions. I am currently working with them to sell a couple of large images and that seems okay. They have another venture where they are selling to hotels, restaurants, etc. and they want to sell some of my other images. I'm mostly okay with that, but maybe a little hesitant. They have, however, also asked to be able to sell grids of my most popular series, and I am inclined to tell them no. They would be selling large grids, they take care of framing, shipping, etc. I make $200 per grid. My prices for the individual images are $175 for an edition of 10. I'm less worried about money per print, and more about diluting the power of the edition, I guess. These are customers I likely wouldn't be reaching anyway, but I don't know what that kind of thing does to the perception of my work.

Wary of Online Sales

Dear Wary,

I have looked at this company [redacted]’s website and there are a few things to which I think you should give serious thought before making your decision.

1. I am generally not on board with prints made without the direct supervision of the photographer. Photography is a complex medium with three major components: the capture, the edit (selection), and the print. Each aspect is important in the creation of the photographic object. Prints made without the photographer's supervision or approval are ignoring a vital part of the art form.

2. As a sub-point to the point above, it looks like the prints they sell are unsigned. They may be limited edition, but unsigned prints are considered to be of lesser value and may dilute the overall value of the series.

3. No one is helping you build collectors. It is highly unlikely that this company would share any sales information with you. While a gallery might not be keen to share a buyer's name either, it is generally understood that a gallery keeps careful records of those who purchase your work and will reach out to them when new pieces are available. Once a level of trust is established, some galleries will share the buyer's information at the very least so they can be added to your mailing list. With this company, your work is purely a commodity and not something that inspires an artist-collector relationship.

4. $200 per grid seems very low considering the price of each individual photograph. However, if the edition is very large (for example: an edition of 200 versus your normal edition of 10) and unsigned, that might be a reasonable price, especially with the company assuming all production costs.

5. In my own experience as a gallerist: I really don't like when my artists sell their work through online companies. It is hard enough to build a steady market for photographs. When there are a number of "special" or "different" editions made that are easily accessed online, it becomes almost impossible. A potential collector seeking your work might search on Artsy, but will likely run a google search first. If a lot of sites like Society6 and Easy and Turning Art, etc. turn up with the same images, it indicates a lack of market value. As a photographer myself, I closed my accounts with those sites years ago (they never sold anything anyway). Something to keep in mind if seeking gallery representation.

Kat Kiernan, Director, Panopticon Gallery

Writing Machine  ,   Jefferson Hayman

Writing MachineJefferson Hayman

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