Our next print sale is going to be something completely different from the last one. I just don't know exactly what it will be yet. One thing I do know is that I don't want to get into any kind of "rut" with our offerings.
If there's any commonality to our offerings so far, the theme has been fine printmaking, coupled with several "by popular demand" pictures that initially got a lot of response here on TOP. I've also mainly found print sale photographers from among my friends, or people I know or have worked with in the past.
There's a very good reason for both the "printmaking" and the "friends" trends. The #1 thing I need to know is, is the artist going to be dependable? People who've been in business for some time making and selling prints are already well versed in what it takes to produce and distribute large numbers of prints. And when I know people, I know what kind of people they are—I have a good idea going in that they can come through. So far, we've been really lucky with that—knock on wood. As I mentioned yesterday, Charlie Cramer made and shipped more than 400 prints in 26 days. Nobody will ever surpass Ctein's epic labors for his first sale, making 760 dye transfer prints in less than two months. Truly Herculean. Carl Weese is a close runner up—if there is any printmaking method that doesn't lend itself to mass production, it's platinum/palladium. But every photographer we've featured has come through with flying colors. But so far all of our print sale artists have been very professional. Knock on wood, again.
With the success of our recent sales, I've been reaching out a little more, looking for interesting possibilities. Believe it or not, it's not a trivial problem to find just the right kind of photographer. To begin with, many famous or well-established photographers are already locked into contracts or obligations with galleries or other traditional outlets. I contacted one well-known sports photographer who replied simply, "Not a possibility for me." He's bound up in exclusive contracts with his galleries, and that's that.
Some people don't own the rights to their own pictures (some photojournalists, especially, have sold the rights to their archives to picture agencies). Other don't have the right to make studio sales (a "studio sale" is a personal sale between the photographer and a private party that doesn't go through the photographer's gallery or other representation). Others just don't have the time—it takes a lot of work to make and mail a lot of prints, and they're too busy.
Another problem is that money is...relative. Our most successful offers have earned into six figures for the photographers. That's a lot of money to me, and it might be to you, but there are people out there to whom it's not enough to bother about. To photographers who currently sell their prints for $5,000 or $10,000 or even more, a print sale on TOP would simply dilute the value of their work too much—it would be "slumming" to an unacceptable degree. A sale on TOP would offer them neither profit nor prestige. There are not a whole lot of people like that, but they exist. I spoke to one photographer (a fashion guy) whose day rate (that's the fee required to hire him, not counting his expenses for the shoot) is over $20,000. I literally can't make a sale worth his time.
With others, the problem is the opposite—it's that TOP can't add any value to the proposition. Unless a photographer has already established a value level for their prints, we can't offer their prints for less! There's one photographer in particular who I would definitely do a print sale with, but for one snag—he already sells his work for less that I possibly could. He charges $30 for a print at his website. I can't beat that.
Finally, there's the matter of interest. It's not just a matter of finding pretty or competent pictures. Everyone has some of those. There's got to be something about the picture, the artist, or the print-as-object that's interesting or unique or different—something that makes the offer into a real opportunity for people. That's the key, for me.
P.S. This is going to sound a little obnoxious, for which I apologize in advance, but, if you'd like to suggest a picture or a photographer for a future print sale, please leave your suggestion in the Comments. And, for form's sake, do not suggest yourself. Please don't email me privately with suggestions; especially, please do not send me private emails asking if you can be the next print sale photographer!
Unless of course you're Elliott Erwitt or Mary Ellen Mark or Steve McCurry. :-)
If there are suggestions in the Comments, I'll look at as many as I possibly can.
Note: Dave Beckerman, on his blog, wrote a plea for his friends and followers to come here and leave comments proposing him as a candidate for a TOP sale. Dozens of them did so. I didn't publish most of those comments, since it's technically someone proposing himself, albeit indirectly...which I asked others to please not do.
We'll try to do something fun with Dave in the future.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Arthur: "Killjoy. Until I read your postscript, I was going to graciously offer up myself as your next print photographer; so long as you dropped those silly requirements for things like 'fine print making,' 'dependable,' and 'professional,' etc. Hmph!"