Are you a photographic printmaker? Would you like a chance to sell one of your prints to a large audience?
From time to time we have print sales here on TOP. The arrangements are very straightforward—I market the sale, and take 20% of the gross proceeds; the photographer fulfills the sales (i.e., makes and ships the prints), and keeps 80% of the gross proceeds. This sale won't be any different.
Many of our sales have done very well. Even a modest sale can earn $3,000, and the most successful ones have earned for the photographers the equivalent of a generous annual salary.
Many readers have expressed a desire to have their own prints considered for one of these sales.
So that's what we're going to try. For a sale scheduled for late Spring or early Summer 2012, we'll go through a search process to find three to five truly exceptional prints to offer.
Note well those words "truly exceptional"—we're definitely not looking for work that's just "good enough." Even unknown photographers can take world-class pictures!
We don't usually even like "contests," because, all too often, contests aren't staged for the benefit of participants—the photographers. They're staged as a way to get free publicity, free pictures, or cheap publication rights for the promoters. And we don't approve of those motives. So, to begin with:
- The entry fee for participating is $0, £0, ¥0—or, in any other currency, 0. Zero.
- At no time will we make any claim to the rights to your work. You always retain all your rights. Naturally, if you're going to participate, it's expected that you'll want to go along with the process, but all legal copyright and ownership rights, and all privileges appertaining thereunto, remain with you at all times.
- We will treat winners exactly as we treat any of our other Print Offer photographers. TOP will earn no more and no less from this sale than we always do. And you will have the same control over your sale that any other of our featured photographers have over theirs.
Here's how it's gonna work
1. Three times in the coming months, I'll ask people to send me JPEGs of prints they've made that they feel are particularly beautiful and that they think would sell well.
2. Each time, I'll pick a bunch—say, eight to 12—of the submissions I like best and put them up on the site to allow TOP readers to comment on them—and perhaps vote on which ones they like best. Any comments or voting will be advisory, not binding.
3. Using the comments and the vote, I'll select between one and five finalists. I'll ask each finalist to write a paragraph or two about the picture for when we post them again.
4. After we've gone through this process three times, we'll have as many as 15 finalists, and hopefully no fewer than ten. I'll then ask each finalist to submit a proof print to me, identical in every way to the print they will be providing for buyers. There will of course be certain requirements of the prints—materials quality, permanence, etc. Commercial prints (Costco, SmugMug, etc.) will not be allowed, and you might as well know that up front. You won't have to make the print yourself, necessarily, but if someone else makes it for you it will need to be a custom lab or exhibition printer who I can talk to. (Just as a practical matter, you should know that you will make more money on your sale if you make your prints yourself. Also, Ctein tells me is willing to be the custom printer of digital prints for participants who can't print their work or don't have a favored printer of their own.)
5. From the prints, I'll decide which pictures to offer in the sale.
I reserve the right to cancel the proposed sale at any time, for any reason. I can't foresee doing so, but I reserve the right anyway.
For participants, here's what you get: initial selections get published on TOP. Finalists get their pictures published a second time, along with a short text about the picture. This ain't nuthin'—as photographers who have been featured on TOP in the past know, it's good publicity. Often, people write to me telling me that their own sites got a nice viral bump after being mentioned here.
Of course, the chosen pictures get offered in a Print Offer on TOP. There's no guarantee of how much you'll earn from this—and no limit, either. How much you earn will be entirely dependent on how many of your prints people buy, with no guarantees. That's the way it always is with our sales.
So, how am I going to keep people from "gaming" the process? Simple—nobody will know when any of this is going to take place. I'm just going to throw it up at random intervals. Whoever is reading the site at those times can participate if they want to. This will favor regular readers over people who might come here just to participate in the "contest"—without excluding the latter. (And I don't want to exclude them, either. Everyone's welcome here—that's pretty much the game on the web.)
So how should you get prepared? Here's what I'm going to ask for when the time comes:
First, you should choose a print that you particularly like. If it's just a digital file and you think it would make a good print, well...I can't force you to print it until the finalist stage, of course, but you really should bear in mind that this is going to be a print sale, not a JPEG sale. A picture you've only seen as a file on your monitor is simply not the same thing as a good print.
I suspect many photographers these days look at most of their pictures as digital files only, and assume that the printing stage is a mere mechanical afterthought and that any print is good enough. Not so...printing is an art form in itself, and the quality of prints varies widely. Your picture might be far and away the most popular picture among our readers throughout this whole process, winning all the votes and garnering glowing comments, but it still won't make the cut if the print you send me at the end is sub-par. So pick a good picture, yes, but make sure it's also a good print.
Second, it must be a picture you took, and that you own the rights to, 100%, free and clear. You will have to be able to sign a legally binding document to that effect.
Any kind of picture and any kind of print will be eligible, but in general I will be slightly prejudiced in favor of traditional techniques (because buyers are), moderately prejudiced in favor of prints made by the photographer, and strongly prejudiced in favor of pictures that are photographs as opposed to photo-illustrations. That is, heavily Photoshopped images won't be disqualified outright, but they'd have to be very special to overcome my bias against them. (Either that, or just make sure I can't tell they're Photoshopped!)
What you should have ready to submit when the time comes is a JPEG that is 800 pixels wide and saved in the sRGB colorspace. It should be labeled as follows:
TPS[hyphen][your last name][hyphen][your title or identifier].jpg
With no spaces. An example:
"TPS" stands for "TOP Printmaker Sale."
Do not send your pictures now. It won't help. You must follow the instructions I'll provide when we get this process started. I assume I'll be getting lots of submissions, so I won't consider any submission that doesn't conform to all the stated conditions exactly, including "how to submit."
We offered Mike's fine print of Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother"
in 2006, from the negative in the Library of Congress.
A final word to the wise: if you can't take the heat, please stay out of the kitchen. It takes courage and a thick skin to submit your work to judgement. Just putting your work up on a big site where lots of people will be commenting on it practically guarantees that you're going to get a few comments that could hurt your feelings. You can get dissed here at any point in the process. Prepare yourself for that. But please do remember, we're looking for pictures that make the best prints, and prints that people will want to buy for display—not necessarily "the best picture." A rejection is not necessarily a judgement of you or your work. It does not necessarily mean your picture isn't "good." It just means it didn't suit the needs of this particular market. And that's not the end of the world.
UPDATE (Tuesday): So many people have asked so many questions, in the Comments and privately, that all I can say is that not all of the details have been finalized yet. Ctein will eventually write a column about what's involved in fulfilling a sale like this one. Other details and conditions will have to be specified when the time comes.
The biggest question is whether international readers will be invited to participate. That is a complicated question; fulfilling a print sale from overseas would be an expensive and involved proposition, and would necessitate charging international shipping to North American buyers, which might hurt sales. When Peter Turnley did it, the prints were made in Paris and he flew them to New York personally for professional fulfillment there.
Sorry I can't answer all the rest of the questions now. Not only do I not even know all the answers, but if I answered everyone individually I wouldn't have any time left to do anything else. But thank you for your interest and enthusiasm! Please stay tuned.
UPDATE #2: Sorry—Ctein reminded me that there is one obvious thing I haven't made entirely clear: a lot of the details are up to the artist. That is, you decide what size you want your print to be, you decide who prints it, you decide if you want to limit the number or not, you decide what the selling price will be, etc. I will of course work closely with you to make sure you understand all the implications of the choices, and to help you make the best choice—and there are (I suppose) some extremes I wouldn't go along with (in the past I've always reached consensus with everyone). But a lot of the details are ultimately the decision of the photographer.
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