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Saturday, 26 January 2013


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Count me amongst the winners. As I write this, there's a Peter Turnley behind me and a Ctein to my left. As a new art buyer, I'm tickled to have these pieces and proud to support these two artists.

Ignore the dissenters. If it started snowing $ 100 bills, they'd be the ones complaining about paper cuts. If an artist decides to market prints via TOP, that's their choice and nobody else's.

It's a free market and your business. Any photographers who disagree shouldn't participate. You are operating on the "long tail" of business and customers are benefiting as well as learning about photographic art. Keep it up!

I'm curious, what is the largest number of prints of an image you have sold? What is the average? Without naming names, of course.
Keep up the good work.

[Ctein sold 700+ prints in his first sale. I think one early sale sold three prints. I don't know the average, because there have been so many different types of sales and I haven't kept all the figures. --Mike]

I really appreciate that you do this, and I know I'll buy one sooner or later.

My local photography club is using a space to display photos for our town's First Friday gallery walk coming up. I might hang three photos. My primary consideration for framing and photo choice will be how they will look on my walls after the show, since I know traffic and sales are low for these things.

I love your print offers, and I love your business model. Thank you for explaining it so well.

It certainly works for the collector, as they get what they want for an efficient price.

It certainly works for the photographer, as there is no waste. In the old days, a photographer would create a portfolio of work, and if they didn't gauge demand correctly, the prints had to be stored away as costly inventory that may never sell. In your model, the number of prints will perfectly match demand.

There is an analogy in the fine dining restaurant business. The most efficient business is the banquet business with a pre selected menu. The owner knows ahead of time how many people will come, and exactly what and how many items they will eat. With no waste, the prices can be attractive, and a fair profit is possible. A normal fine dining restaurant has much waste as they try and guess what people might order. I know one restaurant owner who only makes a profit on his banquet business.

I look forward to seeing your Photographic Banquet.

You had a conversation with a NYC gallerist? The most I could aspire to was exchanging sneering glances.

You would think that photographers would be lining up to sell prints through TOP given that they are going to get 80% of the sales price without so much of the usual overhead.

I only wish I had had the money to participate in every TOP offering. I am so pleased with the small collection I have acquired thus far.

This very well could be a viable new model for art photography sales. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few years.

I think it's a great model and one TOP should continue. I also think the number of sales per year is about right. After all I don't visit the site to buy photographs I come to learn about photography. One day a sale will match and I may want to buy but I'm not in a hurry.

Every time I see 'precipitation' I wish I'd bought a print when I had the chance!

Note this is not a criticism: I think the TOP print sales are a very good thing indeed, and I have bought a print from them and certainly would buy more.

However one important difference is that with a TOP sale you are buying something which you have not really seen. You have seen a reproduction of it (a picture of a picture, if you will) on screen, but you have not seen the real thing. For the sake of anyone who sells prints it had better be the case that the reproduction of the print on screen is not as good (or is, in any case, different) than the print, as if it is as good there is no real purpose to owning the print any more. For me this is certainly true, if only because I'm writing this on a 5-6 year-old laptop whose screen is now a dim yellowish-green only visible at all in a darkened room, but I think it remains true in general.

So, although I think the TOP print sales are admirable, I also think that they do not do the same job as a gallery, where you get to see either the print you will buy or something that should be visually very similar (and I think you'd have reason to complain if it was not).

Related to this comment is something I've said before: the increasing uniformity of the way people look at photography (via a computer screen and usually a poorly-calibrated screen at that) is damaging. I am fairly sure I have argued with people who thought that daguerreotypes were well-represented on screen, for instance: I can only assume they had never seen one. They are obviously an extreme case, but the same is true for almost any traditional printing technique (or in fact for projected transparencies): there is no substitute for seeing the thing itself, and as fewer and fewer people do that we will forget what the things were like at all.

Though I haven't as yet bought from any of your offers, I thoroughly approve of your methods and pricing (and the featured artists, thus far!). To me, one of the great things about photography is, or should be, its accessibility. Though I sell a few prints myself, I absolutely hate to see work priced at many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars (or more). This for something which is very easily reproducible, especially in these digital days (Ctein's dye-transfers notwithstanding).

You have brought a great measure of democracy to these print sales by your sensible pricing, and I applaud that. It is in direct opposition to the methods and pricing of the gallery and museum world where sales are predicated on a kind of inflated elitism and a few wealthy buyers.

I think the gallery model is impractical for most photographers. In today's market, print sales are unfortunately declining, replaced by online or screen viewing. We need more ways to encourage and support print purchases. TOPs print offer provides one solution, Brooks Jensen's offers are another. I recall Brooks stating in one of his podcasts that he has sold several thousands of prints at $20.00 each. That puts the prints in front of a lot more eyeballs. Seems better than just selling a few prints at the hundreds or thousands of dollars pricetag usually seen in galleries. Affordable art work can encourage more people to own real art, never a bad thing from my perspective.

Dear rnewman,

My first dye transfer sale sold about 750 prints, but "only" 450 of them were of one photograph (we offered two).

The "$19.95 Print Sale" sold over 800 prints of a single photograph, but that was kind of a special case.

pax / Ctein

The sales model is indeed working very well, but to be able to pull it off, you have first to establish a huge readership, basically equivalent to starting a successful magazine.

For many photographers, gallery shows are as much about resume-building than sales. There are a number of photographers that do not need to make a living from print sales, for instance because commercial or academic jobs pay the bills. Although a TOP sales actually places their artwork in a larger number of hands, I doubt that it provides the same level of recognition.

It is true that the flaw in the model is that we don't get to see the actual prints before we buy. I think this is largely mitigated by the fact that Mike selects the prints, and we trust that he has a discerning eye. We may not always agree with his taste, but if it looks good on the screen and Mike says it is good, then it probably is good.

The TOP print sales are a wonderful thing, and I'm kicking myself for not buying one of those earlier prints. And in my experience, your description of gallery representation is pretty accurate...

...except that at any decent gallery, an artist's sales aren't limited to a gallery show. The gallery should also have a stock of your prints in the flat file in the back room, and should be showing them all the time. My gallery has sold my prints to real estate people, hotels and restaurants and upscale stores, decorators for wealthy home buyers, even film and TV scene decorators.

Those are the sales that help carry you between shows.

Where do TOP photographers rank in this spectrum from the "established adult photographers' through to the "popular and the famous... and the more famous"?

Good luck to you all. I would think that some of the photographers selling through PhotoShelter and sites of that kind would be queueing up at the door to join in.

Goddamn it. So much for the Dyson I was going to buy tomorrow.

I think it is a wonderful system - not only for buyers, but also for aspiring photographers. It feels quite daunting thinking about how to get your work out in front of an audience that is not composed of your close friends and family (and we all know that they will almost always say how awesome your images are :P). I have set myself the mission of making an image - even just one - that TOP would want in a print sale.

My grandfather, who was a very well known artist in Connecticutt once said to me that he would rather sell 100 pieces at $50 than one piece at $5,000. He explained that the people who could affors to spend $5,000 were usually not the people he wanted to have his art.
I have tried to maintain my grandfather's strategy and, given today's photographic market, it isn't that difficult! (A bit of a joke). But, I would rather my work hang in 50 homes rather than one.
My two cents for what it's worth.

Mike and Ctein,
Your answers to my questions confirm what I suspected. You have met a need for a relatively sophisitcated (re photography anyway) audience who don't have the discretionary resources of the 1%. Definitely a win-win-win situation, as Mike said. A third offering per year wouldn't over saturate the market either.

Thank you Mike. I have participated twice, and I enjoy looking at those prints every day. Without TOP, I doubt I would have added to our photo collection. With TOP, I am sure that over time I will add some very nice pieces to my collection. Looking forward to seeing the photos you selected for the sale starting tomorrow.


One of the reasons that your model works is that your readers trust your judgment, and if you say we'll be getting a beautiful print, even though we can only view a jpeg on your site, we believe it.

Good luck with your newest TOP sale Mike! I admire the work of Paula and Michael.

I feel the same way as Will Macaulay about "Precipitation." Alas, a new baby means I may have more regrets with future sales.

I agree with what Time Bradshaw wrote, and likewise this is not a criticism of the TOP model. I think the sight-unseen aspect is mitigated by the fact that regular readers will have trust in your judgement. Another aspect to the model of course is that it allows access to very few photographers, if a large number of collectors.

However, for me, the decision to buy a print is almost always spurred by coming into contact with the actual object - prints are very much a physical / visual combination for me. (I have purchased from TOP though - C Cramer).

By coincidence yesterday, I visited a Pentti Sammallahti show in Paris, recently featured here. I'm afraid in this case the prints didn't make me want to acquire one - although the images themselves are very compelling.

I am a big fan of the TOP pricing model which is similar to the Brooks Jensen's model as well. Not that I have make much money at all, but I also run special print sales from time to time - $18 for a 8.5x11" type of deal. I guess I can name drop and say Ctein has seen some of my work in person and has said kind things about them. I think more photographers, especially us "emerging" ones (one of these days I will figure out what I am emerging from) should use this model.

BTW, that Ken Tanaka print of a Chicago Summer Storm always hits me as perfect. Having grown up in Chicago, you'd be surprised how that print even brings back the smells of a summer storm in the city.

What's interesting about this blog entry is how it's another example of how "Expense Creep" has changed the business model to something untenable for most artists and photographers.

I remember back in the 70's when you could make a pretty decent print on an enlarger you owned for years, for about 25-35 bucks, mount it for a few more dollars, over-mat it for a few more, and offer it in a local gallery for 250-350 dollars. Back then, the gallery hung it, had the opening, and did some advertising for it, for their 25%. You might make between a hundred and two-hundred per print sold. BUT, your apartment rent was 195 bucks, and your new Toyota Corolla was 3,000 dollars!

Now your rent is a grand, your car is 14,000, and the equipment to do your printing is minimum of 3,000 to 4,000 dollars, and needs to be changed out every four years, maybe your digital camera is on that four year cycle as well. And to Mikes point, it is not unheard of for galleries to take 75%.

What's always been of interest to me, is how the galleries, and the camera companies, and maybe the digital print labs, all understand what they need to survive and what they need to take out of the process, but the photographers are just toughing it out and taking their pittance, even in commercial and advertising work; especially in small and medium markets.

What's amazing to me is not how Mikes shifted paradigm of print sales meets the need for the modern photography market perfectly, but why more photographic sales haven't migrated to this model. Galleries that offer those type of standardized, and "vintage" services, seem to be an old process that won't, and can't survive if a photographer expects to live on the income...

You're all doing fantastic work at TOP with this idea. Haven't bought yet from one of your official print sales but am slowly getting to the point where I think I'll be able to. Long may this model continue to work — it's wonderful.

Hello Mike,

Caponigro now sells a digitally printed version of the white deer image produced in collaboration with his son.


I still really regret not buying that Chicago print. I have bought 4 since but that one still haunts me, especially since I am from that area.

I'd love to see more $two digit sales... I don't think in the year or two I've been perusing TOP that I've seen any that weren't three digits. (Could be wrong, probably am...)

[Well, this onewas less than a year ago. --Mike]

Hi Mike

As to your comment, you can see why photographers hire people like Ctein to print there images its often a more valuable to have time not the extra money. I love the top print sales i missed the one i really wanted which was Gordon lewis. Is there a chance you could link to the websites of the sales people?



I think The Online Photographer print sales are brilliant.

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