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If you enjoy this article, please help us spread the word.   There are millions of photographers and visual artists all over the world who struggle to earn a living each year, and the vast majority of them aren't aware that there are online fulfillment companies which can make their lives easier.
 
 
An Open Letter to Photographers and Visual Artists
 
 
 
Selling Prints Online - Volume 1 - April 2011
Selling Prints Online
Why Every Photographer and Visual Artist Needs an Online Order Fulfillment Partner
Fine Art America is the world's fastest growing website for independent photographers and visual artists.   Each month, we receive hundreds of e-mails from visitors to our site asking essentially the same question:
"I want to sell prints online.   How do I get started?"
As the order fulfillment partner for 60,000+ photographers and visual artists, we're in a unique position to answer that question.
We process thousands of orders for our members each month, and as a result, we have a wealth of knowledge regarding online buying habits.
We know what sells and why it sells, and we'll be sharing those insights in a series of newsletters to be published throughout 2011 (this is the first one).
Today - let's start by addressing the question posted above.
"How do I get started selling prints online?"
Here's the answer.   It's very simple:
Every photographer and visual artist needs to partner with an online order fulfillment company.   Period.
It doesn't get any more straight-forward than that.
Fine Art America (and other businesses like ours) exist for one sole purpose: we provide photographers and visual artists with the sales and marketing tools that you need to be successful online, and then... when you are successful, we take care of fulfilling your orders for you.
You get to focus on what you love (capturing images and making art), and you get to put the "business of your art" on auto-pilot.
To illustrate why it's so important to partner with an online fulfillment company, let's walk through the logistics of trying to fulfill orders on your own through your own website.
Fulfilling Orders On Your Own
In order to fulfill your own orders, the first thing you need to do is build your own website.   Fortunately, websites are very inexpensive these days, and even if you don't have any programming experience, you can create a beautiful website in several hours using a number of online resources, such as weebly.com, godaddy.com, intuit.com, and many others.
A website from one of these providers is going to cost about $5 per month (although there are many free options, as well).
Weebly.com Homepage
Now that you have your website, you need to start uploading your images.   Fortunately, again, this is very quick and easy to do.   If you use one of the website companies listed, above, they'll provide you with a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface that allows you to get your images up on the web and looking beautiful in a matter of minutes.
So far - so good.   You have a beautiful website.   Your images are up on the internet, and best of all, you've only spent about $5 (maybe even less).
Here's where it starts getting tricky.   You've got a beautiful website... but the goal isn't to just create a beautiful website.   The goal is to create a beautiful website that you can use to sell prints and produce income for you.
Before you can sell prints on your website, you're going to have to sit down and figure out what sizes you want to offer (8" x 10", 24" x 36", etc.), what your material costs are for each size (paper and ink), and how much you want to mark up those costs (i.e. your profit).
Here comes Problem #1.   If you plan on selling prints that are larger than 8" x 10", your desktop printer isn't going to cut it - it's not big enough.   You're going to have to buy a new printer.
Let's assume that you want to be able to sell prints up to 48" in width.   A professional-grade Epson printer that's capable of producing 48" prints is going to cost approximately $3,000.
Wait... what?
"I'm not going to pay $3,000 for a printer."
We couldn't agree more.   Who wants to pay $3,000 for a printer... find space for it in their home... stock huge rolls of paper... and purchase professional-grade ink cartridges?   No one does.
Epson 9800
So - if you don't want to pay $3,000 for a printer, what's the next option?   You need to find someone with a large printer that you can use.   FedEx Office and your local print shop have larger printers.   Perfect.   Partner with them.
But wait - do you want to sell your prints with frames and mats?
Take a look a what's selling on Fine Art America.   We process thousands and thousands of orders each month, and as you can see on our sales page, the vast majority of the orders that we process are configured as framed prints and/or stretched canvases.
Why is that?
Insight #1 - Most online shoppers don't want to buy unframed prints.
They want to buy framed prints or stretched canveses that arrive on their doorstep fully-assembled and "ready to hang".
Put yourself in a buyer's shoes.   If you purchase an unframed print, what happens when it arrives?
You have to take the print out of the tube that it's rolled in... flatten it out... get in your car... drive the print over to your local frame shop... pay the frame shop retail prices in order to get it framed... wait a few days for the framer to finish his work... get back in your car... drive back to the frame shop... and pick up your finished product.   No one wants to do that.
Prints in Tubes
Buyers buy things online because they want convenience.   Buying an unframed print is not convenient.   In fact, it's the exact opposite of convenient.   It's like ordering a book from Amazon and having it arrive on your doorstep as 250 unbound pages... without the cover... without the glue... and then realizing that you have to drive 10 miles and pay someone $100 to glue everything together for you.
Let's get out of the buyer's shoes and back into your shoes.
If you're serious about selling prints online, you need to be able to offer frames to go along with the prints on your website.   If you don't offer frames, then you're inadvertently alienating 90% of your potential buyers.
So - you can eliminate FedEx Office as a potential printing partner.   They don't offer custom framing.   You're going to have to partner with your local print and frame shop.
This is where it starts getting really tricky.   Let's say that you want to offer six different print sizes on your website (e.g. 8" x 10", 11" x 14", etc.) with 10 different frames and 8 different mats.   That's 480 different combinations.   You're going to have to calculate your material costs for each of the 480 combinations so that you can determine how much you want to charge for each one on your website.
OK.   That's not so bad.   You can sit down with your laptop and the owner of your local frame shop, and in a few hours, the two of you can calculate your costs for all 480 combinations.
Great!   Now - all you need to do is get all of that pricing information up onto your website so that buyers can start placing orders.   The easiest way to turn a regular website into an "e-commerce" website is to simply add PayPal buttons next to everything that you want to sell.   That's exactly what most artists do.   Take a look at the example on the right.
Adding a PayPal button is not very difficult.   PayPal.com provides an online "button configurator" that's really easy to use.   You just enter in the name of your product and the price that you want to charge, and PayPal will spit out the HTML code that you can then copy and paste into your website in order to create the button.
If you don't understand HTML code or are uncomfortable editing your website in HTML mode, then this is probably where things start getting uncomfortable for you.   You might have to hire a programmer to help you.
PayPal buttons work really well if each product on your website has a single, fixed price.
Unfortunately, in your situation, you need the same button to work for several different prices.   For example, you'll probably have six different prices for each of your six different sizes (e.g. $25 for 8" x 10", $50 for 11" x 14", etc.).
In order to make your website work with six different sizes and six different prices, you need to give your visitors a way to choose a size, and once they make their choice, you need to update the screen with the appropriate price and PayPal button.
For example, you can create the six choices a drop-down box (see above right), and when the visitor makes a choice from the drop-down box, you'll have to write some custom Javascript code to automatically change the properites of the PayPal button so that you send the correct size and price information to PayPal when the button is clicked.
If that sounds scary, then you'll definitely need to hire a web programmer.   Don't feel bad - about 99% of the population would need to hire a programmer at this point.
The other 1% might hold out a little bit longer... until they realize that they're not just dealing with six different options in the drop-down box.   They're dealing with six different print sizes, 10 different frames, and eight different mats... that's 480 different options!
In order to accommodate 480 options, you're either going to have to make one enormous drop-down box... or you're going to have to come up with something more elegant involving multiple drop-down boxes and some more custom coding (see below).
 
You definitely need a programmer for this, and conservatively, a decent programmer is going to charge at least $500 to get this all set up.
Once you've paid your programmer and got all of the prices working correctly on your website, here's the next problem:
Put yourself back in the buyer's shoes.   What do the frames look like?   What do the mats look like?   What does the image look like with a black frame and a gold mat?
Insight #2 - Buyers need to "see" what they're buying, or they won't buy it.   Period.
Would you pay $150 for a "black frame" without being able to see it.   No way.   Is it a black metal frame?   Is it a black wooden frame?   Does it have decorative markings?
Which one would you buy?
So - not only do you need a way to automatically calculate prices for each of the 480 combinations that you're offering, you also need a way to show your buyers what your images look like in all 480 configurations.
Holy cow!
In order to "preview" your images with all of those frame and mat combinations, you're going to have to pay a programmer several thousand dollars to develop a custom framing interface for you.
Yes - several thousand dollars.
As you can see, this project is becoming more and more complex... more and more expensive... and you haven't even accepted an order yet!
Let's assume that you decide to plough ahead because you're adament about doing this on your own.   You pay several thousand dollars to a talented programmer, and after a few weeks of development, you've finally got a website that can accurately calculate all of your prices and preview your images in all 480 configurations.
It's time to turn the website on and invite buyers to stop by and see what you've created.
Let's analyze the logistics of fulfilling your first order:
1.
When the buyer checks out on your website, how are you going to calculate the shipping costs?   How much does it cost to ship a 40" x 40" framed print to Chicago?   How much does it cost to ship a 24" x 36" framed print to San Diego?   How much does it cost to ship that same print to Australia?
2.
When the order gets entered on your website, how are you going to transmit the order details from your website over to your local frame shop?   Will you e-mail the details?   Will you phone them in?
3.
Once you send the order details over to the frame shop, how will you know when the order is finished and ready to ship?   Once it ships, how are you going to send the tracking information back to the buyer?
4.
Does your frame shop keep all of the frames and mats in stock?   What happens if they're out of stock?
5.
What happens if UPS / FedEx damages or loses the package during shipment?   Who is going to file the claim to get reimbursed, contact the customer, and manage the fulfillment of the replacement order?
6.
What is your return policy?   If a buyer purchases a 48" x 48" print with a white mat and $250 black frame, what happens if the buyer decides to return it?   Are you going to refund the buyer?   Do you still owe the frame shop for the mat, frame, and assembly labor?
7.
If the buyer has questions, what phone number does he call?   Who does he contact if he wants to modify and/or cancel the order?
8.
Who is going to generate the sales invoice and send it to the buyer?
After weeks of web development, thousands of dollars in custom programming, and many sit-down meetings with your local frame shop... all you've done is create an enormous headache for yourself when the orders finally start coming in.
What if you could outsource all of this?   What if you could outsource absolutely everything that you've read above and have your website up and running... ready to take orders... in about five minutes?
Even better... what if you could do it all for free?
Fulfilling Orders with an Online Fulfillment Partner
When you want to eat a hamburger, do you buy yourself a cow... plant a garden of lettuce and tomatoes... plant a field of wheat... wait a few months... and then "fulfill your own order"?
When you want to send a gift from your home in Chicago to your friend in London, do you get on a plane and fly it to him?   Do you start your own aerospace company so that you can build the airplane that your going to fly on?   
No.   These questions are ridiculous.
In your daily life, you "outsource" work to other people and other businesses every single day.   You don't make your own clothes.   You don't drill for oil to fuel your car.   You don't herd cattle to make your own hamburgers.
You "outsource" this work to professionals so that you can focus on your chosen profession - capturing images and creating beautiful works of art.
When it comes to fulfilling your print orders, trying to do it on your own is a recipe for endless frustration and financial drain.   You might as well start herding cattle for your hamburgers.   Why go through the nonsense and headaches described in the section, above, when you can outsource everything to a professional fulfillment service?
Watch how easy this is...
Let's assume that you decide to use Fine Art America to fulfill your orders for you.   To get started, all you have to do is visit our signup page.   It takes about thirty seconds to sign up, and it's free.
As soon as you press submit on our sign-up form, your website is instantly up-and-running on the internet.   Yes - it's really that simple.
You get your own custom URL which you can refer your buyers to:
http://your-name.fineartamerica.com
Whenever you're ready, you can customize the appearance of your website and start uploading your images.   As each upload completes, your website will tell you which print sizes are available for that image, and you can set your prices for all of the available sizes.
Once you've finished your uploads and set your prices, you're in business.   You can immediately begin accepting orders via credit cards and PayPal.
It's really that easy.   You can have your website up-and-running and ready to accept orders in less than five minutes.   Compare that to the do-it-yourself scenario, above!
When a buyer decides to purchase one of your prints, Fine Art America takes care of absolutely everything for you to finalize the order.
1.
We process the buyer's credit card or PayPal payment via our secure shopping cart.
2.
We print your image with archival inks on museum-quality paper or canvas (as specified by the buyer).
3.
We stretch it on wooden stretcher bars (if applicable).
4.
We custom frame it and mat it (if applicable).
5.
We protect it with UV protectant and acrylic glazing (if applicable).
6.
We package the order, insure it against damage, and ship it to the buyer.
7.
Thirty days later, we send you a check or PayPal payment with your profits.
That's it!   It's really that simple.   All you have to do is signup, upload your images, and set your prices.   FAA takes care of absolutely everything else.
Insight #3 - Buyers prefer to make purchases from reputable online sources that offer a money-back guarantee.
Our expert staff of printing and framing specialists processes each of your orders within 48 hours.   Your buyers receive beautiful prints that arrive "ready to hang" and include a 30-day money back guarantee.
If your buyers have questions about their orders - no problem.   They can call our customer service department and speak with a live customer service representative.
If your buyers need to make changes to their orders - no problem.   We'll handle it.
If your buyers want their orders shipped to New Zealand - no problem.   We'll ship anywhere in the world.
We take care of absolutely everything.   Just upload your images, set your prices, and then get back to what you enjoy doing the most - capturing beautiful images and creating art.
Let's look at how we solve all of the logistical nightmares that you encountered in the do-it-yourself approach.
Problem:
How do you get your website to allow buyers to preview your images with a variety of frame and mat options?
Solution:
FAA provides you with a visually stunning framing interface.   Your buyers can preview your images in hundreds of thousands of frame and mat combinations.   Each time a buyer selects a new combination, the screen instantly updates with a new preview image and an updated price.
This framing interface is provided free of charge to all FAA members.   You don't have to worry about frames going of stock... prices changing... etc.   We manage everything.   You just set your asking price for your prints, and we take care of the rest.
Problem:
When you receive an order, how are you going to handle the logistics of printing, framing, matting, packaging, shipping, insuring, collecting payments, and dealing with customer service issues?
Solution:
FAA does absolutely everything for you.   We process the buyer's payment.   We fulfill the order.   We e-mail the buyer a PDF invoice.   We e-mail the buyer the tracking information when the order ships.   We follow up with the buyer to make sure that he or she is satisfied with the order once it arrives.
Throughout the entire process, if the buyer has any questions, we're available via e-mail and telephone during normal business hours (8:00 AM - 5:00 PM Eastern U.S. Time).
Problem:
How can you assure your buyers that your website is safe and secure and that you have the necessary skills required to produce a professional quality print?
Solution:
Tell them that your orders are being fulfilled by Fine Art America.   FAA is the world's fastest growing online art business.   We fulfill thousands of orders each month for photographers and visual artists all over the world and are well-respected as one of the world's premiere printing and framing companies.
Each of your orders will be professionally printed, framed, and shipped within 48 hours by our expert staff, and we provide all of your buyers with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee on each order.
Problem:
How are buyers going to find your website and decide to buy from you?
Solution:
If you take the do-it-yourself approach and try to fulfill your orders on your own through your own website, there's one enormous problem.   How do you get people to visit your website and see what you've done?
Each time you upload a new image, how will anyone know?
When you offer a special discount... or issue a new press release... or advertise an upcoming event... who is going to read about it?
If you build a website on your own and try to fulfill your own orders, then you get exactly what you'd expect... you're completely on your own.   The only people who will see your website are the 10 - 15 visitors who happen to stop by each day or find you somehow via a Google search.
Insight #4 - It's very difficult to get people to visit a website that you build on your own.
Your website with Fine Art America is completely different.   FineArtAmerica.com is the world's fastest growing art website.   Each month, we get millions of visitors who stop by to find beautiful works of art from professional and up-and-coming photographers and visual artists.   There are also tens of thousands of members who log on each day to participate in the vibrant FAA online community.
So - if you partner with FAA, instead of putting your artwork in front of 10 - 15 visitors per day... you're putting it in front of hundreds of thousands of visitors per day.
Your images will be shown to millions of people per month... your press releases and upcoming events will be broadcast to the tens of thousands of art collectors who subscribe to the FAA weekly newsletter... you'll receive comments and feedback on your images from tens of thousands of artists and photographers who participate in the FAA online community... the list goes on and on...
No other order fulfillment service can do this (e.g. SmugMug, FineArtStudioOnline, ZenFolio) because no other fulfillment service also happens to be the world's fastest growing art site: FineArtAmerica.com.
Let's say that you're a landscape photographer and that you want to sell prints of your images online.   What do people do when they want to buy a landscape print online?   99.9% of them are going to go to Google and do a search.   Try a google search for landscape prints.   Who's the first natural link in the search results?   FineArtAmerica.com.
If you want to sell "landscape prints" online, then that's where you need to be... period... and that's exactly where you'll be with your new fulfillment website from Fine Art America.   When you upload a landscape image to your FAA site... it will instantly appear for sale on your site... it will instantly appear for sale on FineArtAmerica.com... and it will instantly appear at the top of Google's search results.
It doesn't get any better!   No other online fulfillment partner can do that.
Summary
When starting out in the online art world, many photographers and visual artists make the mistake of trying to fulfill their orders on their own from their own websites.   As discussed, above, that approach immediately falls apart when you try to sell large prints or prints with custom framing and matting.   You end up having to make a huge financial investment in order to build a fully-functioning website, and once you've put all of the fulfillment logistics in place, you've boxed yourself into an endless nightmare of managing the day-to-day operations of your business.
All of this can, and should, be outsourced to a professional order fulfillment company.   Fine Art America is one option.   There are hundreds of companies out there, like FAA, that can do this for you.
The advantage of partnering with FAA is that we're not only a fulfillment company, we're also the world's fastest growing online art marketplace.
By uploading your images to FAA, you're putting them in front of 3+ million monthly visitors who will hopefully comment on them... favorite them... and purchase them!   When the purchases start rolling in, we'll be right there to fulfill the orders for you.
Spread the Word
If you enjoyed this article, please help us spread the word.   There are millions of photographers and visual artists all over the world who struggle to earn a living each year, and the vast majority of them aren't aware that there are resources like FAA available to make their lives easier.
Fine Art America Features
Create a beautifully designed profile page featuring your biography, contact information, artwork, blog, upcoming events, press releases, and more!
Upload your digital photos and instantly create beautiful artwork pages which are meticulously designed to encourage sales and attract high search engine rankings.   FAA members can sell prints AND originals - 100% commission free!
Register for our popular print-on-demand program and sell prints of your artwork on paper or stretched canvas with thousands of frame and mat combinations.   Simply upload your images, set your print prices, and start selling!
Create HTML e-mails in seconds, send the e-mails to everyone on your e-mail list, and then track to see who opens the e-mails!   Each e-mail can be customized to include your headshot, samples of your artwork, images from other websites, and more!
Register for our popular print-on-demand program and you get very own website which you can use to sell prints of your artwork.   The power of this feature is enormous.   You get the full power of FineArtAmerica.com dedicated specifically to you and your artwork.
Advertise your upcoming events and press releases in our weekly newsletter.   Fine Art America has developed a unique algorithm which allows the newsletter to automatically detect the location of the e-mail recipient and then instantly tailor the content of the newsletter to that location (e.g. Chicago).
Create a custom shopping page which features only your artwork.   You can adjust the font colors, font sizes, menu colors, background colors, image sizes, and much more!
Allow visitors to view full-resolution previews of your artwork in order to help them make buying decisions.   Fine Art America's unique preview algorithm allows visitors to see the finest details of your images while still protecting the original files from theft.
Add watermarks to your low-resolution images for added security.
Have you been in the news recently?   Post your press releases on Fine Art America for increased exposure and automatic inclusion in our weekly newsletter.
Join one of our 500+ member-moderated art groups or create your own!
Join one of our member-moderated art contests or create your own!
Chat live with other members or discuss art-related topics in the FAA discussion section.
Post art-related blogs and receive immediate feedback from other members.
Find your next art job or post a job opening of your own!
Use the FAA FaceBook application to automatically post announcements on your FaceBook wall each time you upload artwork to FAA!
There is simply no easier way to keep your friends, family, art collectors, and colleagues up-to-date regarding your recent uploads to your website.
You website keeps track of visitors who view your artwork pages.   At any time, you can login to your site and view comprehensive data regarding your visitors.
Each time someone posts a comment on one of your images, you'll be able to see it on your artwork page and on your control panel statistics page.   Also, at the end of each day, we'll send you an e-mail summary of all your comments for the day.
How to Join
If you're interested in joining, simply click here.   If you have any questions regarding membership or the services that we provide to visual artists and art collectors, simply send an e-mail to support@fineartamerica.com for a quick reply.
Thank You!
Thank you for reading our announcement, and good luck in 2014!