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Thread: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

  1. #1

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    Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    From time to time someone on these pages asks a question about ideas for marketing their work at craft fairs or other similar venues. I've just spent the last few months trying to flog prints in this way and, for whatever it's worth, I thought I'd share my experiences. Maybe I can save someone else the heartache and money (with apologies for the length of this post).

    First, a bit of background information. I have 30+ years of images that I drew upon to print and offer for sale. I made a deliberate decision to offer a variety of styles and formats and so I had both colour and B&W images (all silver gelatin), traditional landscapes and abstracts, large format, 35mm and Polaroid SX70 images, 8x10 up to 11x14, matted as well as both matted and framed prints, along with (for good measure) greeting cards. I even scrounged up some old concert photos (CSNY, Billy Joel) from the 1970's. In other words, I tried to cover the waterfront in terms of variety. This was done in an effort to appeal to the widest possible audience.

    I priced my product as cheaply as I dared: from $4 for a blank greeting card up to $140 for a framed and matted 11X14 B&W print. Some of you will say that I was giving it away.

    The venue was a local Saturday market which was attended by dozens of different vendors: Fruits and vegetable produce, ethnic foods, hot dogs, baking, and many crafts such as jewellery, painting, woodworking, pottery and handmade clothing. Again, a pretty wide variety in an established outdoor market. The location itself is in Victoria, BC which, although not big, is a prime destination for tourists from all over the world. The market was located near the downtown core with access to both tourists and local residents.

    Although I did not attend every Saturday, I made a fairly significant commitment in time and was in attendance most Saturdays from June through mid-September. In an effort to make the sale as painless as possible, I arranged a Visa/Mastercard merchant account. In hindsight, this was not smart because of the set-up costs.

    The results were unfortunate. Here's what I learned.

    First, price is not really the issue. One potter in the market offered many pieces that were $200+ price range and was selling stuff. Another artist was selling paintings done in a folk art style on old furniture and driftwood in the same price ranges as my stuff. Woodwork in my price range was also selling.

    The market attracted many 'tire kickers' who were just out for a Saturday stroll, but there were also people who truly seemed to enjoy and 'get' photography. I had many compliments on my work - but I only sold one print (plus a couple of concert photos and a bunch of cards). People liked the work - many commented on how they loved B&W photography. I tried to play up the fact that these were traditional processes and not digital images - again, people seemed to respond to the 'retro' angle. But few sales.

    I learned that paintings, no matter how mediocre in terms of artistic merit, sell better than photography, no matter how good. People will ooh and ahh over and eventually spend $100 on a poor painting before they will spend $50 on an excellent photograph. Apparently, one is art and the other is something else.

    I think the real issue is that purchasing visual art is a major commitment for most people and they won't make impulse buys in a market type environment. They have to really love the image and be able to picture it hanging on their wall.

    Anyway, I'm vain enough that I'm going to seek other outlets and will try some of the local galleries to see if there might be a fit. But selling photography in craft markets is a tough gig.

  2. #2
    naturephoto1's Avatar
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    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    Hi Bruce,

    I have been selling in Art Shows and Art and Craft shows since 1997, so this is my 11th year. I have sold in Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. It is a very tough business and is cyclic. Right now, most of the US market from my conversations with others is an a general downturn in sales at present. The economic market is not strong and we as photographers and artists are not selling a necessity of life. So we are relying on discretionary money from potential buyers.

    Also, so you know, generally if a buyer does not make a purchase while in your booth and if the individual says they will be back it is almost a foregone conclusion that they will not.

    I too am in the market for galleries and 2 have expressed interest. But I will continue with some Art Shows and will need to adjust my pricing for both markets as well as for direct marketing to businesses.

    Good luck.

    Rich
    Richard A. Nelridge

    http://www.nelridge.com

  3. #3

    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    I consistently talk to photographers coming to Florida and ask how sales are. A major percentage note that it depends on the economy and the show, some good some bad. I agree with Rich that things are a little flat right now. Credit card debt is high and there has been alot of talk on various TV shows about it and reducing it. Maybe people are finally listening? I think along with the tightening of the money supply and the real estate debacle it might be flat for awhile. I wish you luck, keep plugging and don't quit your day job. Thanks for the insights.

  4. #4

    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    I have never sold at an art fair, we don't have them in Mexico and those we do called "tianguis" are usually for cheaper stuff, pirate DVDs and Software and electronics. Nevertheless, if I was to sell at a fair I would bring not only the print but a few of the work prints where I could show a potential customer the steps I went thorugh, why I took those steps and the reasoning for making the changes as well as the LF negative or transparency.

    I guess it is up to us to educate people that no, it is not just a matter of pressing a button. That no, they cannot do what we do (at least not without some years of practice and growing) and that in a way the negative is our "brush" and the paper that we print onto is our canvas where we pour our talent and vision.

  5. #5

    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Pollock View Post
    I learned that paintings, no matter how mediocre in terms of artistic merit, sell better than photography, no matter how good. People will ooh and ahh over and eventually spend $100 on a poor painting before they will spend $50 on an excellent photograph. Apparently, one is art and the other is something else.

    I think the real issue is that purchasing visual art is a major commitment for most people and they won't make impulse buys in a market type environment. They have to really love the image and be able to picture it hanging on their wall.

    Anyway, I'm vain enough that I'm going to seek other outlets and will try some of the local galleries to see if there might be a fit. But selling photography in craft markets is a tough gig.
    Selling photography is hard because people do not consider it art but rather reproduction and hence bad paintings out sell excellent photographs all the time because there is only one and it takes more than pushing a button to produce it!

    That my friend is the battle you are up against.

    Until you are ready to step up to the plate and realize the flaws in the photographic medium you will continue to starve unless you are willing to start thinking like an artist and produce originals. Then educate your clients / potential buyers and show them why your original is an original and all these other photographs are just that, reproductions, a dime a dozen, worthless, nothing unique.

    It is funny to me. All these photographers out there complain that they don't makes sales, etc. Look at the model they are all doing and look at how that model JUST DOES NOT WORK!

    What amazes me is this, a modern day painters such as Peter Max, Wyland, etc to name a few who have the same recognition of Michael Kenna can pull in $20-$40K a painting where as Kenna photograph brings in only $2-6K. Mind you these painters sell all the time and trust me they do not starve either.

    Think about this. You can pick up a John Sexton print new for $900? With the name behind this man I would expect to pay a much steeper price for such a work of art. But again, why would one drop $20-50K on a duplicate.

    So if the photographic model of selling prints is so perfect, why are there not any photographers living pulling in this type of income from a single image sale with the same clout as these painters? Because, like I said and I will say it again, photography to many many many collectors is not considered art and why will they throw down thousands when their are 10,20,30 or more prints that are identical out there in the world.

    So again, you can either follow the masses and starve or do something different and make a change and try to change the perception of a photograph as just another picture.

    I already know what I have started doing and I am not even going to look back...

  6. #6
    3d Visual Effects artist
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    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Pollock View Post
    I learned that paintings, no matter how mediocre in terms of artistic merit, sell better than photography, no matter how good. People will ooh and ahh over and eventually spend $100 on a poor painting before they will spend $50 on an excellent photograph. Apparently, one is art and the other is something else.
    I get this as well. Alot of folks seem to regard photography as something simple and easy, and wonder why it costs so much (or why they should even have to pay for it at all!)

    I have been seriously bummed about this, because images are my life! (as is probably the case with most folks here on the forums!) I live for my images, and I put my heart into my images! And although I do get lots of compliments (which I enjoy!) I rarely ever get someone who is willing to pay even a very modest amount of money for a print. So I have given that up, I no longer shoot with the delusion that I will be able to sell most of my photographs, I shoot for my own personal enjoyment.

    Folks seem to think that anyone with a camera can take good pictures, and then wonder why they should pay so much (or even at all!) for a photo when "their aunt with a camera" would provide them with a photograph for free! I suspect this may be why your sales were very low. Not because of the lack of quality, but because of the medium itself. I suppose this is probably for another thread, but my guess is that most folks have it in their mind that other art forms like painting are very difficult, and that it takes a skilled person to do it. (which it does!) But they think that anyone with the right equipment can make a great photograph. My guess is because photography is a relatively new art medium (compared to painting, sculpting, woodwork, song writing, poetry and so on) So it's not held in near as high a regard as the other forms.

  7. #7
    Large format foamer! SamReeves's Avatar
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    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    Arts and wine festivals are notorious for lots of lookers and few takers. I suppose the best way to keep the margin somewhat in the medium range is to keep it simple. These people are probably carrying $20-$40 in their wallets at best. Try selling some loose prints wrapped up in a piece of cardboard and plastic, of course the notecards, and have just a few framed works ready to go. See if that goes any better.

  8. #8

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    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    Bruce,
    The Craft Fair/Farmers Market is not the place to sell serious art. I am not familiar with your work so this may be idol chat but if you are attempting to sell “ART”, you can’t do it among the fruits and vegetables.

    You need to consider who your market might be. If I buy a piece of art at a craft show it is usually a cute or clever or gimmicky thing that I will enjoy for a while and get rid of within a short period of time. I won’t spend a lot for it and I don’t consider it a part of my more serious collection. When I buy more serious art I look at the body of work as much as the piece I am attracted to. Your scattergun approach is a signal to serious buyers that you haven’t committed to a style. After 30+ years I am sure you can present a cohesive group of images and at any given show, you should limit the work to just that group.

    If you want your work to be considered as valuable, YOU have to consider it as valuable. Pricing too low tells me you don’t think much of it. If you don’t value it, why should others. Price at the upper end of the scale and present your work and yourself accordingly.

    Finally, as has been stated here, selling photography is tough, partly because there are so many of us trying to do it. To be successful you have to find the right shows for your work and you have to develop a following at those shows.

    Hang in there.
    Jerome

  9. #9

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    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    Ahhhhhhh the wonderful world of photography..... home of hard work and miniscule rewards !
    Last edited by Daniel Grenier; 20-Sep-2007 at 05:11.

  10. #10

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    Re: Selling at craft markets - hard lessons learned.

    Selling photographs always reminds me of Woody Allen's joke about two matrons simultaneously complaining about the terrible food and "such small portions".

    "Photographs are cheap because they can be made in large numbers."

    "You'll never sell any at that price!"

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