This is what I used to pack and ship my prints. Each 11x14 print was sandwiched between two 11x14 sheets of acid-free sketch paper, which was in turn sandwiched between two 11x14 sheets of corrugated cardboard. I taped the cardboard sheets together, then added a packing slip, folded the sides of the container over the contents, and taped the whole thing together. The result was a sturdy flat box that weighed less than 16 ounces.
As you regular readers know, I reviewed the Pentax K-7 DSLR a few weeks ago for Mike Johnston’s “The Online Photographer” blog. One of the example photos I posted generated so many positive comments that Mike and I decided to offer it for sale on TOP. The U.S. prices were $75.00 for an 8x10 and $150.00 for an 11x14-inch print, plus $5.00 for shipping. International prices were $15.00 more to account for the higher cost of shipping outside the U.S.
These prices seemed quite reasonable to me, as well as to the 73 people who ordered prints. Fifty-one people ordered 8x10s. The rest ordered 11x14s. A third of all orders were from outside the United States; some from countries as far away as Australia and Singapore. Not bad for a one-week-only print sale, eh?
But before you think that a print sale is an easy way to rake in the bucks, think again. It’s one thing to sell a lot of prints at one time. It’s quite another to have print and ship them. From the start, I was extremely careful to pick a printer I knew I could trust to print 73 identical, high-quality prints, on time and at a price that would ensure a reasonable profit for my efforts.
And trust me, there was effort involved. I had to approve the proofs, then return a few days later to pick up the prints. In the meantime I had to order the shipping materials: cardboard cartons large enough for either print, corrugated inserts for stiffening, acid-free paper to protect the prints from the cardboard, masking tape to hold everything in place, adhesive labels for the addresses, and packing tape to seal it all up. It’s better to over-pack a print and know it will arrive intact than cut corners and run the risk that it will arrive damaged. Check out Ctein’s excellent article, “How to Ship Photographs Faster, Cheaper and Better,” in the May/June 2009 issue of Photo Techniques magazine for a detailed guide to how to do it.
Once I had everything set up properly it took me an average of 10 minutes to pack and label each print. That may not sound like much; that is, until you multiply it by the number of prints—then it equals 12 hours of work. Because I’m self-employed I could stretch the packing, labeling and mailing out over three days. Even so, I had so delay some of my other projects. Someone working a regular 9-5 job would either have to call in sick, take a vacation day or two, burn the midnight oil, or devote an entire weekend to ship everything in a reasonable amount of time.
The orders were all through Paypal, which provides a handy label and online postage printing feature. This helps mitigate the fact that Paypal deducts a small percentage for each sale. Unfortunately, you have to print the labels one-by-one, filling in certain fields as you go. International shipments require a different form with more fields, printed in triplicate, and each form has to be signed. While packing each print I also had to make sure I was sending the right size to the right person.
Once everything was packed I had to deliver it to the post office. I used USPS Priority Mail and had each package scanned into their tracking system. This provides proof that I delivered the package to the post office as well as confirmation of when the package was delivered. Fulfilling print orders is hassle enough without running the risk of lost or damaged prints.
And yet, for all my caution, I screwed up on my pricing. It turns out that the actual cost for international shipping was $25.00 per print, not $15.00, so I lost $10.00 for each international sale. Imagine if I had charged only $50.00 per print. Ouch! It just goes to show that if you aren't careful it can cost you more time and effort to sell a photograph than it's worth. Other expenses include taxes (it’s income, you know) and a small commission to Mike for facilitating the sale.
So would I do it again? Absolutely. I finished sending the last batch of prints out today. Although I should have charged more for international shipping I still made a reasonable profit and though time-consuming, it was fun. Thanks again to Mike for offering me the opportunity.
For those of you missed out on the offer, I regret to say that this was a one-time only event. I will, however, offer other images for sale on my Zenfolio gallery. Check out the link for more details or feel free to send me an e-mail inquiry. For those of you who would like to sell prints of your own, I say “Go for it.” As long you're as good at the business of selling and delivering prints as you are at producing marketable images, you should do just fine. Good luck!