I got a great little question in my inbox earlier in the week which i’m going to use as the basis of this blog post. It asks, how do I sell my architectural photos online? Before i get into it though I want to take a couple tangents. The first is that I think the idea of architectural photography and social media hit some form of critical mass about two weeks ago, at least for me. I’ve been writing on this subject now for more than 9 months and i was advocating the idea for a good year prior to that. During this time I met good people online, and i worked with lovely architects, but i rarely felt like my clients really got it. And then in the last two weeks I’ve had meeting after meeting with architects who really do get it. They’re excited by this thing called the internet and social media and all the opportunities they both bring. I think they also started to get me. Having read my blog posts they realized who  I was and who I wasn’t and that means a lot of the courting process of engaging with new clients was completed before ever meeting them. So big thank you to those architects, and expect a few new projects popping up on my projects page and hopefully a few video interviews too (I haven’t actually asked anyone if they want to be interviewed, but if i ask you at least you won’t be surprised now). One last thing. If you were disconnected from the internet last week you may have missed the launch of Websitesforarchitects.org. Its a new site to help architects build better websites and is very much a brain dump of what I’ve learnt about the subject. The site went crazy and we’ve already had 4000 hits and even have a volunteer editor and graphic designer get on board! Gota love online projects! Oh, and yes there are workshops in the pipeline, hopefully one in Sydney in late November and maybe one in Brisbane. I’ve been a bit strapped for time in the last couple weeks, but hopefully i’ll get some booking times out to you in the next week or so.

So here’s the question:

Hi Nic,
I’m an architect working at a firm in Melbourne and I’m writing to ask for any advice you might have in relation to architectural/landscape photography. It is something I’ve become very passionate about recently and have built a collection of from my travels around the world.
I’ve also been following you on Twitter in recent months and found all of your content on your website and blogs including this one, highly useful and inspiring. So thanks for publishing a great set of information.
The main issue im having is trying to come up with a way to somehow use my photography to generate some income. I’m currently in the middle of setting up a website to start sharing my work and getting it out there for people to see, but aside from starting up an architectural photography business, I cant see how or why anyone would be interested in paying for my work since there is already so much content out there for free.
I note that your approach is unique in that you leverage your online presence to promote your clients’ work but I am really struggling to find a unique position for myself.
Apologies for the rambling and I have considered getting a business coach but wanted to get your opinion for any suggestion/ ideas first.have 
Sam M 

Ok. So where to begin…

Let’s start with a couple different ways of selling images online.

Stock Photography

Stock photography is basically where you sell a commercial licence for existing image you have already taken. There are sites like istock where you can upload your images and people can buy them for relatively small amounts. Prices can range from $1 to $30 or even more depending on the license and size of the image. The idea is that you sell them cheap, but you sell them a lot. The value for the consumer is obviously the price, but it’s also the ability to search a huge database of images from many different photographers. It’s also the ability to access them instantly, rather than going through the whole photographer commissioning process. There’s a couple problems with stock photography though, and i’m not talking about all the traditional photographers who are yelling and screaming that stock photography is killing the industry. That’s just the same old inertia that every industry has when new business models are invented. There real issue is 1) Stock photography appears to have already had its gold rush. People like Yuri Arcurs have made millions from stock photography, but that was when the idea was new and very few images were available online. Now the stock photography market is so saturated that some platforms don’t except images for particular subjects. The other big issue that is more relevant for architectural photography is that often you need to provide a copyright release form for the architecture. A what?? It doesn’t make any sense in countries like Australia where you can photograph buildings freely (except for the Opera House), but there are many countries where the architect retains a form of copyright over images of buildings they designed. You can find out more about this issue by reading this Wikipedia article: Freedom of Panorama. In any case it doesn’t matter which country you’re photographing in because the stock photograph platforms won’t except the image without this release form, so stock photography is pretty much out for architectural photographers unless you have direct contact with the architect.

Selling images on your site.

The easiest way I know of selling prints and digital copies of your images online is by using fotomoto, which is an online print service that links into your wordpress website via this plugin. This adds a buy button next to any image you nominate and when someone buys something fotomoto handles all the printing and shipping in exchange for a commission on the sale. They also have a really good web dashboard where you can choose available sizes, paper quality, canvas prints and digital downloads. It makes things really, really simple. The only downfall is that they currently only print in the USA. The shipping costs are not overly expensive, but it can take a long time for delivery.

So the technical side is not hard at all, but just because you put a buy button next to an image doesn’t mean anyone will actually use it. As an example I installed fotomoto onto nicgranleese.com earlier this to allow people to purchase images from the 2011 Victorian Architecture Awards. The aim was to provide an additional service rather than make a profit, so all the images were priced close to the cost of printing and delivery, around $5 for a small print. Despite thousands and thousands of people visiting the site very few people actually purchased. I think we sold maybe 15 photos and since then I’ve had a handful of requests for architectural photography – usually from people who want an image for their website and only want to spend a dollar or two. My conclusion here is that selling images online is actually quite difficult. Now admittedly i haven’t approached this side of my business with any great focus and i’m sure there are people who make a living from it, but it is definitely more than just having images available with a buy button.

What would I research if wanted to sell images online

I’m not really in the online print world, but if I decided to focus on it, here’s what i would be studying before hand.

  • Flow. How do you get as many people through your site as possible. Chances are that if you’re not getting thousands of hits per month then your print sales will be zero. You honestly need a fire hydrant of people to move through a sales based website. Research how SEO (search engine optimization) works, social media, blogging and anything else that will bring more visitors to your site.
  • Who will your customers be and what motivates them. Figure out your demographics and understand that someone buying a stock photo for a $1 is going to want something very different to someone buying a fine art print for $3000.
  • Sales websites. Learn from other people who have products online. I hate to say this, but check out really ugly sites like Amazon (While you’re there you might as well check out the Nikon D800). They have studied the whole online sales process a lot. Everything from the color of the buttons to the placement of  additional products have been studied and refined.

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