The internet is filled with hundreds of companies that offer to help you sell prints of your images and earn income as an artist / photographer.
Fine Art America (fineartamerica.com) is one of those companies.
In the "print on demand" industry, FAA holds a unique position as the only company that has never accepted money from outside investors.
FAA was built by a single programmer and continues to be run by a single programmer to this very day.
As a result, we don't have to answer to a board of directors... we don't have to make decisions based on satisfying a team of bankers... and we don't have to censor our newsletters to avoid offending investors or potential investors.
So... get ready... here is an uncensored look at the dirty secrets of the "print on demand" industry:
#1 - Print-on-demand companies use clever tricks to convince artists to lower the prices of their prints.
Most POD companies have a very strange attitude when it comes to sharing profits with their artists. The general POD attitude can be summarized as:
"Buyers visit our websites to purchase our products (e.g. canvas prints)... and you (the artist) should feel lucky that we let you put your images on our products."
As a result of this attitude, many POD companies don't allow the artists to control the prices of their prints. The prices are simply dictated to them.
Art.com is a perfect example. If you want to sell prints on Art.com (or their sister site ArtistRising.com), you'll earn a flat 30% royalty on each print sale:
If you want to earn $50 for the sale of a 24" x 36" print... too bad.
If Art.com sets the retail price of a 24" x 36" print to be $15, then you'll earn $4.50 for that sale. 30% of $15 is $4.50. That's less than 1/10th of what you wanted ($50).
The general attitude is "We control the prices. You should feel lucky to be here. Take it or leave it."
Well-known artists routinely sell 24" x 36" prints for $1,000+, but Art.com wants you to be happy with $4.50.
Another egregious example of coercive pricing can be found on Society6.com:
If you want to sell a canvas print on Society6.com, you'll earn $8.50 - $15.00 (depending on the size of the print). That's it. Take it or leave it.
The most common technique for getting artists to reduce their markups is to use "percentage based" pricing. With this pricing method, the POD company shows you the base price for a product (e.g. $15 for a 24" x 36" print), and then asks you to set your markup as a perctange of that base price.
By default, the markup is set to something like 25%, and the POD companies are counting on human nature to stop you from increasing it very much.
Mentally, it just seems "too high" to set the markup to something like 100% or 200%... so artists don't do it.
Instead, they settle for a 25% markup... and look what happened, you were subconciously persuaded to accept $3.75 for the sale of a 24" x 36" print ($15 x 0.25 = $3.75).
Here comes the worst one...
Some websites, like ImageKind.com, will reduce your markup any time they want to... at their own discretion. It may sound unbelievable, but it's true. Let's say that you set your markup to be $100 for a 24" x 36" print. If ImageKind.com decides to run a "50% off" sale, they'll cut your markup to $50... just like that.
ImageKind actually runs a sale like this every single day of the year (go take a look at their homepage right now). So from day to day, you have no idea how much you're going to earn on a sale. Today they might take away 25% of your profits... tomorrow it might be 50%... etc.
So... that's how it's done - that's how POD companies force and/or persuade their artists into accepting less money for their prints.
The FAA pricing model is much, much different. You get to specify exactly how much you want to earn on each sale in real dollars (not percentages). If you want to earn $5,000 for the sale of a 24" x 36" print... that's great!... go for it. If you want to charge $25 for a greeting card, that's fine, too. It's completely up to you.
We don't force you to accept a certain price... we don't trick you with percentages... and we never discount your markup by running a sale... ever.
We're lucky to have your images... and you can charge as much as you want for them!
#2 - Most print-on-demand websites attract very few buyers... especially when compared to the number of sellers on the site.
Do you know how many visitors stop by your favorite POD site every day? The answer is probably "no", and there is a very good reason for that.
Print-on-demand websites don't disclose their membership numbers or traffic numbers because the numbers are generally not very good.
How many members belong to RedBubble.com, for example? If you search through their website, you won't find that information listed anywhere.
If you do a little digging online, you'll find that RedBubble.com had 100,000+ members back in 2008:
... and that they have more than 250,000 members today.
In order to analyze their visitor data (i.e. buyer data), you can use independent tracking websites such as Compete.com. Here is a traffic plot for RedBubble.com:
According to that traffic plot, RedBubble.com attracts approximately 500,000 unique visitors each month.
If you assume that each of RB's 250,000 members visit the site at least once every month, then that leaves 250,000 non-membervisitors per month (500,000 visitors - 250,000 members = 250,000 non-members).
So... if you are one of RB's 250,000 members who is trying to sell on their website, you can expect an average of 1 person to view your images each month.
That's not a good ratio... and that's exactly why most POD companies don't disclose member / visitor information.
FineArtAmerica has 85,000 members. We disclose this information right on our homepage. Also, according to Compete.com, we attract 725,000 unique visitors per month.
#3 - Most print-on-demand companies are investment vehicles for venture capitalists who are looking to grow and sell the company within 3 - 5 years.
Every single print-on-demand company on the internet (besides FAA) has received millions of dollars in investments from venture capitalists, angel investors, hedge funds, and other sources.
ImageKind.com - $2.6 million
RedBubble.com - $4.0 million
Art.com - unknown millions
What does all this mean?
When an investor gives you millions of dollars, that investor wants to make at least 5x that amount within a few years. For example, if an investor gives your company $1 million, that investor is expecting to receive $5 million in return several years down the road.
There is only one way to turn $1 million into $5 million... you have to grow, grow, grow the business and then sell it to the highest bidder.
That's the only way to do it, and that's exactly what happens to every single company that accepts outside money.
ImageKind.com sold to CafePress less than three years after they were founded. CanvasOnDemand.com did the exact same thing. RedBubble.com and others will soon follow suit in the coming years.
When you take on outside investors, you are no longer the boss of your own company. You have to do what's in the best interest of your investors, and unfortunately, that's not always what's in the best interest of the artists... (see #1, above).
Before you know it, your favorite "art" site is suddenly selling baby clothes, hoodies, stickers, mousepads, and keychains... sound familiar?
#4 - Many POD companies do not provide customer service.
Try to track down a phone number for customer service on any of these websites:
ArtistRising.com - http://www.artistrising.com//_code/Help/TalkToUs.aspx
RedBubble.com - http://www.redbubble.com/contact
Society6.com - http://society6.com/help/contact
The phone numbers don't exist.
If one of your buyers has a question about placing an order... or tracking an order... or selecting a frame... there is no one to talk to.
Society6.com takes it one step further...
Not only can you not talk to anyone... you also can't return your purchase for any reason. They have a "no returns" policy:
That's completely unheard of for an online business. Society6 won't take your phone calls, and if you're unhappy with your purchase, they won't take it back!
FAA publishes our phone number everywhere on our website, and buyers can return their purchases for a full refund any time within 30 days of the purchase... no questions asked:
#5 - Most POD companies are bad at search engine optimization and don't show up anywhere in Google's search results.
You, as an artist / photographer, are familiar with websites such as fineartamerica.com, imagekind.com, redbubble.com, art.com, artistrising.com, etc.
The general public, however, has never heard of any of them.
So, what does a member of the general public do when he wants to buy prints online?
He goes to Google.com and does a search.
Try searching for all of the following keywords on Google:
FAA is the #1 natural result (SEO) and the #1 paid result (SEM) for all of them... plus millions of other keywords.
Most POD companies don't show up anywhere on the first page of Google's search results. They don't show up there naturally... they don't show up as paid ads, either... and as a result, millions of potential buyers never visit their websites.
#6 - Most POD companies use the same fulfillment centers to produce their prints and, therefore, offer the exact same print quality.
If any POD company claims that their prints are somehow better in quality than those offered by other companies, that's not true.
Almost all POD companies use the same fulfillment centers to produce their orders. For example - the prints that you buy from Society6.com are produced at the exact same production facility as the prints from Shutterfly.com.
FAA produces some of our prints at the same facility, too... and so do ChicCanvas.com and hundreds of other websites.
All of the prints are produced on the same printers... assembled by the same framing experts... and packaged in the same cardboard packaging.
They are exactly the same.
So... the next time you consider paying $400 for a stretched canvas from CanvasOnDemand.com:
... remember, you can get the exact same product from other websites for less than 1/2 the price!
#7 - Most POD companies have huge employee payrolls to sustain.
FineArtAmerica.com has three full-time employees. That's it.
We have the lowest overhead anywhere in the industry.
Art.com has more than 250 employees.
CafePress.com is getting ready to go public with an IPO and had to reveal all of their financials in a public filing:
They have 423 employees!
If you ever wondered why these companies need to convince their artists to lower their prices (see #1, above)... wonder no more. They have huge payrolls to sustain.