An acquaintance of mine, Dan Heller wrote an in-depth analysis of the stock-photo agency/industry. He has been his own stock photo company, with thousands of his own photos online, and he's had some dealings with big stock photo companies like Getty. Click here if you're interested. Dan Also wrote on the popular "RAW vs JPEG" argument and we happen to agree on that too.
Dan, who does not know me from Adam, really, was very helpful to me when I was approached by a souvenir dealer based out of Colorado. He wrote me several emails on that subject and on the subject of copyright also on another occasion. He's a great resource via his website, blogs etc. and I understand that he is now working as a consultant. I'd hire him in a heartbeat. This guy is a very thoughtful, meticulous and analytical thinker. I would have to warn you that you won't get pat answers nor snap judgements.
On another note, I finally, finally, finally sold something via Imagekind today. Nothing ever sold there, and we switched all our attention to Cafepress quite a while ago, thus hurting chances of sales on Imagekind all the more. If you follow this blog, you'll know that we think Cafepress is now a huge rip-off of artists and designers and we don't recommend them anymore. Cafepress happens to have bought Imagekind a year ago, so I have refrained from uploading any new images there because I don't trust that parent company anymore. I figure it's only a matter of time before they ruin Imagekind too. Yes, we still have banners for both companies on our blogs because the vast majority of our images are there and we feel touched when some far away person buys our original designs. And, if customers buy direct from our shop, we still get our proper margin.
Sheryl started uploading new stuff to Zazzle and we hear a lot of good things about that company, but it may take a awhile to really fill out a shop there. All these companies are called POD companies, which stands for "print on demand". I've written about this previously, there are quite a few up and down sides to using POD companies. The biggest downside in my opinion is when they get greedy like Cafepress did and steal so much of your profits that there's really no point in participating anymore. It looks as if companies like Cafepress are basing their business practices on stock photo companies like iStock-- where the photographer or designer gets truly tiny money. The only hope for the artist is to have literally thousands of images to sell. Companies like this are called "micro-stock" and I am not sure why, but I think the idea is to get subscribers to buy lots of images for "micro-payments."
Now, as for me selling fine art prints, I'd really rather use a local print shop, or print my own. I'm still up in the air for a print provider, but I have some ideas. In all honesty, I'd rather deal directly with my own customers anyway. This de-personalizing of art can't be a good thing in the long run. I don't even know the name of the person who bought my "Star Periwinkle" photo today. They live in Texas, they know my name ( I think ), but that's about it. I would thank them for buying if I could. I'd even sign the print. Something is missing without that level of involvement. I have also sold digital files direct to a customer, and even that was much more satisfying than having the whole thing go through a separate company.
Then there's the issue of photographer for hire where images can't be had pre-packaged. Some of you know that I do not jump for joy over the idea of being a wedding photographer-- even though I do love doing portraits and event photography. I did enjoy shooting a beach wedding, and I was once extremely underpaid for a Church wedding, and that didn't kill me. I still think that I'm at my best doing photography and writing together and so we'll have to work that one out. Some other examples of commissioned photography are product shots, or anything where the images can only be had by getting the subject in front of a camera on a schedule. Not everything can be automated away so easily.
In the old days before photography quite a few artists got paid to render families, architecture, pets, livestock-- many of them railed and gnashed their teeth over the advent of photography. A lot of them did lose jobs to technology, but a lot of them didn't. And the interesting thing is that fine art is still more highly valued than photography ( heck, I value it more highly than photography! ) So, I'm not despairing, I'm adapting.