Photographers should put aside a set amount of money for marketing, noting that many consider marketing a dirty word when it’s actually just “how you present yourself as an artist”. One of the UK’s most successful photographers, Roberts has thought about marketing since the start of his career, starting with printing his first flyers at an unusual size to make them stand out on picture editors’ pin boards. Having achieved success as an editorial photographer he moved into long-term projects, and now supports himself through print sales and books, but he still sends out cards.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “Getting to know the picture editors and gallerists and keeping them informed about what you’re doing. These people are the lynchpins in your career. You won’t be able to send them emails – I mean physically you will, but they receive thousands of emails per day so you will have more visibility with a card.”
Roberts creates new websites for each long-term project he works on, using them to interact with his audience as the project progresses and generate interest in the end result. Over 3000 people signed up for his We English site, for example, which meant that “if I sold the book to just 10% of the people who had showed an interest in the project I had sold 300 copies”. Roberts also creates these sites in HTML, because it makes it easier for people to take his images and put them on his own blogs.
“I used to use Flash until a student phoned me up and said it made it impossible for her to take my images and put them on her blog,” he said. “Initially I was annoyed but then I thought about it – I want to create as large an audience as possible for my work online; I make a living out of selling prints, so someone taking a 72dpi image is neither here nor there. Motherland [his book about Russia] was published by Chris Boot in an edition of 4000, which is large for a photography book but small when you think of the number of people who get to see them.”
Roberts has also created special editions of his books, creating three boxes of signed 10×8 prints of all of the images in Motherland, for example. Bundled up with the book, the first of these boxes sold for £10,000, the second for £15,000 and the third is still available. For We English he made a “more affordable” version, including a copy of the book and a single signed print, which sold for £200.
Roberts sells prints through The Photographers’ Gallery plus galleries in New York and Germany, and he outlined his basic pricing structure for each project. The images in We English are offered in total editions of 10, for example, printed in two different sizes plus three artists’ proofs – three 48″x40″ prins plus one artists proof and seven 20″x24″ prints plus two artists’ proofs. Oakeshott, who is print sales co-ordinater at The Photographers Gallery, went through photographers’ editions and prices in much closer detail, advising photographers on how many prints to make, and how to price them.
“The number of images in your edition, and the size you print them at, are entirely up to you,” she said. “However both factors affect the prices you can command and that’s something you need to bear in mind. If you print only a few images you will need to charge more to reflect their exclusivity; but if you’re a new photographer and the market is just getting to know your work, it may not support it. A larger edition can be sold more cheaply, but if you create too many, for example 200 prints, it’s no different to having an open edition. Generally speaking, we would support an edition of up to 30 prints.”