In Part 7 we looked at some ways to turn services into products and why this is a good idea. In this part we look a bit deeper into some issues and examine manufacturing considerations and marketing.
The areas we have been discussing are the following possible products:
- Fine art prints
- Greeting and gift cards
- Decorator items, such as photo-based lamp shades
- Tourist items, such as keyrings, mugs, placemats, fridge magnets, etc
- Books, whether travel, art photography, how to or whatever
- Photographic accessories
Means and Methods
With the wide range of pro-model printers from HP, it’s not difficult to make fine-art prints, posters, and cards in the comfort of your studio. And if you sell these products online, you can print these items as they are ordered.
The difficulties with manufacturing photographic accessories come from the fact that you are moving into real, physical manufacturing, not virtual. There is a temptation to offload manufacture to companies in China because of cost advantages, but many companies have found their designs copied and then have been undercut. Although some photographers have had great success with offshore manufacturing, others have lacked the legal and financial resources to secure their intellectual property or have found it difficult to operate in a business culture with a foreign language and culture.
Some serious advice I read recently in Wired magazine was to do subassembly manufacture offshore, but to deal with very different companies for all the pieces. Then, you could put it all together locally so that no single overseas supplier has all of your design.
Thanks to the ability to manufacture small batches at a time, local manufacturing is far more practical than it previously was. New automation technology has moved into smaller-scale units, making small batches easy and minimizing the cost of entry. It also avoids stock issues, and allows you to revise the design more readily after you have started to promote it to customers (a process learned from the software industry).
It is very important to take into account shipping costs. Real economies with overseas manufacture and shipping only occur with large quantities. That means upfront payments of substantial amounts and the need for warehousing space to hold it all. Local manufacture will be more expensive per item, but these costs are offset by minimal shipping costs just-in-time manufacturing benefits. Plus you are doing your bit for the local economy, helping the planet from reduced transport emissions, and operating within a known legal environment. Printing photo books in China can look attractive, but a local relationship with a good printer could be more useful in the long term.
These same issues apply to all the areas we have been discussing. The local production of books, cards, DVDs, and posters can also be worthwhile. In the U.S., on-demand printing companies such as Snapfish, Lulu, and Blurb can manufacture photo books with excellent quality and fast delivery.
The key to manufacturing products is to explore your options and find other photographers who have gone down this path already and are willing to offer advice.
Software development can be done by photographers with a certain mindset. It is no more fundamentally difficult than some areas of photography, just different. The tools are cheap and there is a plentiful supply of great books on the topic along with readily available introductory courses if you learn better through instruction. Look into what your local community college offers.
Fulfillment is the process of actually getting your goods to the purchasers. If you are selling products you must get them out to the buyers and to the companies who may be selling them for you. There are dedicated fulfillment businesses that will warehouse and ship products on your behalf. Or you can assume this responsibility yourself. The downside of this approach is that unless you have staff, fulfillment commits you to performing a certain amount of activity for each sale, just like any photographic service does. So fulfillment is an area that needs careful consideration.
If you have created new software, there are some wonderful payment-processing systems that only release the software for download upon correct payment. These systems will do these activities automatically and just send you the reports.
Marketing products is basically no different from marketing services. There are some twists though. One key difference in product marketing is the value of reviews. Getting a positive review of your product in a place where your target customers will see it is of great benefit, because having an objective third party saying good things about your product adds credibility to your marketing.
The quest for good reviews means you want to get your product right first. That may mean that you get version 1.0 of a product out to people early, learn from their feedback and be good to them so you get the feedback, then start really marketing the 2.0 version. Alternatively a great beta testing program is a powerful tool.
Choosing the right places to send samples for review, with appropriate supporting documentation, is not always obvious. For example, if you are producing travel related photo-based products, where are the obvious places? Well, this could be automotive clubs that publish a magazine with travel destination articles, airline magazines, local papers and magazines in the target locations, the magazines some hotels have in rooms, etc. The big national magazines may not be best until and unless you already have pretty good national coverage or a really unique angle.
Sending the right information to journalists is critical. Press releases should contain good, solid (not overly flowery) information that they can cut and paste when under deadline pressure.
Make sure the information is easy to cut and paste. I've been amazed at how many companies and PR agencies get this wrong. Good images of the right resolution for the type of publication (print or web) are also necessary, as are some hints of possible story angles. Your role isn’t to tell the journalist how to do their job, but simply to suggest ideas for covering the story in a way that would be more meaningful to their readers.
If you get product development and marketing right, you can produce a nice cash flow that will continue when you are off at the beach on vacation, or even retired. Thinking about it early is the key, because once you have the end use in mind it may affect how you shoot certain images or run other parts of your photography business.
Part 9 of this series looks in greater depth at fine art photography as a business.
Other posts in this series: