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Selling Photography on eBay
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Find a new market for your photographs – on eBay!

By Chris Maher and Larry Berman

Selling Your Photography
You may be a beginner, an advanced amateur, or a professional photographer. No matter what your level of experience, selling your photographs can make a lot of sense. For a pro, sales are your lifeblood, and new markets are always welcome. For amateurs, sales can be a way to buy new equipment, or a path to joining the ranks of the professionals. There are a many kinds of markets for good photographs, but we are going to tell you how to take advance of a unique market that is largely unknown among photographers, the online auction market.

Is it really possible to sell original photos on eBay? We were skeptical at first too, but in our first month of trying, we sold over $2,000 worth of our photographic prints. Success is not guaranteed, but it certainly possible.

eBay has been around since 1995 and has grown to be the largest auction web site in the world. At any given time, there are more than 12 million items up for sale on eBay, listed in over 18,000 categories. In 2002, more than $14 billion in sales were made on eBay, and the sites growth continues to be phenomenal. Everything from luxury cars to garage sale junk is sold everyday to buyers around the world.

For most eBay sellers, finding good things to put up for auction is a constant effort. As a photographer, you have the great advantage of being the creator and producer of your own unique work. Once you learn the fine points of selling on eBay you will be able to create an endless stream of new prints for the online marketplace.

Getting Started
First, you will need to set up an account at eBay. That is simple to do, and should take only a few minutes. Have your credit card ready because they need a way to set up billing for using their services.

Next we recommend you go shopping! Really, bidding on other people’s auctions has several advantages. First, it will have the important effect of clearly showing you what the differences between a good and bad auction are. If the picture is small and dark, the description is poorly done, or the prices unrealistic, you will see first hand how these impede sales. On the positive side, you will see all kinds of neat looking auctions. Make notes on what you think contributes positively to the successful sale of an item. As you improve your auctions, you will be incorporating these features into your own listings. Don’t worry, you don’t have to know how to do all that stuff to begin, but its good to have goals. Another advantage of bidding on other people’s stuff is you will begin to build up your feedback rating (more on this later).

Most of the better-looking auctions are designed either with auction template software or a web design program. You can use the standard eBay auction entry form and add HTML code, so any skills you have at creating a web pages will be quite helpful as you design your auctions. When we first started using eBay, we would build the auction page on our own web sites and copy the code into the eBay form. That enabled us to previsualize exactly what the auction page would look like when it was posted.

Photographs for your auction
You will need a digital file of your photograph in a compressed JPEG format. It should be large enough to show all relevant details but not take too long to load. We recommend using files that are from 450 to 600 pixels long dimension. Be sure to incorporate a copyright notice in the image as well. You can add your website URL as well. This is easy to do in an image-editing program like Photoshop, PhotoImpact, or Paint Shop Pro. Be conservative in sizing the URL in your images so eBay doesn’t construe it to be a commercial advertisement for your web site. Next, you will need to come up web site to host your images that will appear on your auction page. If you already have your own website, you can use that server to host your eBay images. If you don’t yet have your own web site, look at services that host images for eBay auctions, such as Village Photos or use the free server space that your ISP may provide.

Picking a Category
One of the most difficult decisions in setting up an auction is choosing the best category to list your picture in. We have found the “Art>Photographic Images> Contemporary (1940-Now)” category to be successful for many of our images. Your work will be shown along with some of the world’s greatest photographers in this category, including prints by Edward Westen, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Ansel Adams, to name just a few. Other categories you might try include “Self Representing Artists” or even “Digital Art”, depending on the style of your work. Browse the listing and look at the auctions in each as a guide. Besides the art related categories, consider other categories that the subject matter of your photo might fit into. When Larry decided to put his photographs of Julius Erving and the New York Nets ABA basketball team up for auction, he found great success in the “Sports>Sports Memorabilia>Memorabilia & Team Merchandise>Basketball-NBA>Defunct Teams” category.

Good Auction Titles are Critical to Your Success Auction Item Titles are critical to your success. eBay only allows you 45 characters, including spaces, to describe your item in your auction lot title. You can go on at great length in your description that is in the body of the auction, but the title is critical because when buyers search eBay, the search engine only sees the words in the title by default. In addition, your lot title will be people see when they browse a category. Proper use of keywords here will often be the difference of making sales or not. Use the names of places and things in your titles. Chris has an infrared shot of a Japanese Maple tree that has sold every time he has put it up for auction, and people always tell him that they found it by a keyword search. Larry’s ABA basketball photos sell in part because he lists the player’s names and team name and “ABA” in the title, making it simple for people interested in those players to find them.

How do you know to trust a buyer or seller on eBay? In a word, feedback. Every time a bid is won, both the seller and buyer can leave feedback rating the experience. Positive feedback comments will tell your buyers you are on the level, and can be trusted to deliver a quality item. People will judge sellers they are considering buying from by the way they have conducted business in the past. You can buy with confidence from someone who has dozens, or even hundred of positive feedback comments. Negative comments are like black marks on the eBayer’s record. People who have a number of negative comments will find it hard to sell or buy, as they will not have the trust that is needed to succeed in the auction venue.

When you start out, you will have no feedback from sales you have made. But you can jumpstart the process by buying small things from others, and paying promptly, thus getting positive feed back from the sellers.

Producing your prints to sell Keeping your costs down, and your quality up, is critical to succeeding on eBay. People expect a bargain when they bid on things, and you will be most successful if you can create high quality work that is low in cost to produce, yielding a good margin even when it sells at a low price. Remember, it’s not just the total dollar amount of your sales but your actual profit that will determine your success at selling your photography on eBay.

Technology has given you several options for producing high quality, low cost prints. Inkjet printers are an obvious choice. While ink jet materials costs are not insignificant, using a photo printer like the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 (capable of printing up to 13x19) or Epson's 7600 (for prints 24" by 36" and longer) with Epson's Ultra Chrome pigment inks will give you long lasting, high quality prints. Even the low cost Epson Stylus Photo 820 (under $100!) will let you produce fine prints for very little money.

One word of advice here, to insure that your ink jet prints are as long lasting as possible, only use the manufactures ink and best paper. Don’t experiment with third party inks and papers. Although you may produce great looking prints and save a little money by using different paper types, you may end up producing images that fade or discolor quickly. The only way to be sure that your inkjet prints are archival is to use an ink and paper combination that has been tested by a certified lab like Wilhelm Research, or Rochester Institute of Technology’s Image Permanence Institute. This information can be included in your auction, so buyers who may hesitate to purchase an inkjet print will be put at ease.

Another low cost, high quality option is to have your prints made on a Fuji Frontier printer. This is a remarkable mini lab machine that produces standard photographic prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper. Sam’s Club and Costco’s Shoppers Warehouse often have these machines in their stores, and will make 8x10s prints for less than two dollars each. These prints can be remarkably high quality, and can be printed from negatives, or digital files.

Whatever process you use to print, we recommend including a signed certificate that states your process along with any other information, which can add to your credibility. Additionally, we recommend using archival clear plastic bags from to protect the print from handling, and include mention of it in the auction. All of these low cost additions will increase the chance of people considering your photography as collectable.

Pricing your auctions
For the most part, people who buy on eBay do not want to pay the full retail value of the object that they are bidding on. We recommend you sell prints without matting or framing. This will help you start your auctions at a low price, encouraging people to begin bidding on your work. It also will greatly reduce your shipping expensive. Take time to browse and see what others who are selling photographs similar to yours are opening their auctions for. Pay especial attention to those auctions that have bids, those are the successful ones you will want to emulate.

We recommend starting out by auctioning your 8x10 prints between $9.95 and $15.00 Your goal is to get bidding started, and hope that bidding between people will drive the price up higher. Over time, your eBay reputation will build and your feedback can testify to the quality of photography that you sell. By establishing yourself as selling quality photography, you stand a much better chance of getting a higher dollar for your images. We have had prints bid up above what we would sell them at retail, and have also sold many images at the opening bid.

Don’t let your ego get in the way. We have seen many of our peers that sell their photography on the art show circuit refuse to set an opening bid below what they get for their work at a show (or set a high reserve price), causing their photographs not to be bid on at all. We recommend setting your opening bid for the least amount you’ll take for the photograph, just enough to give you a small profit based on materials and cost of shipping. Let the market set its price from there.

Expect that most of the serious bidding will take place in the last few minutes of the auction. People who bid on eBay all the time are famous for “sniping”, which is the practice of putting in a high bid at the last possible second, preventing a countering bid. eBay uses a proxy bidding system, which insures the person with the highest bid will win, even if they are not the last bidder. The best that can happen to you is a bidding war, between two people who just will not be outbid. Your selling price can skyrocket, and you are the beneficiary.

Getting Paid It’s best to give buyers a choice of payments. PayPal, personal checks, and money orders are the most common methods of payment on eBay. We highly recommend setting up a PayPal account. With it, you will be able to accept credit cards and payments from around the world. It’s simple and cost effective, and PayPal funds can be transferred directly in your bank account on request.

Shipping Bidders are used to paying a reasonable amount for shipping, look at other auctions of items similar to yours to find out what the going rate is. We charge $5 shipping for a single 8x10, and $2 for each additional print shipped at the same time. (It’s common to have a buyer bid on, and win, multiple auctions if they like your work) This covers postage, shipping materials, and adds a bit to the profit as well. Shipping internationally is a bit more, but still very reasonable. Sending a 8x10 print by First Class Mail to Europe from the US costs only about $4.00 in postage, so we charge the international customers $9.00 in shipping. You may think that the amount we’re charging for shipping is excessive based on actual cost. But consider that if the print gets lost, or arrives damaged, we would replace it no questions asked as a matter of good will and to keep our eBay reputation intact.

Small prints can be shipped flat between two sheets of foam core or corrugated cardboard. Use oversize envelopes to give your prints extra protection. (8x10 prints are safe packed between sturdy boards in 10x13 envelopes). Larger prints can be shipped in a sturdy shipping tubes, which can be purchased inexpensively from companies like Yazoo Mills.

eBay offers several unique advantages over any other market place. First, it is a very low overhead selling space. It only costs .30 cents to list a photograph that starts at $9.95 for 7 days, plus a small percentage if it sells. Second eBay is an open book of what has worked for other sellers. All items, successful or not, are listed for 30 days beyond when they close. It is a fairly simple matter to search for people who are selling work like you would like to, and analyze everything they do, learning from their successes and failures. Once you learn to research on eBay you can learn from the most successful sellers, and avoid the mistakes made by those who fail to attract buyers. A third major advantage is the ability to sell your work from anywhere you have an Internet connection, to people anywhere in the world. You can live in the mountains or by the sea; you will still have the same access to this amazing marketplace as anyone in the world.

Of course, eBay is not for everyone. First, you have to leave your ego behind. If you start your auctions at too high a price no one will bid on them. And if you start too low, you may find that you are selling your 8x10 prints at too little profit for the time and effort you are expending. Only experimenting will show if eBay is the right market place for you.

Contents of this page © 2003 Chris Maher and Larry Berman and is protected under United States and International copyright laws and may not be reproduced, stored, or manipulated without written permission of the authors.

Web site content © Larry Berman, Chris Maher, or the originating artists

Chris Maher
PO Box 5, Lambertville, MI, 48144

Larry Berman
PO Box 265, Russellton,  PA  15076

Web Site Design by Larry Berman and Chris Maher