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dudler’s latest blog : postcard from walsall

dudler's latest blog : art, snap or reportage

Postcard from Walsall

19 Jun 2021 10:44AM  
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Sometimes, there’s a downside to writing about stuff, because people ask you difficult questions. This blog stems from one of those…

Now, I admit that I’ve been guilty of suggesting that some images are good enough to be postcards, and I have suggested to one photographer that he has material for a series of cards, because he has shot a lot of interesting subjects with local appeal where he lives. But it’s not always that way, and so I present my relatively-uninformed views about the idea of turning good images into postcards, and selling them.
I think the problem splits into three parts, and getting cards printed is the least of them: that’s just a matter of finding a printer who can supply the right quality at the right price. The two other big questions are about having images that work as a set, and marketing. I have to admit to a profound lack of ability to put together a series of my own images, and a complete lack of knowledge of or interest in marketing. But I can see some pitfalls.

The set and marketing are actually linked, and here’s how. I shall base this on having bought images from two different sets, neither of which is currently available, I think. The first were lovely sepia images of Cambridge, shot by Derek Langley, which he sold from a stall in the outdoor art market in Cambridge. He also sold real (darkroom) prints of the same pictures at a price that was accessible to both tourists and students. His subjects were local views of the landmarks in the City, including all of the colleges.

So Derek – who I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times in Cambridge, while my son was a student there – had easy access to both a coherent series of subjects, and suitable outlets for his pictures. I suspect that it’s important that he approached the subject with dedication, and that his stall and the lovely prints he sold made the difference between a project bringing in some pin money and a way to make a living. I am pretty sure, as well, that he brought a lot of energy and hard work to the endeavour.

The other set of cards were a less focussed set of Exmoor views, all shot in black-and-white and square format. My abiding memory (apart from the outstanding technical and aesthetic quality) was that (at a time when the Post Office was seeking to standardise letter sizes, and most commercial postcards bore the inscription ‘Post Office Preferred’ in the space for the stamp, these were marked ‘Post Office Acceptable’. #CockASnook… Again, marketing was (relatively) easy, with a series of individual shops selling cards, and likely to welcome something that stands out (as well as having a higher price and thus profit than most cards).

There are quite a few firms that will print limited runs of images as postcards, for which you need a dozen or so images, and you then get a couple of hundred cards of each. My daughter has actually had that done, when she worked for the Chaplaincy at Keele University a few years ago, and handled their social media. They used her pictures for a series of cards to publicise what they did, and they used the student union printing service to get the work done quickly, locally and economically.

My daughter-in-law, who works as a graphic designer and photographer, thinks highly of print.com, but a quick look online suggests that Vistaprint and others seek to tap the same market. The thing I haven’t researched is the quantities that you need to order of each individual design: postcards are often used to publicise a firm or event, in which case one or two designs is sufficient, but my feeling (and my daughter-in-law’s) is that you need ten or a dozen different images. To get a low enough unit cost to allow you to make a decent profit (and to allow your retail outlets the sort of mark-up then will want (I’m guessing 50% of the sale price) you’ll need a decent print run, so you may have to shell out a few hundred pounds up front. My research suggested £50 for 1,000 cards of one design.

So here are my suggestions for postcarding your way to local fame…

1 Make sure that your images have effortless technical quality: exclude anything that isn’t thoroughly sharp without needing assistance in Photoshop, properly exposed, and compositionally neat;
2 Put together a set of images that work together: maybe a dozen pretty local churches, or beauty spots in a limited geographical area. However outstanding, a series of single and unrelated images won’t hack it;
3 Identify where you can sell the pictures. Views can go through local newsagents who already have a rack of postcards outside, tourist information centres, or even pubs in tourist hotspots. Locally-focussed wildlife may sell mainly through wildlife centres. In all cases, though, check – don’t assume they’ll be falling over their feet to take you on, as they may have an exclusive deal with another photographer or a large company;
4 You’ll probably have to go out and shoot some pictures to fill out the set;
5 Really importantly, before you invest money in printing, check your set with someone who will be a critical friend – someone you can trust to tell you the truth if there are poor images, or a lack of market appeal!
6 Make sure that the deal you do with the print company gives you the size, quality and perceived value that you need. A card doesn’t need to be A5 to impress, but it does need to be on fairly heavy card, possibly with either a gloss or a textured matt finish.

I’d REALLY value input from someone who knows about the market, and has sold cards in quantity…

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