The Unhappy Prints

About, ten months ago with the smell of Christmas on the horizon I set about having a try at something I’d been meaning to do for a long time. Back in 2009 I created some Keep Calm parodies as part of a Flickr group and was quite pleased with how popular some were.

Lots of folk kept asking me whether these would be available as prints but I never seemed to have the time and resources to carry this out. Last November, after selling our house, we had some spare money so I thought I would have a go at investing making some prints of these designs to sell. After getting costs from two suppliers I stumped up the money to have prints made into two designs.

I was pleased that initially some folks bought the prints but after an initial run of sales purchases dropped off quite quickly and despite sporadic sales interest has never really taken off.

So what went wrong? Here are my thoughts which hope might be of interest and value if you are thinking of selling prints, particularly as a side project.

Timing

The first problem is that it took far too long for me to get round to selling prints. For 2 years folks were asking me to create prints of my designs and by the time I got round to it the market was flooded with Keep Calm parodies, some copying my own designs. This cheapened the value of the designs as well as weakened their exposure. Response from some after launching the prints was ‘not more Keep Calm prints’ which showed that the market was pretty saturated.

Also, once I decided to sell prints it took too long to get these to market – screen-printing is a slow process and due to delays in production and lost deliveries (one Fedex delivery ended up in Germany) I missed the bulk of the Christmas audience I had originally aimed to have the prints ready for.

Cost

Screenprinting is expensive. The labour cost in production as well as costs for preparing screens and creating custom colours all adds up. I had considered digital prints but felt that with lots of Keep Calm prints already on the market – most cheaply produced – a quality, hand-produced screenprint would be a USP. However this meant that the initial cost of manufacture and therefore sale was going to be considerably greater that competing, digital prints.

Also worth considering with screenprints is that the cost of production is considerably increased with multiple colours.
The cost of production for the 3-colour A2 Keep Calm and Put the Kettle On print was around £15. That is a massive cost to draw any profit from. Similarly with t-shirts, the material cost of the tee is a big part of your costs. Unless you are mass producing you will not profit .

Finally , I didn’t consider reseller markup. Shortly after producing my prints a local shop was interested in selling the prints but I couldn’t compete directly with them by selling at a cheaper price online. I therefore had to introduce a markup that meant both the shop and myself could profit. This drove the price up too high. These were quality prints and whilst I was selling them at a cost marginally greater than some digital prints this was still too high for many people, particularly in the current economic climate.

Ambition

I am not ashamed to say I got greedy. I looked at how much it would cost to produce prints of two designs across two sizes and worked out what my likely profit would be. I figured that spreading my sales across a range of items rather than focus on one or two would be profitable but I was almost certainly wrong.
Which leads me to …

Marketing

I did very little research going into this project. I didn’t spend enough time looking at what comparable products were available and at what costs – I just asked some people and looked at some Etsy shops and other print sales to get a broad idea of what I should sell and at what price. I should have researched more extensively what designs people wanted and what they would be prepared to pay.

Related to this point was a lack of time spent promoting the products I was selling – I relied heavily on my personal social media contacts to promote prints and asked friends to do likewise (sorry) but never really spent/made/found much time for promoting the products. I set up an Etsy shop to accompany the Big Cartel site I was using to sell prints but spending no time promoting this resulted in zero sales.

What I would do differently

If I were to look at selling prints I would definitely look at selling digital prints in the first instance, at least to gauge interest in a design. The cost of production for screenprinted products was simply too great to be profitable without investing heavily (time or money) in promoting them.

If I was to screen print products again I would err towards producing larger quantities of a single design, and likely single colour to keep the unit cost down.

Finally I would make more time to promote what I was doing.
You cannot rely on personal marketing and the goodwill of friends to drive sales.

Regrets?

I don’t regret making the prints at all. I can put it down to a failed experiment (admittedly a pretty expensive one) but I know if I hadn’t have done it I would always have regretted it. I know that I made mistakes and hopefully armed with some of my experiences above, if you are thinking of branching into selling prints online you can avoid making some of these yourself!

Please note Mrs Henley wants her spare room back so in a bid to get rid of the remaining prints (and try to cover my costs) am offering all my prints at 25% off for the foreseeable future.

Comments

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What an honest post Cole.

The digital print idea is a neat one, I’d not really known about the concept.

In the past I had a similar idea of selling screen prints, but would definately ‘trial’ digital prints first now if it were something I was going to look into again.

Good on you for having the guts to go ahead with it anyway.

Hi, Love the honesty in your blog!! Iam desperate to progress my latest creative project and need help! I have spent some time teaching myself how to make miniature books, and so far have produced them digitally. I love craft, immersing myself in the physical processes, it’s life creating for me. (I have a strange condition which precludes me from being very active in the modern world of clamour) Now my boys are nearly adult I want to engage in a project that will help to cope with the empty space they leave. I want a working Adana, an am anxious about ebay. Can’t afford Caslon, any ideas? If you are interested, explore my blog to see my ‘Conference of birds latest project.’ Not satisfied with the digitally produced copy. Sorry for the length of this!! ( Impressed by the lion in your early days! I’ve always wanted one. )
Regards , Anne