To print or not to print?

The starfish painting is thisclose to being done, so I think I will (finally) have some art for you tomorrow. It’s been sitting on the dining room table all week, but last night I finally found my missing enthusiasm and spent a few hours working on it. I am very bad about leaving half-finished projects on the table, but husband is very patient.

So, the reason why I’m writing today is to ask for a little reader input on the problem of printing. Actually, I have a big problem with shipping as well, but it’s related to printing since outsourcing my prints requires shipping.

The backstory is that I have been trying and trying and trying to ship an Etsy buyer’s order for a large Alphabirdybet Art Print and have encountered THREE failures in row:

  • Print no. 1 was shipped by the postal service but never arrived (I think it was probably swiped from her apartment’s mail area)
  • Print no. 2 was sent first to me as part of a batch order but UPS left it sitting on my doorstep, which is next to a busy street, and I never got it. Am trying to get my money back from UPS.
  • Print no. 3 was supposed to be sent directly by my printer via UPS (which I have since learned is an Etsy no-no), but due to a miscommunication with my printer TWO prints were sent to another buyer. And buyer no. 1 didn’t get any.

At this point, my poor buyer called it quits and I refunded her money. And felt like a really, really bad Etsy seller. And lost a fair amount of money on the deal. Also, the buyer seems very understanding but I am waiting to get my first negative feedback. :(

This is the sort of situation that eats up a huge amount of time, money, and concentration and is really not related to Making Art, which only adds to the frustration. I’m hardly expecting to become rich off of Etsy, but I really need my sales to generate enough money to make them worthwhile. And at the moment, it’s kind of a toss-up (especially now that I’ve done my tax spreadsheets!). I haven’t lost money overall, but I’m making like $3 an hour on some projects by the time you add up all the nights and weekends and lunchbreaks. Even the Idaho minimum wage isn’t that bad, people.

Sooo, I’ve decided that I need to figure out a better system. I like to keep my prices low enough that my friends can buy my stuff, and a few items (like the individual Alphabirdybet Letters) can remain priced as they are. But I think that I  need to raise the price of the big alphabet print since they are just so expensive for me to order and have shipped (especially now that I need to Fed-Ex them to ensure that a signature is required). And, I need to find a way to ensure that any new products I create don’t need to be outsourced.

Ideas for the shop that I am currently entertaining include:

  • Raise price of the 11×14 alphabet print to $40 or $45 and only keep one or two in stock at a time. :(
  • Add a bit to shipping costs and start using delivery confirmation on all items over $10.
  • Phase out 8×10 prints (like this, this, and this), since they are printed on photographic paper and have a finish that I don’t love. May experiment with printing them at home with archival inks instead.
  • Phase out all commercially-printed cards (these, these, and these), since you don’t even want to HEAR about all the problems that I have had with card printing.
  • Offer more 5×7 gocco prints (like this, but with a simpler sketch) for $10/each.
  • Offer some gocco-printed notecards for around $8/set.
  • Have a really big sale so that I can clear out some inventory before I have to box things up and move. (The sale might include some original art from my school days, too.)

Another thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is the idea put forth by husband that I move away from the bird theme, since it is somewhat restricting and–quite frankly–rather oversaturated in the Etsy marketplace. I’d keep the name, of course, but what do you think about showing up at and finding prints of dogs, chairs, houses, people, etc?

And what do you think about all the other ideas?

Added bonus: Leave me a helpful comment, and I’ll put your name in a hat for the 8×10 print of your choice (or 4 alphabet letters, if you prefer). You have until Sunday at midnight….


8 thoughts on “To print or not to print?

  1. Hi Paula,

    My input, as someone who likes to buy art but doesn’t have a big budget to do so, is to raise the cost of shipping and require delivery confirmation. I don’t mind paying more for shipping if I know it will help it arrive safely. But I know I would have to swallow hard before I started considering $45 prints, especially for my kids’ room.

    Also, I think branching out from the birdy theme would be great. I don’t think it would be odd to find other animals on paulabirdy’s site (after all, paulabirdy could refer to a birdlike, chirpy-natured artist, rather than the content of the site!).

    So there’s my input. I hope Etsy is more fun in coming months!


  2. I think delivery confirmation is a good idea too, and you should be paid for your efforts. Hopefully some of the effort you’re putting in now will be an investment for the future.

    You should make whatever art you want to make to sell- it sounds cheesy, but as long as you enjoy making it (and aren’t just making it to suit a particular market) it will show through and people will buy it.

  3. When you come down to Pensacola, you will get to see how disorganized my office is. I am surprised none of my shipped art has been damaged during shipping. Its either luck or angels.

    Thanks for talking about the printing/shipping woes. I have been thinking about making prints of some of my paintings. Prints probably sell better on Etsy than originals. Especially when originals are priced as they should be.

    I am glad you are going to do more Gocco. You might try some ACEOs too. Some folks do well selling those.

    Looking forward to seeing the new stuff in your shop. I bet those dolls would be a happy addition. You could do a little ACEO to include with the doll.

  4. As a previous buyer of an original painting that I absolutely love, I think you can definitely raise your price on original art and have more of those available. They don’t have to be big, so you can still charge more and still be affordable, but the buyer gets the pleasure of getting an original work of art and I think that counts. I like prints, but when the costs of a print start creeping up too high, I tend to prefer to buy some original art or craft instead. Still they are a viable option, the alphabet letters are an excellent example, so unique and beautiful, it makes sense to have as many of those as you can and for an affordable price because they will find a market (and I think they have, right?)

    I think your keeping your name paulabirdy and selling all sorts of other art is totally fine as well, and you don’t have to give up birds all together (you do them so very well!) and you do have the talent, range and style to do all sorts of art (and crafts– those dolls you had a while back were truly amazing.)

    I agree with raising the price for shipping to add delivery confirmation or at least tracking, it’s peace of mind for you and for your buyer.

    So here’s my perspective. I don’t have an etsy store and no experience whatsoever in having my artwork printed for selling, but I hope this helps. I guess this is more of a point of view of a buyer at this point. :-)

  5. Paula, Answering your last point first, I don’t see any problem with having things not birdy at a shop called Paulabirdy. I like the name and there are many stores and websites that have a wide variety of items none of which seem to relate to their name. But if you want to change it, that’s great to. Second, I like the really big sale idea because I want some of your art :). I’m still sad I didn’t snag your big botanical painting at the silent auction that one year. I like the gocco prints, and as far as commercially printed note cards go, if they’re such a huge headache I would say to skip them altogether unless they are huge sellers. Life is too short to deal with unnecessary pain-in-the-necks. And I second the original art thing, too. Have some prints available but original art, even if it’s teeny tiny is a HUGE draw (at least for people like me). Multiple products at multiple price points – have some more affordable prints and more lucrative originals and you can draw a wide range of customers, says I!

  6. P-Bird,

    Let me put on the official corporate hat, after all, I do this for a living. However, this is going to be very corporate America, and I understand if none of it is acceptable.

    1. Branding on no budget.

    If you have a ton of money and can advertise, any name is fine. However, if you have no budget and you are hoping to get noticed you need to have names that reflect what you do. If you pop over to Western Digital, I had a big input into naming our “Raptor” and “GreenPower” hard drives. Raptor drives are “gamer” drives, and the name was obviously picked to be cool. They have a cult following, and the name was highly important. Greenpower drives are energy efficient drives. However, you hardly need to read the name to basically get what they are about. Unfortunatley, Paula-Birdy suggests birds.

    2. ROI (Return on Investment)

    With all the pressure on you, you will simply not keep something up that doesn’t payback. What you need to do is say, “my time is worth $20 per hour, on average for each sale I am putting in around 10 hours of worth, therefore, I will charge $200. This means that you need to cut out all the bottom prints. Your intuition is absolutely correct.

    3. Consider some give aways

    Rather than giving up some of the prints, you may elect to do “5×7” JPEGs that you’ll allow people to download and inkjet for free. Keep them at a lower resolution so it would make no sense to print beyond 5×7. Without getting into the psychology, free will drive traffic to your website and opportunity for upsells.

    4. High Price = High Quality

    People are hardwired to believe that high price equals high quality in art. Perversely enough, you will sometimes see sales go UP if the price is higher, because they assume that you are an elite artist.

    5. Create limited editions

    Another key for selling art.

    Uncle T

  7. hi
    I don’t have any great pearls of wisdom except to say that. When your ‘business’ is your craft or art your heart needs to be totally in it, you need to love what you are doing – obviously this needs to be balanced out a bit by practicality and money – but if these second things become too big then you end up not enjoying what you are doing and the creative energy withers a bit.
    I’m only speaking for myself here but I never have much pocket money to spend on art or crafts so I’d be more likely to buy smaller prints that aren’t too expensive. So yeah maybe have a few big originals for people who have the money to spend – oh and smaller cheaper originals would be cool too (I’m in to little artworks at the moment :o) – so cute), and then some prints for those who love your art (like me!) but don’t have the pocket money.
    – and find a printing option that is easier for you, we don’t need extra headache causes in life!
    For your postage worries – could you have the option of more expensive ‘safer’ postage to those who want it and the cheaper option for those who want to take the risk?
    And the name – I totally think it doesn’t matter what your name is at all, I wouldn’t necessarily think you just had birds.
    And good luck, your stuff is so great, I hope you figure out what works for you so you can go on loving what you’re doing and make some pocket money!

  8. Pingback: More (lengthy) thoughts on printing. «

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