My Thought Process - Some Backstory
My journey into the world of selling cosplay prints is a long one so let's start ten years in past.
In the beginning there were no prints. When I started cosplaying, photography within the scene was basic. You would search the internet forums a few days after the event for badly lit hallway shots. You knew your costume was a hit by how many pics you managed to find in various corners of the web.
Then three big things changed that allowed for the emergence of prints:
1) the quality of cosplay and cosplay photography vastly improved.
2) The convention scene greatly expanded to include a wider audience.
3) The growth of the internet allowed for the emergence of the cosplay famous. Whereas before you could make a name for yourself locally by competing at masquerades, now you could make a name for yourself at a national and even international level by posting photos.
When cosplay prints started emerging there was a bitter war of words between two camps. One being those in support of prints and the other opposing the commercialization of the hobby. The latter argued that cosplay would be better served if money was kept out of it because prints were an exercise in vanity. The former argued that they were meeting a demand and there was no harm in selling prints, basically saying "if you don't want them, don't buy them." Mix in some personal attacks and witch hunts on forums and you got the great cosplay debate of the past six or so years.
The debate hasn't completely disappeared although cosplay prints are now a permanent fixture in the community. My philosophy on the subject was at first "to each their own." No point in getting angry over how others choose the spend their money. Cosplay prints weren't for me because who would want my photo in their house. I don't even have a physical photo of me in my house. Also, practically speaking, I was not well-known enough to make the best out of selling prints. Even now I roll my eyes and laugh when friends joke that I'm "cosplay famous" because I still think I am far from it.
Understanding the fact that you don't have to be cosfamous to sell prints was a mental line I had to cross before I made my decision. After being an artist alley neighbour of a cosplayer who was selling prints, I was reminded that some people buy cosplay prints simply because they like the character or are amazed at the art of the photograph. They sold prints to people who had no idea who they were. On the flip side, there are people out there who are strong supporters of cosplayers work and they want to support them however they can.
For years I have been selling trinkets in artists alleys trying to get some income to help subsidize the high cost of my hobby. I'm going to keep cosplaying regardless of the side income I get from sales. At this point, after getting enough request or inquiries about prints I figured it was time to give it a try. Why not cancel out the costs of the hobby by using something you are already producing? No leftover merchandise and no wasted hours sounds like a sweet deal.
All revenue from my prints will get directly reinvested back into cosplay projects. At best it will be a drop in the bucket compared to my actual expenses. Check out my year end blogs if you want an idea of how much I spend on costumes and conventions.
Many cosplayers who offer prints are not making a profit. Once you deduct all your costs (costume, paid shoot, travel, printing cost, table costs, etc) they are most likely still in the red. Which is why the second half of this blog will explore whether prints are for you and tips on getting started.
Should I sell Cosplay Prints?
Cosplay prints may not be for you if:
Cosplay prints may be for you if:
I am by no means an expert after my first foray into prints, however, the following advise is based on commonsense and knowledge of selling other geeky merchandise at conventions and online.
Test the Waters:
Unlike other merchandise where you run the risk of someone stealing you idea, with prints you can simply ask your supporters if they are interested in the product. Put some feelers out there on social media and see how people respond. You can even ask about which photos people would like in print format.
Keep investments low:
If you are ordering prints for an event be conservative with your amounts. Take into consideration the size of the event (larger attendance might mean more stock), the type of event (for example: anime prints may not sell well at a comiccon), and how long will you be at your table (sales drop significantly if the cosplayer is not as at the table to sign them). The goal is to order just the right amount of prints that you have little to no leftovers. It's better to sellout of a small amount of prints than to have many left over.
When in doubt - Use the pre-order method:
Many cosplayers offer their prints for pre-order online instead of ready-to-ship. The three main benefits of this system are:
1) Bulk discounts - the cost of printing drops the more you order. Although the discount is minimal (often 10-25cents per print) but the savings add up over time.
2) Bulk processing - You can work more efficiently processing a big group of orders all at once instead of one at a time. It means you can lump tasks together and speed up the process. You can do all your signatures at once, package them all at once, and take fewer trips to the post office.
3) No excess - This method prevent you for having any leftover prints. No merchandise is unsold.
Consult your photographers:
You must have some agreement with your photographers regarding prints. Have it in writing somewhere. An email will do but a contract is better. You run a risk if the agreement is verbal and things go sour.
Be sure that you are both on the same page regarding the handling of profits (do they want a cut, how much, and to be paid when?)
Some photographers have policies on the quality of prints, cropping, the number of prints sold etc. Everyone is different so it is better to not make assumptions and just ask.
A simple question like the following will likely give you all the answers you need: "I'm thinking of doing prints of these photos, what are your terms and conditions?"
For more on this topic check out these blogs:
BGZ Photography's Blog about photo rights (US based advice)
Calamity's blog about Copy do's and don'ts (Canadian based advise)
Track you orders:
Prints are an investment of your time and money. Like other investments you should keep track of the costs and return. As you may know from my previous blogs I like spreadsheets, so I track my orders through Excel. Why track orders? To know which prints are worth selling and which ones to ditch. Also to know if selling prints is worth your time.
What to Track:
Basically, at the end of the year you should know how much money you put in and how much money came out of selling prints. If you are really a stickler for detail, keep track of the hours spent processing prints which can help you determine whether it is worth your time.
Survey what other cosplayers are charging for the prints of a similar size before deciding on yours. For example a typical 8x12 print goes from $10-15.
You must also consider your costs. Are you using high quality photo paper, are you selling your prints at a very expensive artist alley table, or maybe you got a sweet discount at a family print shop?
Don't forget to consider handling time. All the time you spend at the print store, the post office, and packaging merchandise could have been spent on other work. Don't short change yourself, be sure to factor handling into your final price.
It was quite a fatltering experience for me to sell prints for the first time. I consider myself very lucky that people are willing to pay money for photos of my work. I still find it strange that people want me to sign my prints. Anyways, what I mean to say is thank you for the support. One of the reasons I was hesitant of prints was because I expected some negative backlash but after trying it out I feel encouraged to continue.
This post was long. Congratulations you made it to the end!
All photos in this blog link to my store if you want to buy a print.
Q1: What's your opinion about cosplay prints?
Q2: Do you buy cosplay prints and why?
MeltingMirror's Cosplay Blog
Learn more about my experiences in the cosplay world, from conventions to photoshoots and everything in between.