Thursday, March 4, 2010

Funny Animal Pictures and Lessons Learned

Funny Animal Pictures: A Cat and a Canary Feather

My Animal Antics series of funny animal pictures began with my image of a cat with one yellow canary feather protruding from his smiling face (click here to see a sampling of the Animal Antics series of images). I originally created the image as a stock photo, but before I submitted it I was invited to exhibit at the Sausalito Art Festival (way back when it was unusual to be using Photoshop). Someone had advised me to bring some un-matted 8x10 prints in addition to the larger matted and framed fine art prints. The first day of the festival I sold all 8 of the Cat & Canary prints. I went home that night and printed up a dozen more…and the next day I sold all of them.

Greeting Cards and Anthropomorphic Pets
I realized at that point that I had an image that really clicked with the public. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that perhaps the image should be a greeting card. I made an appointment with one of the art directors, Collette Kulak, at Portal Publications. I showed her a few of my anthropomorphic animal images, including, or course, the cat and the canary. I then suggested that perhaps, with Portal’s help, I could be the animal equivalent of Anne Geddes, who was enormously popular with her images of babies in flowers, pea pods and so forth. Kind of a bold statement in retrospect!

Exclusivity and Higher Royalty Rates
Collette, to my everlasting amazement, agreed with me! We started off with four images and added a few more each quarter. After about two years I was beginning to wonder if all the work I was putting into those images was worth it. Then suddenly one quarter I got a royalty check of about $6,000.00. After that things just took off. The cards became so popular that Portal offered me a higher royalty to be exclusive with them, and soon I was Portal’s best selling card artist. I held that position until Portal was purchased by a venture capital company and slowly carved up until nothing was left.

Funny Cats, Camaraderie, and Gratifying Work
I am now in the process of reviving the line with new distributors. The cards are doing well and I am excited to see a comeback taking shape. I thoroughly enjoy working with the pets and the process of creating funny cat photos and humorous dog images. I also enjoy the camaraderie of working with a team, something that rarely happens in my stock photography. One other aspect of this undertaking that is gratifying: I receive a ton of e-mail from people who just plain get a kick out of the cards.

Coffee Mugs, T-shirts and…Barbecue Aprons!
In addition, I am making these images available at CafePress for a variety of imprinted products including coffee mugs, mouse pads, T-shirts (for both people and pets), water bottles, and yes, barbecue aprons! If you check out the site you can see all the various items. This is all part of my process of diversification, of seeking out ways to reach as wide an audience as possible for existing images, images that I think of as income-producing assets.

Gift Books, Christmas Ornaments, and Lessons Learned
To date the Animal Antics pictures have been used (exclusive of CafePress) for figurines, picture frames, Christmas Ornaments, Gift books (printed in seven languages), checks, Purses and Tote Bags, Vet reminder cards, calendars, and, well, I can’t even remember all the products! The gift books had a good run (Andrews McMeel published three of them), the greeting cards still sell like gangbusters, and everything else kind of fizzled after varying degrees of modest success. In all of these efforts I have learned a few things.

Get An Advance
I have learned that you should always get an advance (so when, if for whatever reason you don’t get paid, at least you have something). An advance isn’t just money in your pocket, it is an indication of the faith, and effort, that a publisher/distributor has in the product. Not only that, but at least you have something if the client ends up running into their own financial problems…a lesson I learned all to well when I provided the images for a Calendar without requiring and advance. The calendars were printed and sold, the company changed hands, sold off its calendar division and disappeared. I pursued the matter briefly but realized it was going to probably require more legal fees and time than was worth the effort.

Take The Royalty
If you believe in your images and the product, and are offered a choice of royalties or a flat fee, take the royalties. If that original cat and canary image had been licensed through a stock agency as a greeting card I would have received several hundred dollars. With royalties I have earned over $6,000.00.

Be Stingy With Your Rights
I have learned that you should make sure that whoever is distributing the products has a good record for that kind of product. A company that is great at distributing greeting cards may be terrible at selling calendars. Do your research before giving up rights.

Explore Your Options
In the environment we photographers currently find ourselves in it is important to take the same kind of advice any good investment counselor would make: diversify. There are many ways to diversify and some of them might just end up being your main gig! Explore your options. Start looking around you at all the ways photography is used. In what ways are images like the ones you make being used? Diversify, make good business decisions, and your images can work for you for in a lot of ways and for a long, long time.


Christelle said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, This is a great post diverging from the current gloom and doom atmosphere of stock photography.

John Lund said...


Sorry about the Pickerell interview....