Photographer Makes One-Third Of His Living Expenses Off Only 94 Fans

from the cwf+rtb-works-here-too dept

Jim Hein writes a very well known Fine Art photographer is using the CwF+RtB model. He breaks things down into actual dollars and cents. He has figured out how many “True Fans” he needs to make a living.”

Photographer Ctein’s “Contributor Program” gives his fans the opportunity to collect his prints and allow him to focus on creating. He shared the latest results:

Make no mistake, I didn’t get anywhere close to 1000 True Fans (didn’t expect to), I got 94. But those Contributors provided me with approximately $15,500 gross revenues, $12,500 net. That’s about one third of what I need to live on, not a life-altering level of support but certainly a life-enhancing one that provides me with considerably more time to work on my art — the point of this.

Even though the tiers start at only $9.50 a month, his average sale was around $165 — demonstrating that he has given his customers a real reason to buy. Additionally, Ctein recognizes that his subscribers are his most passionate fans, so he takes this as an opportunity to further solidify his connection to them:

Last winter I offered them about a dozen extra dye transfer prints from the first TOP print sale at an extraordinarily low price, and super-cheap copies of my photo restoration book before the new edition came out. They also got advance notice of this year’s print sale.

Offering exclusives is one of the ten scarcities that we’ve discussed before, so it’s great to see it in practice. The other lesson that Ctein learned from his experiment is that, yes, it does take work. He now has to devote about 3 days a month dealing with the administration of his subscriber program. That said, spending 3 days a month on something that provides 1/3 of your living expenses seems like a worthwhile investment. And this is only in the first few months of launching his program — if he’s able to improve the performance, he could do much better. So yes, it’s exciting to see photographers embracing the CwF+RtB concepts and making them work.

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Comments on “Photographer Makes One-Third Of His Living Expenses Off Only 94 Fans”

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Re: how does this compare to other photographers?

These aren’t numbers in space. He’s making fifteen grand a year from supporter’s donations. Want some? Do the same. What do you expect to learn form any story but what’s in the story? If he lived in Costa Rica, he’d be rich. If he lived in New York City, he’s either have a rent controlled apartment, or he’d need a partner, or another job. But that’s not the story. The story is that he’s making fifteen grand a year from supporter’s donations. What do other photographers make? Who cares? This could be anybody creating intellectual property — the thrust of this web blog site. It’s not about photographers, it’s about creativity and subsequent marketing in society. Cool or what?


I was one of those subscribers. I have renewed my subscription and upped it a level. He is a great photographer, and this is a great idea.
Before Christmas, he sent us a pack of christmas cards made from his images. I was suprised, and enjoyed sending them to friends.
I am glad he has had some success with the program. Also, I learned about it from this site!


A Living?

The one third of his living expenses at $15k puts his gross income at $45k. Based on a rough conversion to UK pounds, this would mean that he would have OK earnings as an individual but as a the sole bread winner of a family of four would actually class them close to or below the poverty line.

So this guy is doing great with respect to earning a bit of money on the side but he will probably still want to do the weekend wedding shoots and studio portraits to earn a living.

It’s tough being an artist and living of the patronage of others. This appears to be more in the way of a start to someone’s photography career that will later include gallery exhibitions and substantial print sales. I’m not sure that it’s a departure from the normal way of things


Re: A Living?

It IS a departure if, as he says, he adds more fans. That’s the point. By growing a base of fans/patrons, income becomes more reliable and less dependent on the other sources, even if they are eventually a part of the picture. The other point is that the artist now has a direct relationship with his buyers rather than being dependent on sales made through intermediaries. Galleries, publishers, and the like take a huge percentage. Only a few artists can support that level of spend. With the subscription fan base, and a one-to-one marketing approach, many more artists can (finally) make a living.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A Living?

Nowhere does he say that that’s the only way he makes money. He may do freelance work, or weddings, or ad work, or work in a studio or even a camera store. Or whatever. What the article says, for those who would actually read it, is that by connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy, he is very easily able to make money with his fine art photography. The thing is, he makes enough from it that he doesn’t have to work full time at something else and strictly do his art is a side interest.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A Living?

you miss the point. is there an indication of more money spent on art, or is it just moving money from one place to another? he makes more money, so other artists make less money. unless art spending is going way up, something has to give to balance. again the masnick view of the world is that the whole cwf thing makes money out of nothing. but it has to come from somewhere.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A Living?

You’re making stuff up. TechDirt never said that. In an economy, there will be sucesses and failures. This story points out a sucess. You have used your brain and figured out there are also photographers not making enough money (failures). Well done. However, that does not refute anything mentioned in the post, because the post DOES NOT indicate or imply that spending on art is on the rise.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A Living?

The actual problem is that your argument makes another assumption in the first place. You assume that by utilizing an alternate method, this artist could make more money? If that assumption is not the case, then your argument is meaningless because it won’t matter either way.

If the amount of money spent on art is decreasing, then the only logical thing to do to get more of that pot is to increase your efficiency so that you get more of it. There is absolutely NO reason to be less efficient if the problem is a market reduction. The only time when less efficiency is market sustainable is when the market is rapidly expanding.

This is where your reasoning falls. Now, as to whether the poster’s conclusion that more artists can make a living is accurate. That, I couldn’t tell you, but…the potential is there. Certainly, by being more efficient, he has created more breathing room for himself.


He should try the experiment without the paywall. With the monthly subscription fee, I have no interest in further exploring his art. Seems like he could get a lot more than 94 fans without the paywall. There could still be a “fan club” that gets cheap deals, advanced notice, etc. I would imagine there would be many many more fans that would support him in that experiment.

However, I guess there’s also the problem of production. I imagine an artist couldn’t sustain the output to provide the material to a large audience, so perhaps the paywall makes sense in this case. However, if he as a warehouse of unsold copies of his art book waiting to be sold, it would be a good indication that he could support more fans.

Re: Paywall

Ctein has a Focal Press book out there ( ), offers workshops ( ), and writes for photography magazines ( )and has an avid following that way. If anyone feels excited by his offerings, and they want more than they can read at their bookstore or newsstand free, they can donate. Simple, no? Could Ctein make more money? Yeah, sure, anybody could. Doing what? Doing what he wanted to do, or something else? Ctein’s doing what he wants to do, and is making fifteen grand a year from supportive donations, on top of other sources of income. Cool or what? I’m making zilch from my creative pleasures, so I better change my ways if I want to do what I want, and get paid for it! Thanks for the poke in the eye about Ctein.

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