Practical Advice for Making and Selling Custom Products

DESIGNERS. If you’re curious about how to convert your designs into custom-manufactured products, check out some of the how-to guides and tutorials featured on the Ponoko Blog. Or subscribe to the company’s newsletter.  

Ponoko operates the Personal Factory for making, buying, and selling custom goods online. According to the company, more than 75,000 user-generated goods have been instantly priced online, made and delivered from Ponoko’s network of digital factories in San Francisco, Berlin, Milan, London, and Wellington, New Zealand.

The Ponoko blog is filled with articles and guides that explain the manufacturing technologies, different types of materials and design software available, and how to make a profit selling the goods that you have designed.

For example, a recent issue of the Ponoko newsletter highlighted a lengthy blog post that described in detail the Ten Simple Steps to Make and Sell Your Custom Product. Here’s a quick rundown of the ten steps covered in the post:

  1. Create a clear design brief for your product.
  2. Get the idea out of your head and sketch it out on paper.
  3. Choose your materials and components. 
  4. Choose how your product will be made.
  5.  Finalize your design for the chosen material and method.
  6.  Make a physical prototype of your design.
  7.  Assess the outcome of your prototype and adjust your design.
  8. Set a wholesale and retail price for your product.
  9.  Make your product available for purchase.
  10.  Promote your product to your target market.

Here’s an example of the type of practical business advice Ponoko provides: “When selling your product online, make sure you take high-quality photos and write useful and imaginative descriptions of your product. Describe what it is made of, what the dimensions are and what it feels like. Don’t be afraid to share a bit about yourself too, so that customers can identify with you as a real person.”

“We really cannot emphasize enough the importance of crisp, well lit, high quality photos. It’s these images which will catch the eye of your potential online customers, who will assume that the quality of your photos reflect the quality of your product.”

The blog on the Ponoko website features case studies showing the wide range of products that designers have created and how they have benefitted.

Ponoko Boxes by Yyvonne Hung
San Francisco urban planner Yvonne Hung founded The Harbinger Co after joining Ponoko. Yvonne realized that her interest in traditional arts such as drawing and painting extended to creating objects. Laser cutting enabled her to branch out into intricately decorated wooden boxes and jewelry. Photos courtesy of Ponoko.

LINKS

www.ponoko.com

Ten Simple Steps to Make and Sell Your Custom Product

Book-Marketing Support Services Aim to Ease the Pain of Promoting Your Work

Screenshot of Book MarketingWhether you choose to self publish a book or are lucky enough to land a book deal with a publisher, one of the harsh realities is that you will have to do a lot of the marketing of the book yourself.  This sometimes comes as a big surprise to an author who has focused mostly on mastering the art of fiction writing or developing the expertise needed to write a credible non-fiction book.

Making matters worse is the fact that the field of marketing itself is in a state of rapid transformation. Even experienced PR and marketing professionals are struggling to keep up with some of the opportunities and challenges associated with new media platforms and social networking.

Because there is no magic, one-size-fits-all formula for marketing a book anymore, how does an author even know where to begin? It’s certainly not a dumb question, and one that a new crop of book-marketing services would be happy to try to help you resolve.

For example, today I ran across an online press release for Book Marketing: The Authors Marketing Powerhouse website. The site provides authors with a centralized hub for book marketing activity, education, and networking. It is intended to be a one-stop resource to help authors find success in today’s confusing and ultra-competitive Internet marketing environment.

Each author can create a personalized page, upload photos, bios, book covers, video and book trailers, and integrate their promotion activities with Facebook and Twitter. The site also offers discussion forums on book-marketing and website optimization strategies and segmented special-interest groups for authors of different genres of books.

The site is a joint collaboration of Don McCauley of the Free Publicity Focus Group and Danielle Hampson of eBroadcastMedia.com. The Free Publicity Group is a marketing and publicity firm that helps authors develop strategic marketing plans that integrate many of today’s free publicity and social-networking tools. EBroadcastMedia.com produces professionally recorded and edited interviews in a “Show” format that can help the author appear more credible.

“The site can be treated as a place to create awareness of one’s work while, at the same time, allowing authors to network with like-minded individuals,” explains McCauley. “The segmented groups allow for the exchange of book marketing ideas, while the discussion forums can serve as an educational resource for those who may need to increase their own knowledge with regards to creating marketing and publicity plans that produce real results.”

I’m not surprised to discover websites such as The Author’s Marketing Powerhouse. Whenever technological change (in this case, on-demand book publishing) causes pain and confusion in the marketplace, a slew of start-up companies and organizations emerge to help address the new problems.  Some solutions turn out to be wonderful; others are not-so-great.

So when I call attention to a new service for creative professionals on this blog, my purpose is not necessarily to endorse it. I just think it’s important for creative professionals who want to find new markets for their work to always stay aware of what new services and resources exist to help them.

I know from experience that some of these start-up services will inevitably crash and burn, while others will adapt to the needs of their customers, evolve, and grow.

If you’ve had any experiences with some of these new book-marketing services, I’d love to hear from you!

LINK

Book Marketing: The Authors Marketing Powerhouse 

Report Says Technology is Changing the Way We Read

Sideways LogoSideways, a software company that transforms books, magazines and other publications into immersive experiences on mobile devices, has released a white paper entitled “Turning the Page: How Digital Technology is Changing the Way We Read.”  

“E-readers and tablets have changed reading habits more than any technology since the printing press,” said Eliza Wing, co-founder and COO of Sideways. “They are changing content and reading permanently, and for the better. While the space is moving too fast for anyone to predict its final form, we have every reason to believe that these devices will become the preferred medium for readers. That said, only the publishers and authors willing to evolve by experimenting with video and audio, animation, web links and other interactivity will survive and thrive.”

The white paper clarifies the difference between “book apps” and e-books: “Book apps offer a richer experience than e-books, which are limited to text, images and video. Book apps, by contrast, can incorporate audio, animation, video, interactive maps, slideshows, databases, linking, and other features in highly flexible layouts that literally redefine the idea of what a book can be.” As a result of some of these new possibilities, Sideways believes that:

  • Younger generations of readers will grow up with a new idea of books and magazines and will not accept reading as a passive experience.
  • Tablet and e-reader users are not only receptive to enhanced content, but will be expecting it in digital books and magazines.
  • Book apps will provide authors and publishers with control and flexibility. For example, they can set the price for books, have sales, and adjust prices to market conditions.
  • E-reading will increase as the number and variety of e-readers grows and prices for devices and content fall.
  • Digital reading could lead to an overall increase in reading as it becomes more widely available, easier and less expensive.

Some of these projections are based on the findings of recent surveys that how people are already using their iPads.

  • The vast majority of iPad users read books on the device.
  • iPad usage is shifting users away from reading content in their workspace to at home and at their leisure.
  • iPad users now prefer reading periodicals and books on the device as opposed to print, computer, mobile phone, or e-reader.
  • Readers of some of the most well respected, high-circulation monthly magazines spend more time with the digital versions of these publications than with the print copies.

Eventually, the report concludes, “ink on paper alone will be seen as lacking.” A younger generation of readers will not accept reading as a passive experience. Not only will they expect writers to write for this new digital medium, but they may also expect to be able to comment on and share the material.

Founded in 2010, Sideways is a Cleveland, Ohio-based company that makes apps for the Apple iOS and Android platforms. The company’s M3 digital publishing platform allows clients to use common file types to efficiently and elegantly produce multi-media, multi-touch and multi-user apps.  

The Sideways team of developers, designers, artists, and editors can help develop intuitive and immersive experiences that will enrich the user experience. Sideways can also consult on marketing, pricing strategies and other challenges that must be met to release a successful app.

LINKS

Sideways

White Paper
Turning the Page: How Digital Technology is Changing the Way We Read

Mystified By the Art Market? Read Seven Days In the Art World

Book Cover Seven Days in the Art WorldTo understand how the markets for creative work are changing, it’s important to understand what the markets were like a few years ago, before technology really starting speeding things up and the economy sent things spiraling down again.

So I read Sarah Thornton’s book “Seven Days in the Art World” to learn what was happening in 2008, when the contemporary art market was booming and prices at auction were going through the roof. Thornton’s book is interesting for several reasons. Although she has a BA in Art History, Thornton also has a PhD in cultural sociology. She observes the “art world” more from the detached, objective perspective of a culture researcher.

The book was compiled from hundreds of hours of “participant observation” and 250 in-depth interviews with high-profile artists, dealers, curators, critics, collectors, and auction-house experts. The seven days refer to insights she gained from observing interactions and activities at seven different sites:

  • a Christie’s art auction in Manhattan
  • a peer-critique by art students at the California Institute of the Arts
  • the Basel Art Fair in Switzerland
  • the Tate Britain Museum during the selection of the Turner Prize winner
  • the offices of Artforum magazine in New York;
  • the studios of artist Takashi Murakami in Tokyo; and
  • the pavilions of some of the nations represented at the Venice Biennale.

Each of the seven chapters reads like a Vanity Fair magazine feature story because she reports conversations and observations as they happen. Her approach lets you see how selling and buying art differs from selling other high-value products. (Sometimes, it doesn’t.)  Thornton admits that “The art world is so diverse, opaque, and downright secretive, it is difficult to generalize about it and impossible to be truly comprehensive.”

In the book’s introduction, Thornton says when she studied art history, she was exposed to recently made art but “I never had a clear idea of how it circulated, how it came to be considered worthy of critical attention or gained exposure, how it was marketed, sold, or collected.” As the work of living artists have become more in demand, she believes it is worth understanding the valuation processes art undergoes between the studio and its arrival in the permanent collection of a museum (or the trash and anywhere in between).

She differentiates between the “art market” (the dealers, auction houses, and collectors who buy and sell art) and the much broader “art world” which also includes the artists themselves, critics, and curators.

To me, Chapter 1 was the most fascinating because she observes an auction at Christie’s at which some pieces sold for millions of dollars. Here’s a quick overview of observations gleaned from the book about the roles of key players in the art market.

Collectors
People collect art for different reasons. Some truly understand how art can enrich their lives. Others may simply want to diversify their investment portfolios or buy entry in a glamorous lifestyle. Collectors who buy art as investment or because “it’s cool” tend to have changing tastes and aren’t as concerned with the lasting appeal of the art. So they rotate their collections like people buy and sell stock. Collectors who buy for the love of the art tend to form emotional attachments, and only sell due to misfortunes such as death, divorce, or debt. Some collectors hire consultants to advise them.

Auction Houses
Auctions aim to bring the highest prices possible, and provide the illusion of liquidity. Although auction houses want buyers to be confident that they will be able to resell the high-value art they purchase today, that may not always be true. During the boom years, art auctions became something of a high-society spectator sport in which super-successful alpha males mostly competed with other alpha males.

Artists are discouraged from attending auctions because many buying considerations have little to do with the artistic merit.  Feel-good paintings with blues or reds tend to sell better than glum paintings with browns or grays. Paintings by male artists tend to attract higher prices because the male collectors tend to better relate to some of the themes. Any works larger than the size of a Park Avenue elevator eliminates a portion of the market.

Primary Dealers
Their role is to represent artists and mount exhibitions of work fresh out of the studio. A primary dealer can try to increase the value of an artist’s work by offering it first to collectors with sterling reputations. The hands through which an artwork passes can help it accrue value.

Secondary Dealers
These dealers don’t work a lot with the artists, but they do work with the auction houses. They have sufficient capital to buy market-tested art without any immediate pressure to resell it. They take control of the object and can hold on to it as long as necessary. So if a certain style of art goes out of favor, they can wait to sell it when that type of art is back in style.

Artists
Artists are discouraged from learning about business and art marketing, because this knowledge can affect the purity of the art-making process. However, the artists who sell well at auction tend to be artist-entrepreneurs. As one commentator in  Thornton’s book suggested, perhaps the successful businessmen who buy at auctions admire the boldness and risk-taking of artist-entrepreneurs. The collectors see themselves reflected in the artist-entrepreneurs.

For example, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst both maintained media profiles that helped increase the audiences for their work. They used production strategies to ensure that a sufficient supply of their art would be available to meet the demands.

When Damien Hirst became the first artist to openly consign work to an auction house, he not only earned international press coverage, but also the admiration of the auction-house personnel who liked his strong work ethic and keen business sense. In general selling work at auction can be risky for an artist’s career, because the prices can fluctuate dramatically from year to year as tastes (and economic conditions) change.

Collectors like meeting the artists whose work they own. But auction houses regard artists as being hard to work with. During the boom, there was a shortage of older works and a spike In demand for fresh, young art.  Although auction houses tried not to interfere with the work of dealers, the amount of time between when a work left a studio and hit the resale market became shorter.  

What’s Next?
Reading “Seven Days in the Art World” provides a big-picture overview of the art world as it existed in 2008. It can provide a baseline for observing what has happened since the economy tanked, and speculating what might happen next as the base of art collectors continues to expand, both globally and within younger generations.

For example, some training programs have been developed to encourage artists to become more entrepreneurial so they make a living and pay off the student loans from attending art school.  And online galleries, art fairs, and social networking are starting to affect the way art is discovered and collectors interact with dealers and artists.

These are some of the questions we’ll continue to examine on this blog. If you have expertise, ideas, or insights that could help artists benefit from some of these ongoing changes in the art market, we would love to hear from you!

 

 

Website Helps Artists Show Work to Galleries, Designers, and Architects

Sample art sold on Art SpecifierARTISTS. New business models for marketing art and photography are continuing to emerge.

For example, ArtSpecifier.com is a new member-only Internet database that allows artists to market their work directly to designers, architects, and gallery owners worldwide. The site was developed by Joyce Creiger, who has worked in the art consulting and gallery business for over 38 years. She created the site after many designers and architects had expressed a need for one-stop shopping for high-quality art.

The site does not sell art. Instead, Creiger explains, “This site is the place to find art, contact artists directly for smaller jobs, or point art consultants to pieces appropriate for larger projects.” The site is not open to the public. It is open only to professionals such as: interior designers at hotels, hospitals, corporate offices, and private residences; art consultants; facility managers; gallery owners; and museum curators.

In addition to prints, giclées, and photographs, the site showcases paintings, wall sculptures, and art made with glass, metal, fiber, and lighting.

Creiger launched the site last October with more than 2,000 images and 300 artists, designers, architects, and art consultants as registered members. She acknowledges that the success of this site depends on the quality and quantity of artists exhibited on www.artspecifier.com

When the site was launched, she says, “A unique invitation was sent to specific artists familiar to us at the time.  This site is not limited to these artists but we encourage other artists who feel their work is appropriate to submit for membership.  There is no guarantee all will be accepted but we encourage artists to send us their information for consideration.”

Artists who are accepted as members pay an annual fee of $100 to upload unlimited images, and provide background information, a CV, and display recommendations. Designers have free access to the site and can search by color, style, medium, price, size and just about any keyword.

 For more information, visit: www.artspecifier.com

Why Is There So Much Hype About 3D Imaging?

Coverof6SightReportPHOTOGRAPHERS. If you want to better understand why there’s so much hype about 3D imaging, download the November/December, 2010 issue of The 6Sight Report. Most of the content of the 30-page issue is devoted to 3D imaging technology, and explains why it’s definitely not a passing fad. Reading the 6Sight Report will give you some valuable context as you start to see more and more product announcements related to 3D imaging.

Although sales of 3D TVs haven’t taken off as quickly as anticipated, one analyst quoted in the 6Sight Report predicts that, “It’s going to be a gradual development, and in 10 years almost everything will be in 3D. It won’t be a big special effect; it’s going to be how we’re used to seeing everything on television.”

6Sight analysts agree that eventually most photography and video will be in three dimensions, not two. Although we have become comfortable with flat images in print and onscreen, we view the world in 3D through two eyes, instead of one lens. As one expert put it, “All flat photography is just a poor attempt to emulate natural perception.”

Slowly but surely, image capture and display devices are being developed that will make viewing 3D images more natural and enjoyable to view. And 3D imaging on big TV screens will provide an immersive environment that everyone on the family can enjoy together.

Vincent John Vincent, who cofounded the GestureTek company that makes 3D camera-based motion control systems for electronic devices, notes that, “It’s not as if we’re going to get 3D to a certain level and then back off. It will eventually be commonplace to have 3D consumer devices for both photography and video…It’s worth learning about it now and adding one’s own artistic understanding to it.”

Opportunities for Professional Photographers

In the 6Sight Report, Paul Worthington interviews Panasonic senior marketing manager Darin People about the company’s growing line of 3D cameras, camcorders, and displays, including the prospects of using special 3D lens systems on cameras and camcorders.

Darin People notes that some professional wedding and commercial photographers are already starting to see the advantages of being able to not only take still pictures but also 3D pictures for their clients.

For now, wedding photographers can differentiate themselves by being able to shoot 3D video for clients that already own a 3D TV set.  But wedding photographers also need to think long term. In order to shoot images and videos that a couple can fully enjoy for decades to come, wedding photographers should start investigating 3D cameras now.

As 3D photography starts to become ‘point-and-shoot’ simple, more photographers will think of new and interesting ways to use the camera. Darin People says Panasonic will take a close look at what consumers are saying and what highly creative individuals are doing with 3D technology and try to figure out: “What are the new things that people want to do with 3D that maybe we haven’t even thought of yet?”

Content Creation

Although sales of 3D TVs haven’t exactly set sales records, experts agree that one of the main impediments has been the lack of compelling content. But over the next few years, the technology and available content will improve and prices will come down.

A number of companies have already waiting to fill the content void. For example, the website SignOn San Diego recently profiled Legend3D, a company that specializes in converting film scenes from 2D to 3D. The company anticipates that it’s only a matter of time before entire libraries of Hollywood films will be converted from 2D to 3D. Legend3D founder Barry Sandrew is quoted as saying, “The technology semi-automates the process, but there has to be a creative person there watching over it and doing it.” Over the coming year, he expects to hire another 150 workers in San Diego and 300 more in India.

 See 3D Prints at Upcoming Wedding Photography Show

The professional wedding and portait photographers who are planning to attend the WPPI Show Feb. 21-23 in Las Vegas will be able to see 3D prints in the 3DPhotoUS booth. The company will be showcasing some of the personalized 3D wedding and portrait prints that they can now offer to their customers. The prints can be made from uploaded JPEG files; a 3D camera isn’t necessary.

According to the company’s website, you won’t need any glasses to see the 3D effects in the wall prints. Nor will the prints be covered by a grooved, lenticular lens that adds an uneven surface to the print. Instead, the prints have a mirror-like surface that uses backlighting to enhance the 3D effects. The company, which has a showroom in the Los Angeles area, will be using a newly developed process to make the prints in their factories in China and Taiwan.

Don’t Bet Against 3D

Personally, I have seen this cycle play out before. When the first generations of digital cameras were introduced in 1990s, many skeptical experts scoffed that those early-model cameras could never possibly be good enough to replace pro-model film cameras. Yet, look how far digital photography has come since then. And, many journalists who attended Adobe press conference announcing the PDF format were very skeptical that Adobe’s innovation would ever become as widely adopted as Adobe envisioned.  

Last fall, I attended a Canon Expo in New York, in which the company’s engineers and scientists demonstrated some of the mixed-reality and immersive 3D imaging technologies that are being developed.  As I wandered through these mind-blowing “Future of Imaging” exhibits, three thoughts kept crossing my mind:

  • The engineers and scientists who develop the technology are just as proud and passionate about their work as photographers, designers, artists, and writers.
  • Even if new imaging technologies don’t get adopted as quickly as analysts and manufacturers might predict, the researchers will find ways to overcome the obstacles to widespread adoption.  
  • I can’t wait to see what will happen when photographers, designers, visual artists, and content creators start dreaming up creative new ways to fully use these 3D-imaging technologies.

LINK

6Sight Report: November/December, 2010 issue

Self-Publisher Explains How to Get Your Book Out Quickly

WRITERS. Suppose you have a great idea for a nonfiction book. Which approach is a better use of your time: Should you develop a detailed book proposal, pitch it to an agent or publisher, and wait two years for the book to hit the shelves? Or should you self-publish the book first and start selling it while most of the information is still current?

Self-Publishing Manual Vol. 2If self-publishing sounds like too much work or you’re not sure where to begin, I recommend reading both volumes of Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual.  Then you’ll understand why the stigma once associated with self-publishing has vanished. You’ll also see why the brave, new world of ‘trans-media’ is rapidly changing the very definition of a ‘book.’

If you’re a writer, self-publishing is a great way to control every phase of your book’s production. Plus, the more you know about self-publishing, the better prepared you will be to help others who may hire you to ghost-write or edit their books.

Poynter believes emerging technologies are rapidly making it possible for authors to get closer to their readers while also selling books for less. You can still profit from your investment in self-publishing, says Poynter, because you will be eliminating the amount of income paid to agents, publishers, wholesalers, bookstores, distributors, and other gatekeepers in the middle.

Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual (463 pages) covers the basics of writing, printing, and selling your own book and lets you see how the steps involved in self-publishing differ from those associated with traditional publishing. In addition to tips on book design and formatting, Poynter provides practical advice on selecting a book printer, deciding how many books to print, and estimating sales. He devotes entire chapters to marketing and distribution channels and shipping and fulfillment considerations.

Self-Publishing Manual Vol 1Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, Volume 2 (144 pages) explains how to take advantage of some of the technological changes that are rapidly transforming the book-publishing business. For example, Poynter suggests building your print version (pbook) first, then converting that content into other forms your audience might like, including: e-books, audio books (a-books), and large-print books (lpbooks).

As Poynter  explains, “We call them ‘books,’ but that term is generic; ‘books’ can take many forms. Do not think of your product as a print product—think of it as entertainment or information. Then focus on providing the formats (or editions) the buyer wants and needs.”

To streamline the self-publishing process, he advises writing the back-cover promotional copy first so you can clarify in your mind why readers might be interested in the type of content you’re developing. (In other words, instead of figuring out how to pitch your idea to an agent or publisher, first spend some time deciding how you will pitch your book directly to the potential buyer.) 

He also explains how to typeset the book in formatted pages as you write it, instead of writing it in the traditional manuscript form required by conventional publishers. You will still need to have the book peer-reviewed, copy-edited, and proofread. But if the book is already formatted in pages, you can save some valuable time.

In Volume 2, Poynter talks about how to use social media and social networking to gather information for your writing and alerting people who may be interested in buying your book.  He also talks about new technology that let you publish it for less, new ways to distribute your book more economically, and how to have fun promoting it. 

Photo of Dan Poynter with booksDan Poynter says it took him eight years to produce his first book (on parachuting). Since then he has written more than 125 books, primarily by developing a highly organized system for researching, research, writing, and editing.  In some cases, the pages for his books have been written, laid out, and delivered to the printer within 30 days.

Having been in the business since 1969, he knows the ins and outs of the business from all angles. He has published books for other authors and sold some of his own books to publishing companies.   

You Don’t Have to Do It All Yourself!
If you don’t have the time or confidence to handle all of the steps involved in self-publishing yourself, there are plenty of sources who can help you. For example, the self-publishing manual lists specialized service providers such as bar code suppliers, book clubs, book fair exhibiting services, book designers and cover artists. Poynter also lists “book shepherds,” a new group of consultants who will take your book project through all of the necessary steps.

One of the most useful features of the book is a Calendar, with a checklist of some of the administrative and promotion-related items you should be tackling during different stages of writing and producing the book.

Self-publishing can indeed be a lot of work, and recouping your investment of time and money will require a commitment to promoting it. But unless you have already established a strong business relationship with an existing publishing company, self-publishing and selling your first book may soon be regarded as an essential first step.  

The Future of Books
Poynter believes the publishing business is changing so rapidly that in the near future, the publication cycle will be reversed and books will first be posted online, then committed to ink and paper if there is sufficient interest.

In Volume 2, he writes, “We will always have printed books, but they will be fiction, coffeetable books (works of art), and nonfiction that is so popular that it has earned a print run.”

Both books are available from bookstores. Or you can buy them directly from Dan’s website, Para Publishing. The website features dozens of other tips and resources for writers and anyone who wants to publish their own books.

LINKS

Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book

Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, Vol. 2

Para Publishing