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Thursday, 24 September 2009


Personally I don't know if I would ever subscribe in any case, but Paypal is a definite showstopper. It probably works great for US residents but it's got a rather awful reputation in some other parts of the world.

The problem is of course that I don't know of any system that actually works fine everywhere. I've sold pictures to Europe from Japan with no problem using bank transfers, for instance, but the single time I sold to a customer in the US the payment experience was miserable - and expensive - enough to never tempt me again.

Does anybody have an idea of a system that's not bank transfer, not Paypal and not cheqcues or money orders (they mostly only work within any one country)?

Just as interesting a post for the insights into modern marketing.

One question - you appear to be running this on a continuous basis (i.e. anyone can sign up any time). Does the extra admin hassle out-weigh running it like a bond (where issue is at fixed times)?

I have a pricing question:

I only just noticed the tier-3 `membership', which costs $305 a year.

Am I correct in reading this as follows: At the end of the year, you get $305 `store credit', ($330 if you paid monthly), AND 40% off on a dye-transfer print.
So if, at the end of the year, I'd like to buy a framed dye-transfer print ($1275), I'd pay $460?

Bernard (who's still slapping himself in the face for not participating in the T.O.P. 2008 dye-transfer print offering)

I am not sure if this has been mentioned in connection with the '1000 true fans' project, but Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) is a company that provide infrastructure to such projects.

How can you resent someone who is so upfront about his mildly Machiavellian manipulations? :)

Good luck Ctein!

I see that ChristianB beat me to it mentioning kickstarter.com
Billing goes through Amazon, there is a 5% fee which is extraordinarily cheap, you can sell stuff that paypal won't let you sell, and best of all if you don't reach a goal where you are profitable, then you aren't stuck losing money on a small number of customers or having to refund their money.

That, and them providing all the infrastructure makes them a very intriguing way of selling things that have a low unit cost but high startup cost like books or prints, or "trufan" type projects of which there are many.

The upper levels support on this are pretty neat


they say
"Due to current Amazon Payments policy, projects can only be started by people or entities with a U.S. address and bank account."

A factor you didn't mention was the "Pig in a poke" one. Being unsure (with all due respect to Ctein) as to whether or not I would like the print I receive I only took a small subscription. If pleased when I receive the print the chances are I will plump for a larger sub the next time.
I am always eager to see other well regarded work in the flesh as I'm aware of the shortcomings of standard print media and the computer screen

Paul Mc Cann

Happy (decimal) 60th!

Happy 74th! As a guy who's pushing 100 (octal) I've been around the block a few times, and I know this is a good deal all around, however you play it in detail. I really want to lay eyes on my own Ctein. BUT I didn't join up because of PayPal, which is what we scientists in the UK call a royal pain in the a*s. Do you think you might research some payment method that's a bit more humane?

I think mine was only the $9+ a month. Apparently I didn't read closely enough and didn't even catch the upper amounts-(my fault completely). I just thought it was an interesting experiment and liked the idea of a print. I hope the paypal thing works well and I don't have problems, but it still interesting in any event. With your new found experience, maybe it will go easier next year. Love the updates and a very Happy Birthday!

I have to agree with ChristianB and Hugh about kickstarter.com. It's an interesting option, especially for project-based funding versus subscriptions. I just setup a project recently offering prints from a trip I'll be taking next year in exchange for travel donations. It's been rather successful. I think some people appreciate interacting with an established system versus my personal website when dealing with money, and tend to trust Amazon more than Paypal for payments.


The KS website is fun to use, too. you can message all your donors at once, or post donor only updates, as the system encourages you to interact with your supporters. It's surely worth a look.


Many of us are in a similar situation, so I look forward to your continuing posts on this subject. At first glance, the internet seems to be a wonderful marketing tool to find our "fan" base. But it's not a magic bullet. A low budget-grass roots approach to marketing oneself is a poor substitute for a conventional advertising and PR campaign, even factoring in the quaint notion that we can easily reach the entire world on the internet.

I myself have been trying to locate 1000 (well at current price point maybe about 5000) subscribers to help support my digital print research. My meager budget means that I must somewhat regrettably follow a "field of dreams" marketing approach (i.e., build it and they will come!). Not an internet-fueled runaway marketing success by any means. First and foremost, one must have great conviction that there is indeed a market for what one has to offer. Second, there's no substitute for great content. Third, one must have tremendous patience and persistence. That said, I hope you and I both find our 1000+ before we have pure white hair!

kind regards,


Oh and congratulations, in four years you'll be 30 in hex and 1,000,000 in binary, but right now you and Bruce Springsteen are both 50 in dodecadecimal.

I was one of the people who took advantage of the dye transfer offer (those colors are pretty amazing) and admitted interest in the donation idea; however, even though it was only a few days later, by the time it was established I wasn't in the position to make a donation having just spent too much money on a trip. I hope Ctein doesn't mind that I just grabbed this second chance to belatedly participate.

And I would like to thank Mr. Johnston for this wonderful website.

other than the pricing strategies, Cteins work is not all that "spectacular"
I always judge an image with the question "would I hang it on my wall" followed by, if yes "where"
What I have seen so far from Cteins images I wouldn't of even gotten past the first question.
Might know a lot about technicalities, but his images I like not...

Living in Venezuela I use PayPal for internet purchases, and have been pleased with it, though it was a bit of a hassle to get it set up. Unfortunately, many retailers will not ship to Venezuela, because my acct is linked to a U.S. bank. That has cost Mike some money, as I buy from HongKong instead of N.Y.
Probably it has saved me money, and I have no complaints with PayPal.

Thanks for the pronounciation guide. I've been calling him SEE-tine.

The phenomenon you describe (planting a high number in people's heads to get them to produce a number higher than they otherwise would) is a known judgment and decision making research concept called "anchoring and adjustment." If I remember correctly from my undergraduate cognitive psychology course the original experiments were of this format: A group of subjects are randomly selected into two groups who will be asked a similar question, "what do you think a janitor makes?" The difference was in the following sentence that went something to the effect of "do you think it is a million dollars a year?" for one group and "do you think it is 100 dollars a year?" for the other group. The two groups gave different estimates of what a janitor makes with the significantly higher estimates coming from the group that was anchored at a million. I may have the profession and exact numbers wrong, but that was gist of the study. So, you are correct, offer a high ball number and you can probably induce some people give a little more.

Dear JCdeR,

You know, that's something I'd been meaning to do a column about, which is that any artists who hope or expect the majority of the audience to like their work needs to have their heads examined!

In any mass-popular media that I can think of (photographs, books, movies, and music come to mind) I can not think of a single work or even an artist who is liked by the majority of the audience (remember that includes all sub-genres). Tastes are simply too diverse.

For that matter, just talking about photography, if you think about the number of photograph buyers in the world (millions), if I were selling even my least expensive photographs to 1% of them, I would be rich. Not "making a living," not "well-off," but RICH.

That's true of any photographer out there.

So, being of a practical bent on this subject and not a *total* egotist, I assume that at least 99% of the audience doesn't particularly care for my work. Certainly not enough to buy.

In other words, you're normal. [ grin ]

And it doesn't bother me one bit. If it were the kind of thing that bothered me, I'd be one of those artists who should go have his head examined.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear folks,

Regarding PayPal, the showstopper for me is that I can't do tracking/billing for anyone who wants to pay monthly (as opposed to annually). The administrative overhead is simply too high.

People who want to pay in a lump sum have the option of paying me with a personal check. That is stated on my webpage. Everyone else has to use automatic payment scheme. I only know of two ways to do that. One is via PayPal; the other is that some banks and credit unions will let you set up a plan where they automatically make payments to a creditor. If someone wants to set up something like that so that I get mailed a check every month automatically, that's fine with me. In fact, I have one patron who is doing just that.

Otherwise, this simply exists no option except PayPal at the moment. I wish there were.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Martin,

Actually, it's PREFERABLE to me that it be happening on an ongoing basis instead of having everyone sign up in the same month! One of the things I am not happy about so far is that I haven't done a good job of getting new subscribers after the first month's push, and I really need to work on that.

There are two reasons why I would prefer people be subscribing on a continuous basis rather than in a lump:

1) One of the purposes of this is to provide me with a more predictable and stable income. Having this be a "seasonal" business doesn't entirely achieve that. It means I'm good for the next year, but I have no idea if the whole thing will collapse come next April. Subscriber rot is an extremely serious problem (that I will be addressing in a future column).

2) I'd also rather have the work of fulfilling the "promises" be spread out over the year. Sure, I can do it either way. But let's imagine I were to hit 300 subscribers, which would be paying all my monthly bills. I could process all those fulfillment in one (busy) month. But I'd just as soon have 25 fulfillments to take care of each month and spend a couple of days each month doing that. Either way, the majority of my time gets to be spent on art and other projects, and I'm not eating up a big chunk of time for fulfillments.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 


Happy 111100; when you visited, I would have sworn you were no more than 110001.

I suspect that if you contacted SmugMug to talk about it, they could customize things (at the pro-level subscription) to solve your billing problems. You could also post a pretty high-quality gallery of your stuff on a site that might in itself attract more subscribers...My experience with such things (which is a bit different than yours, but parallel in a way) is that problems seem to grow exponentially based on the numbers of subscribers you have, and if you actually wound up with 1,000 subscribers, administration would either (a) drive you crazier or (b) become hopelessly fouled up because of necessary neglect or (c) require hired help, which would mean that you might need another 500 subscribers...which would require additional administration. The 1,000 fans concept could get wrecked on the administrative rock, which makes it critical to find a way out.


Dear B.J.Scharp,

You know that particular question hasn't come up before, and it's kind of thinking outside the box, but I can't see any reason not to allow it. If that's the way you want to play Tier 3, I can't see a reason to complain.

So, sure!

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear John,

I will take a look at what SmugMug has to offer. (Kickstart isn't really structured for what I'm trying to do, though it looks like it would be extremely valuable for many artists. But if I had a particular and specific project in mind, I would definitely talk to them.)

Looking for other venues to build the gallery is a good idea. I will add it to the list.

Having had the experience last fall of having to handle almost 500 orders in a short period of time, I now have a better sense of how things scale. Up until the high hundreds, I don't have a problem. It's not more work and effort than I, or I and Paula, can handle, so it scales linearly. I can administer it with no problems.

Somewhere between the high 100s and 1000, I think it becomes too much for the two of us to handle. At which point, as you note, the cost and hassle go up exponentially. So, no, I would not accept an unlimited number of patrons. And since the only way to sign up is through links on the website I control, it's pretty easy to avoid passing the critical threshold.

But, you know, I should be so "misfortunate" as to reach the point where I have to cut it off!

Back in the very early 1980s I got asked by Chevron to quote on a job for decorating a new research lab they were building. It would have involved traveling around the world photographing their various industrial facilities and producing large dye transfer prints decorate the walls of the new lab (they were familiar with my space photography and prints, so they knew I could handle the job artistically and technically).

My then-housemate and I sat down and figured out it would be about a year of photography and a year of printing. What we needed to find out from Chevron before we could figure out if it was feasible was just how much work they wanted. If it was up to around $250,000-$300,000, the two of us could handle it. Above that, I'd have to hire a real employee, and that meant it wasn't worth considering the job unless it amounted to $400,000-$500,000. Just too much expense and hassle in between.

Unfortunately for us, the architect decided to go in a different direction, but it did get me thinking about scaling problems early on in my career.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

If next week's article is "Tips for finding more wall space" you'll undoubtedly sell a couple more in this direction.

I do think it would be useful to have more of an idea what/how big the special selection will be for those of us for whom the question wasn't whether to do this but how many.

The delivery of the print at the beginning instead of the end might have an effect on another group of subscribers, too. Ctein made a point about the potential appeal of the gamble—subscribers not knowing what Ctein will produce over the next year—but there might be quite different people who see this as a way of saving up over a year for something they think they're going to enjoy. For them, risk is low because they generally like the artist's approach. (I'm deliberately setting aside the possibility of there not being anything to enjoy because that's part of supporting an artist rather than a biscuit factory.)

Martin's point about whether to allow subscribers at any time reminded of MacHeist, the legendary (or infamous) annual Mac software sale. It's another impulse purchase but its marketing is pretty special, being almost entirely about limits and deadlines. It manages to be ridiculously successful using this idea. Though not the equivalent by any means of a scheme to support an artist, the psychological mechanism associated with the use of an approaching deadline might be interesting to look at. The scheme also allows PR and marketing to become very focussed for the limited period of the offer just because it ends soon after it begins. As a result, the scheme is reported on every Mac news site during that time and probably more than once. (Deadlines apparently qualify as news.) It's a huge success and if I sound cynical, I shouldn't, having bought two of those time-limited software bundles and benefited from both.

Hi, Timprov!

taking things in reverse order, and quoting from my own webpage:

"... at the end of that year you'll be able to access to a web page with a selection of 11" x 14" digital prints (at least 6 new works plus some old favorites). You can choose any TWO prints, which I'll send to you as free gifts... If you don't care for any of those select works, I'll credit, dollar-for-dollar, what you've donated towards ANY photograph at ctein.com, digital or dye transfer. (You'd have credit for most of the regular cost of a digital print, for example.)"

As for the wallspace question, when I figure out the answer to that one, I plan to patent it and sell it for BIG money!

pax / Ctein

Dear folks,

Peter Hentges just pointed me at this new service:


I haven't looked at what they're doing too very closely, but at first glance it looks like it might be very useful for folks trying to do what I'm doing. I'm definitely going to check it out and see if it provides a workable alternative to PayPal for customers who can't or don't want to be dealing with PayPal.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

A couple more examples of high number planting :

-- Some photographers at shows or galleries will offer a print size larger than they really plan on selling (say 24x36 or something). That tends to drive people into buying larger (and pricier) sizes than they otherwise would.

-- This one might not be as good an example, but car companies often produce "halo" or "flagship" cars they don't really plan on making money on, but serve to raise people's impressions of the company leading to the ability to charge higher prices. And they get some advertising out of it too of course. The Ford GT would be a good example.

While everyone ponders kuh-TINE's marketing adventures, I was actually looking at the photos in the article, and thinking that they're some of the nicest kuh-TINE pics I've seen.

Does Mike know you slipped an IR photo in there? I thought they were banned on TOP ;-)

Ctein --

6 + some is a perfectly reasonable fuzzy number when you're thinking in terms of selling a maximum of one Tier 3 per household, which I think is what we ended up with. My initial impulse was to buy three, which you can see would be a bit different. I hadn't come up with B.J. Scharp's method, though; I'm going to have to think about that.

Dear Miserere,

Heh, heh.

Mike hasn't decide what he thinks of the B&W photo, yet. Given his predilections, I'm taking that as a compliment!

I usually hate infrared, too. The same way that I hated Ektachrome infrared color film and I currently hate "HDR." 99% of the work done in all three forms is work that is completely enamored of the medium, regardless of the messages conveyed. Or more to the point, lack of message. It's like most of the early color photography, which was lousy photography except it had COLOR!

This is one that I think is doing something I find compositionally interesting. It's not about infrared; the infrared sensitivity is what's producing the particular tone and value placements in different components of the photograph that I can use compositionally, but that's no different than adding a filter to conventional photography for me.

I'm glad you liked all three photos. they are all on my short list of possible candidates for the special selection. The B&W IR photo will almost certainly make the final cut.

Unless I do something I like even more in the next five months.

pax / Ctein

"People don't make modest donations or purchases after deep and careful deliberation."

We did. But then, we're weirdos.

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