Monday, July 20, 2009

Imagekind - why I'm looking for an alternative print on demand service


An image from my Imagekind gallery - "clipped and shared" with Blogger
...but I could have done this with anybody's Imagekind images!

I've stopped paying a subscription fee for Imagekind and have downgraded to a free site. I'm also looking around for an alternative service.

I know a lot of my readers took out membership of Imagekind when I did so I'd like to take time out to explain to you the reasons behind my decision. This will also be of interest to anybody who has been considering using Imagekind for a print on demand service.

I used to be a Pro Platinum member of Imagekind with an Annual membership which basically means that I paid £94.99 per annum so that I could have unlimited galleries and unlimited images and a slightly better framing commission and a little bit of an edge in terms of how images are found (categories, keywords etc)

To be worth it I basically need to come out ahead and/or feel that I've had a very good service to make it worthwhile paying for it.
  • Question: Is Imagekind membership worth the money?
  • Answer: No - on both counts
First - the good news

The free membership option now offers 3 galleries and unlimited images and unlimited storage and traffic. The latter aspects are frankly what I would expect at the present time given the price of storage. What it means for for me is that I can keep a goodly number on images on Imagekind (for the time being), categorised as to type, and not worry about charges.

Dan at Empty Easel wrote last week about - Imagekind. Here's his post Imagekind Update: Lots of New Features Now Available for Imagekind Artists. He's identified some positives. While I agree some aspects are an improvement, to my mind they aren't enough to keep me paying a subscription and they don't address at all the aspects which give me cause for concern.

I suggest you read both posts and make your own minds up relative to your own circumstances.

WHY I've downgraded to a free membership of Imagekind

Now for the not so good news. Before you start reading, do please note that all my statements below are based on my actual experience or tests I've made using the site and comparison sites.

  • Last year, my account was automatically debited with my annual subscription without prior notice. I had no chance to review whether or not I wanted to continue and no prior notice of when the money was going to be debited. I find that completely unethical - particularly in a recession. That action alone meant that I was always going to fail to renew my subscription this year.
    • I've since been told by Imagekind that I had agreed that they could automatically renew my subscription. I think what they have failed to understand is that in the UK I have all sorts of items set up for automatic renewal each year - and for each and every one of them I get a prior notice reminding me of what is going to happen. I imagine that those companies emplying good business practice in the USA would do the same thing.
    • It's interesting that this year I did get an email warning me that my subscription was about to expire - and I took immediate action to remove my payment details and switch my account to free membership.
  • Imagekind moved the goalposts after I joined - and created an Associates programme which meant anybody can now take an image of my work and place it on any site they like but without any information which identifies it as being mine or that I am the artist or that the image is copyright protected.
    • In other words they started to behave like Amazon forgetting that images can be reproduced whereas items sold on Amazon can't! I wrote about this at length in this post A cautionary note about Imagekind last November.
    • The issue for me is that images should only be capable of being used by Associates if I agree. I've banged on about this ad nauseam in the forum to no effect.
Do I lose ownership of my images when I upload them to Imagekind?

No. You are not transferring ownership of your artwork to Imagekind and retain any and all rights in and to the content that you upload to Imagekind. By submitting content to Imagekind, you are granting us a nonexclusive license to produce your image for an Imagekind product. Please read our Terms of Use for more detailed information.

  • Imagekind makes it easy for anybody to share an image anywhere - while removing it from all detail relating to ownership. I also have grave reservations about the way Imagekind describes their service. For example you can find above what they say about ownership in the FAQs section. It says I retain and any all rights. Complete utter baloney and misleading in the extreme! Each and every image permits ANY Imagekind member to share the image elsewhere. They even provide for the code to enable it to be lifted and placed elsewhere.
    • What that does is remove the picture from all details about copyright and who created the picture
    • If you right click the image you can copy it BUT you can't discover where it came from UNLESS YOU CLICK THE IMAGE. In other words it creates an orphan artwork.
    • If you are doubt about this take a look at the picture in this blog post today. That was inserted into this post with no other text as a result of lifting code from the Imagekind site.
    • The significance of this is that while I post a lot of images on the Internet, I always post images @72 dpi and no larger than 500 pixels - and always on a site which identifies it as mine and has a copyright notice. That's not what's happening with the images being shared by Imagekind.
    • The image they post as a 'large image' is larger than I usually choose to share. More importantly while it can display an Imagekind watermark on the site this disappears when it is removed from the site - a fact that I should think most Imagekind members are not aware of. I tested this using an image produced by somebody I know - Cindy Haase (hi Cindy!) - and got exactly the same result. The code clipped the image, which appeared in the draft preview of this post - and that image had no visible watermark (or information about where I had got it from!). Now it's not displaying the 300dpi image which can only be accessed by Imagekind staff. However it's not at all helpful when trying to assert copyright over ones images found on other sites - and potentially being claimed as "all their own work" by other people.
  • Imagekind charges very significant shipping costs for anybody based in the UK or Europe. While it frequently offers free shipping to its American customers (and NEVER to international customers) I was recently faced with paying $47.99 shipping standard delivery via Fed Ex in 12 business days for a print worth $14.99 which I was sending to my mother. Guess what - I didn't place the order!
    • Customers in the USA would be able to get that for free when free shipping is offered - as it regularly is. I get to pay a charge which is 320% the value of the print. Frankly it's going to be cheaper to send it to a friend in the USA and then get them to send it on to my mother!
    • Let's compare this to buying a similar sized and priced art print from Art.com from Amazon.com in the USA and then shipping that to the UK. I've just checked and a slightly larger fine art botanical print priced at $16.99 ships standard delivery to my mother for $14.99and arrives within 10-20 business days which is perfectly acceptable
    • In other words it costs $33 more (ie 200+% MORE to use Imagekind rather than Art.Com) and the delivery time to all intents and purposes was no different
    • I don't ever recall seeing shipping charges like this in the past. According to Imagekind it's because FedEx have raised their prices by a huge amount. However three months ago they said they were looking at other options - and three months later nothing has changed. According to Fed Ex rates increased by c.7% in january 2009 - which is a whole lot less than the Imagekind percentage rate increase for shipping internationally. One could be forgiven for thinking that Imagekind is resorting to recovering its costs via a shipping charge rather than the cost of the product - and we all know what we think about retailers who do that!
  • Discounted offers only available to customers in continental USA. Despite the fact that international customers pay identical subscription charges and much higher deliver charges, offers relating to the cost of shipping or framing are only offered to customers in continental USA. That's fine for my customers in the USA - and is completely irrelevant to anybody living in anywhere else. My bottom line - I'm not paying a subscription fee to subsidise a service to other artists.
  • Minimal sales - I freely admit I've not done as much as I could to punt my fine art prints in people's faces. That's because I'm not in to heavy duty merchandising. However they do have a complete page on my website, do get promoted on my blog and in various other places. So it's not like I haven't done anything. However sales have been absolutely minimal. To generate commission from framing one first has to sell pictures in frames and to be honest I think most people have thought that costs are a little too high. Also even when you do sell, you're tied to them for quite a time until you reach the minimum level which generates a payment. In terms of what I've paid out to Imagekind over the last two years I'm certainly down on the equation. Which is another jolly good reason to not pay for a subscription.
  • No statistics - improvements to the site do mean that certain categories of membership will now start to get limited statistics. However if you are using Imagekind to raise awareness of your art do bear in mind that advertising companies usually have to produce validated statistics about the number of visits and visitors they get and how long they stay. Imagekind does not provide any statistics. However that's not to say we can't take a look at what compete.com has to say - which is rather revealing as to the relative success of different print on demand services.

A review of the relative traffic for three print on demand sites

Imagekind (blue) Red Bubble (green) and Fine Art America (orange)
Traffic increases in the last year are 36%, 156% and 404%

data from Compete.com

To be honest, right now I'm on the point of deserting Imagekind completely.

It's the "share" option which is driving me in that direction - it shares my images while removing them from all obvious data about the image and my copyright - which will dictate that decision.

Recommendations
  1. If you've got a free Imagekind account review whether you want to:
  • add in more images
  • create more than one gallery
  1. If you are paying for an Imagekind account, check out the costs and benefits to you. This is going to vary depending on where you live and how you promote your work.
  2. Given any Imagekind member can now place an image of yours anywhere they choose, consider including the imagekind watermark on your large image.
  3. Given any imagekind member can place your image anywhere they like and it doesn't identify it as yours or generate any income for you (the print sales or a licence fee) - consider whether the benefits outweight the risks
Print on Demand - what are the alternatives?

I've found another very successful photographer who has been very concerned about the same things as me. He's already left Imagekind and has now signed up for a new service - which I'm now off to investigate........

Watch this space! I'll be updating Print Art on Demand - Resources for Artists with my findings and reporting back here in due course

Previous posts on Making A Mark
Link: Print Art on Demand - Resources for Artists

Making a Mark reviews......

8 comments:

Euphrosene Labon said...

Yes I noticed all the caveats you mentioned. Am definitely interested in finding alternatives as well.

Jennifer Young said...

It is this kind of first-hand experience and thorough investigation that I look for when trying to make an informed decision about such things, and I am sure your frank discussion of the matter will be of benefit to many artists.

I took a look at Imagekind early on and played around with their interface and even ordered a print from my "private" (free) gallery. I really had no quarrel with the quality of the product I ordered, but in the end, I tabled the idea. I just wasn't comfortable with some of their policies. For instance, I think it was a bad decision on Imagekind's part not to allow the artist total control over the type of prints offered in terms of paper type, size, substrate, etc. I and other artists have expressed this to IK several times over the years but last I checked they still had the issue "under advisement."

And all of this was before the Associates Program you described, which I agree seems outrageous. I wonder how hard it is to be a profitable POD company that offers the artist complete control over the use of their image, as well as total order fulfillment at a reasonable price. Does such an outlet exist? Of course, that's not all it would take to make the enterprise a success for the artist, but at least it's a start.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Well I've started to check out some of the alternatives and some of their ways of doing things are very different!

EH said...

Katherine, the alternative to Imagekind is the very good printer around next door who is eager to do the job better in quality and price.

I bet that you will find at least half a dozend printers in London which can do the job.
Of course the handling then will be all yours!

I would keep IK as standby for the odd US sale and use local printers for your home market.

Terry Krysak said...

After signing up with Imagekind in 2007, I also found Redbubble in Australia, and Zazzle in the US, and signed up with them as well.

They are both free, and provide good quality prints of your work. There are several UK artists on Redbubble, and I believe they opened up an office in London this year. Redbubble has a very vibrant, caring community of artists and photographers.

Worth checking out as there is no up front cost to getting your work printed, and then having to re-sell the prints, unless you want to. Customers that you direct to the site pay the cost of production and shipping on as few as one print, and you get a commission. Both offer discounts if the artist buys their own prints.

As well there are no limits as to how many products (prints) that an artist can upload which I feel is a huge bonus.

Billie Crain said...

Interesting write up, Katherine. I've had a free gallery with Imagekind since Feb. of this year. I chose the freebie to test the waters, so to speak. Plenty of lookers, not many buyers. I've purchased both prints and greeting cards from my own gallery and I couldn't be happier with their quality. I was unaware that shipping outside of the U.S. was so terribly high, though. That's got to cut into sales.

I also had no idea there was such a difference in traffic among these sites. I figured they were all probably about the same.

Lily Pang said...

I have a Red Bubble account. From all the sites that I participate, Red Bubble is the best. It instantly gets you engaged with fellow artists. Your work will be viewed since it gets chance to be displayed at the front page of "Recent" work.

Studio Kaufmann said...

People in the USA buy my prints from Imagekind but if as you say the shipping costs to Europe are high do you know of a European based alternative?

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