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December 17, 2008 / compassioninpolitics

23 Alternative Internet Business Models for Freelance Artists, Writers, and Photographers

Internet Freelance Business Models for Artists, Copy Writers, and Photographers: How to Create Revenue Online

Warning: This post contains a wealth of information in just 3 minutes and this post is currently in Beta. Please be patient. But isn’t that half the fun….

Whether you’re a photographer, a jeweler, or a woodworker there are several options for selling your wares online. Not all the options provided apply to all mediums, but I wanted to explore a range of marketing modeals because I’m exploring a social entrepreneurial venture in the art and creative space.

Internet Business Model #1: One option is creating aYahoo Small Business

Internet Business Model #2: The Amazon Store is a popular option. Check out the Feature Tour

Internet Business Model #3: Etsy is very popular community for selling original art. Many artists combine blogging, twitter, networking, and community engagement to make this more viable. Etsy has great community features including a forum, blog, and a wealth of other resources. (check out this ebook from Freelance Switch on selling art products online. They suggest Zazzle in addition to Etsy)

Internet Business Model #4: Cafe Press has a long history in the art marketing niche. The cafe press setup seems quite easy–like setting up a Facebook or MySpace page. Wow!

Internet Business Model #5: Ebay and its auction model offer a unique way to access buyers and to sell your creative wares.

Internet Business Model #6: iStockphoto is great for visual artists (Stock Exchange is in this space too)

Internet Business Model #7: Affiliate marketing offers tons of options– perhaps art supplies. (See also: 101 ways to monetize your blog below)

Internet Business Model #8: Photo(bucket?) and Smugmug are great ways to monetize your photography skills.

Internet Business Model #9: Flickr/Blog sold via a ecommerce system, Google, or Pay Pal.

Internet Business Model #10: Freemium. This only seems to work in a virtual gallery format, but that doesn’t seem to be much of a sustainable business model. I wonder what folks are doing on Second Life in this space. On the flip side, Thomas Hawk’s setup is almost implictly a freemium model–its just not a subscription service. You could create a freemium forum/webinar group where you taught other artists and DIY

Internet Business Model #11: Teaching Art Online Virtually or at a local venue (or hybrid). This seems to work with a freemium business model. Promoted with a blog and perhaps some other outlets like Meetup, I think this can work really well.

Internet Business Model #12: Crowd sourced video creation and production. The Video production space is blowing up. Monetizing your own how to videos on any number of video platforms is an option. Also, if you want to do time lapse type videos these tend to get lots of views. Also if you’re good at production, the crowd sourcing options here are explosive : Common Craft is one example. Finally, a small fraction of video bloggers are being hired up by mass media for digital journalism (TV, newspaper, magazine…also lots of commercial platforms need video content for trust building, relationship building, and link building)

Internet Business Model #13: Microfunding like Chip In.

Internet Business Model #14: Post Secret seems to represent a unique way to leverage the web for creative production. Crowd sourced art and book content.

Internet Business Model #15: Monetize your art, music, or photography podcast. (alternatively, I think art and photography makes more sense as a vblog, but whatev–to each her own)

Internet Business Model #16: Make your blog do work for you–make it pay for itself. 101 Ways to Monetize Your Blog [Note: I do not recommend text link ads–Google frowns on text link ads]

Internet Business Model #17: Crowd sourcing: Threadless and Crowd spring and a ton of other models I haven’t thought of. (i think you have to be really good or strategic to make either of these work: I think this is ideal for folks in high school or college or just out of college or just people with spare time) Derek Webb and Noise Trade are on the front lines of crowd funding music–very innovative. According to Media Shift at PBS Sell a Band is another player in the crowd sourcing music space and Indie Go Go does crowd sourcing in film. Spot.Us is one of the players in crowd sourced journalism. Deal Stop allows the crowd sourced public to profit too.

Internet Business Model #18: Outsourcing via Guru and Elance and other freelance outlets. Actually this option enables several other possible business models as well.

Internet Business Model #19: Sell products online outside the ebay, amazon, and yahoo monopoly. Tips on selling products from Freelance Switch (this is a free PDF download from Freelance Switch)

Internet Business Model #20: Make a community for people who provide services like yours, parallel to yours, or who need services like yours. (There are advertising and UGC options here)

Internet Business Model #21: Making relationships online can help create natural affiliations and collaborations with parallel services.

Internet Business Model #22: I’m not sure I’m a full on open source business model advocate yet, but there are a host of business models to research and possibly replicate in this area. Moodle is an interesting example as are Firefox, WordPress, and Gimpshop. Open Office and Google as further examples of open source success. Here are some interesting articles and white papers on open source.

Internet Business Model #23: If you’re really good at photoshopping photos you may be able to create visuals for link bait posts which are becoming more and more popular in the social media space.

Internet Business Model #23 1/2: Another partial business model is bartering for services via exchange. This can help you get startup without much startup capital (aka it helps you bootstrap). Many authors recommend outsourcing your consulting services to feed the coffers of your business.

Strategic Focus for Your Bootstrapping Your Startup
Focus on your strengths. Focus on where the need in the market is. And of course focus on what you can monetize. (although of course this can evolve over time) Nichify and collaborate.

Budget and Number crunching for Your Freelancing Startup Business
This expense calculator may be helpful. On second thought, this rate calculator and the resources at Freelance Switch may be more helpful. I would use it as a guide and use Mint or a small business accounting and budgeting tool like Freshbooks.

Marketing Models for Online Business
The online advertising models are plentiful from e-mail marketing to online public relations to search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and social media marketing.

Shopping widgets can also be extremely helpful for an affiliate program or for your own blog. There are lots of shopping widgets options, but my friend Bill Seaver recommends these shopping widgets. Deciding on a shopping cart is also important, the folks at Mashable wrote a helpful post on web shopping carts. You can find more e-commerce solutions in the blog and articles sections.

Others leverage the above methods well with meetups, unconferences, and other networking events both inside their industry and outside. To examine the full range of internet marketing options check out this internet marketing models by Jeremiah or this diagram by Aaron Wall.

Think about buying one of the websites on Sitepoint Marketplace or leveraging their successes (half that idea is from Freelance Switch). Their marketing and business kits can help you set up your own business or market it and run around $200

Of course if you are successful you can leverage a book, speaking, networking and press as a multiplier on your efforts.

Calling All Internet Business Models:
What are the other options? What are the advantages, disadvantages, or experiences with each of these options? What e-commerce solutions and resources do you recommend or work with? All ideas and contributions are appreciated.

(Remember this post is in beta: I’m revisiting it) If you like this list or want to add to it, please feel free to re-mix it to your hearts content, please just give us a link and don’t steal it outright (aka copy all of it)

For more advice for start ups check out these online business model resources:

Darren Rowse of Problogger’s post on 4 Ways to Monetize your Blog this Christmas As well as Jeremiah’s (aka the Web Strategist) post about a recent conference panel on internet business models.


Leave a Comment
  1. Andy / Dec 21 2008 12:02 pm

    You mention several websites for selling photos, art, and other artistic creations, but you didn’t mention that the market is oversaturated and the chances of making real money are extremely low. A photographer who signs up on Smugmug to sell prints is far more likely to lose $150 per year (the annual fee for a pro account) than to make a cent. The people making money on Smugmug are mostly land based wedding and portrait photographers with a smattering of fine art photographers who have also worked very hard to have stand out (e.g., with real world reputations not just online galleries).

    By comparison, it’s not hard to get sales using istockphoto, but the income is also very, very low. People making real money on istockphoto are very good at taking commercially viable images (a skill most people either don’t have or would need time and hard work to cultivate).

    I’m a photographer. I’ve made a few hundred dollars over the years selling prints and licenses for my photos (very few and far between). I used istockphoto for awhile, but the $30 I made wasn’t worth all the work. My images may have been “good,” but they weren’t commercially viable stock images (office workers running with briefcases, attractive women in suits chatting on the phone, smiling families rushing off to paradise, etc).

    On the other hand, I’ve made tens of thousands of dollars online via text links…and Google has been my friend the whole way. Text links for good affiliate programs embedded in a genuinely useful and honest content rich website can earn money.

    I’m also earning enough money to cover all my hosting costs and then some via Google adwords in a couple of my “retired” blogs. I’m sure I could do better if I had the time to maintain ads on those sites for my own carefully targeted affiliate programs.

    If you click my back link you’ll see my blog has no advertising at all. I like to keep at least that one place ad free. I offer photo prints for sale, but (as I’ve said) that’s like going fishing — more of a hobby with the occasional thrill eclipsed by the actual cost of getting there (if you really add it up).

  2. compassioninpolitics / Jan 17 2009 1:52 am


    Great advice. I wonder if someone developed a space between istockphoto and getty if it would take off.

    I think there are alternatives in Etsy or perhaps Photobucket over Smugmug. I think on a geographic basis people can find markets that are underserved. (either geographic, style, personality, or type of photography such as wedding, event, portrait)

    Great advice from someone who was worked in depth with iStock and Smugmug.


  3. Nathan Ketsdever / Mar 4 2009 6:42 am

    I saw an interview with Marc Andreeesen who found netscape + Ning and is on the board for Facebook and Twitter I believe.

    He suggests if YouTube had a “Buy This” button that it could monetize better. I think that as a model could work in certain content and creative spaces.

  4. compassioninpolitics / May 27 2009 3:29 am

    Author Chris Anderson, writer at Wired Magazine and author of the web classic the “Long Tail”, just posted this fantastic chart about business models based on giving away content:

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