Producing and Selling Calendars (Income Idea)

CalendarOne way to generate income for your photography side hustle is by producing and selling calendars. Many people enjoy having a beautiful calendar on their wall or desk, and your fans might appreciate the opportunity to purchase your artwork in this way.

I’ll talk about some options for producing calendars and finish with my own experience selling calendars.

Print Your Own

You could print your own calendars using a local print service, either through a local camera store or print shop, through a service such as Vistaprint, or even through a big box store like Wal-Mart or Costco.

There are advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages I see are a somewhat lower cost to produce each calendar, and the ability to have calendars on hand to sell, either directly to friends and family, or to give as gifts or samples when meeting with prospective clients.

The principal disadvantage is you must buy them first, so you have to invest your own money up front and hope to recoup it. Calendars are obviously time sensitive, so if you haven’t sold them by Christmas you likely are not going to sell them at all.

That leads me to…

Print on Demand Calendars

There are many services that allow you to design your calendar(s) and then they take care of the printing and shipping for you. All you have to do is upload your photos, design the calendar, and set what markup you want on the calendar. In theory they do the rest, although in practice you must do the marketing.

The big advantage to print-on-demand is that you pay no money up front. You must expend the effort to design the calendar, and market it, but the financial risk to you is zero.

The disadvantage is that the calendars are somewhat expensive. On Lulu.com, for example, the basic calendar has a minimum cost of $11.99, with no profit to you, so you must charge more than that to make any money at all. I must say I haven’t found them to be much more expensive than printing your own calendars, unless you print hundreds of calendars.

The Cost Question

You will get challenged by people who see the calendars in retail stores or calendar kiosks that sell for $5.99 or so. There’s no way you can compete with those prices, because you won’t be printing in the volume they do. Your best explanation is to say that the photos are hand picked and of high quality. For print on demand calendars, you could even customize a calendar for one client, if you want to spend the time!

My Own Experience

Lightroom Calendar Collections
Lightroom Calendar Collections

I’ve been selling print-on-demand calendars through Lulu for three years now. I’ve found that they are not a huge money maker by any means, but my readers keep asking for them, so I keep making them.

On Lulu.com you can sell basic or premium calendars. The premium calendars use heavier paper and are larger and don’t fold, whereas the basic calendars are folding calendars that you are likely more familiar with.

Here are my sales figures for the three years I’ve been selling calendars:

Year Types # Sold Premium Sold Revenue (USD) Average / Calendar
2013 1 10 0 $19.62 $1.96
2014 2 11 7 $44.98 $4.09
2015 5 7 13 (to date) 2 $34.00

$62.69

$4.86

I’ll note that the majority of calendar sales come in December, so I’m hopeful 2015 will be a good year. UPDATE: 2015 was indeed a good year.

The revenue is my cut of the sales, above what Lulu takes.

My Sales Strategies

I’ve evolved my sales strategies over the past few years. In 2013 I didn’t have much of a margin, so the average income per calendar was low. I was only selling one calendar, a Canadian trains calendar.

In 2014 I decided to increase my margins, and offered premium calendars which had a larger margin. That helped my revenue despite the fact that I did some discounting at different times through the season. I was selling two calendars, a Manitoba grain elevator calendar and a Canadian train calendar, in both regular and premium form.

In 2015 I decided to offer four different calendars – a Manitoba grain elevator calendar in both regular and premium form, and three different train calendars. I ran some Facebook ads to promote them – I’ll write about that separately. I also set up a sales-funnel type of page to sell them, with A/B testing using the Landing Pages WordPress plugin.

My Recommendations

Here are my recommendations for producing and selling photo calendars:

  • Start with print-on-demand calendars until you are sure you have enough volume to print your own;
  • Use your social media feedback (likes) to help you select the photos you will use;
  • Promote the heck out of your calendars – they won’t sell themselves;
  • Use a sales funnel/landing page to help people decide to buy.
  • Don’t expect a huge income from calendars. It’s seasonal and a lot of people don’t use calendars any more.

EDIT: Updated 2016/1/12 with updated sales figures for 2015.