I'm just finishing up the accounting on my 2013 Contradance Calendar. For many years my contra dance photography has been my photographic passion project. For the last two years its most visible expression has been a product, the Contradance Calendar. I had hoped that calendar sales could be a means of support to continue the work, rather than have it be solely subsidized by my commercial photography.
That hasn't worked out so well.
What the calendar has done is raise the profile of the work. I now have a status in the dance community as a kind of artist-documentarian of the scene. I get invited to dance weekends specifically to photograph and to talk about my work. I'm involved in the planning of a dance week in Northern California, where I also teach a workshop in dance photography. The contra dance world has been the core of my joy and my social life for decades, and my engagement with that world is now is reaching full flower.
What I haven't nailed down is a way to support the photographic project part. The calendar was successful in one aspect, its reach. I sold over 800 of them nationwide. It's a gorgeous work, high quality printing, professional design, and great attention to the photographic reproduction. I'm really proud of it.
And it costs way too much to produce.
I'm learning way more than I want to about retail product number crunching. The first year I had high ambitions and unrealistic expectations about the demand. I printed 2500 calendars. I sold 750. The unit production cost of each calendar I sold was over $17. Most of the calendars I sold at wholesale for between $8 and $10. You can see that this was not going to end well.
This past year I raised money, basically pre-selling the calendars, on Kickstarter. I printed fewer calendars. The Kickstarter money paid the printing bill. However, it didn't pay for the prepress, or the website design, or the advertising, or the shipping to the warehouse, or the warehouse fees, or the postage for fulfillment of the Kickstarter rewards. Those would have to come from subsequent sales.
Retail is hard.
The good news is that I brought down my unit cost to under $16. Now, this number is for the units sold, not the units produced. If I sold every calendar I printed, my unit cost is around $8. But, based on how many I actually sold, each calendar cost me $15.75. The average amount I made on each calendar was $15.05, way better than last year. If I sold more calendars, those numbers would eventually meet and reverse. However, I'm selling a calendar. It's perishable, like a quart of milk. Its demand and its value is dimishing by the day.
So, I only lost $600 on the calendar this year. That's much better than the $6000 the year before. Kickstarter saved the day this year. However, my commercial business is way down this year, and I'm less able to absorb a loss of any kind.
For reasons that defy business logic I want to continue this project. I'm going to plan for a 2014 Contradance Calendar. I'm going to mount another Kickstarter campaign this spring, test my social media reach, and see if there is support for continuing this project. Everything depends on that.
It's not too late to get a 2013 calendar. If I sell 60 more of these things, I make my nut. And you have a great photo gallery that changes every month. Buy one here: http://contracalendar.com/