Process 040 ☼ What I Learned From Launching a Photo Book Preorder Campaign
Giveaway: Harman EZ-35 camera + a roll of Ilford HP5 courtesy of Retrocamera
Today’s letter is all about the lessons we learned from building and launching a preorder campaign for my photo book NOTICE. I had to take an extra week to write this because there’s so much to talk about and I’m excited to share.
For this week’s giveaway the folks at Retro Camera made available a super cool re-usable Harman EZ-35 camera and a roll of Ilford HP5 to shoot in it.
Launching a Photo Book Preorder Campaign
One of the things I love most about photography is that we will never run out of things to learn. There is always an opportunity to dive deeper and become a better and more well-rounded photographer.
Most of what I learned in the past year was in the field of photo book making and publishing. In this issue of Process I zoom in on a small but important part of publishing a photo book: launching a preorder campaign. You made a book, but now you have to sell it. How?
Why Did We Run A Preorder Campaign?
Printing a high-end photo book is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. The original plan was to fund our upfront costs with a combination of a preorder campaign and a sponsorship from one of the companies that generously sponsored one of my other projects before.
To bring in a sponsor Dan and I created a deck that laid out the financial support we needed and how it would benefit the sponsor involved. We pitched ten companies, had great meetings, but in the end no one was able to commit to a sponsorship.
They loved the project but at this stage of the pandemic their budgets were being cut. We also learned that the fourth quarter of the year isn’t ideal for pitching ideas to marketing departments. Budgets for the rest of the year were already spoken for and new ideas wouldn’t be considered until the new year.
This was disappointing because we put so much work into our pitches, but we were also encouraged by all the positive feedback and learned a lot. Without a sponsor on board we knew we had to rely solely on a preorder campaign to help fund the production costs. Instead of pitching companies we were now pitching you: the people who had been following along with the project before it even had a name.
You were there when it started out as a daily photo walk in the summer of 2020 and when I shared that it might become a photo book in the fall. We could bring this book into existence by sharing our vision of a great photo book using materials of the highest quality level, the best collaborators, and a story worth telling.
Building An Online Shop
The first thing we knew we needed to be able to run a preorder was a robust and beautiful online shop. The easy way would have been to use a platform like Kickstarter or GoFundMe. These are simple to set up and take a small percentage of the money raised in exchange for this ease of use and possibility of bringing in new people from their existing audience by featuring your project.
And then there is the hard way of setting up a preorder: design your own web store, lock in a payment system, build a back-end to handle orders, and print labels. Can you guess which option Dan and I chose? The hard way? The hard way!
We decided on Shopify as our underlying platform and augmented it by installing our friend Craig Mod’s Kickstarter-inspired crowdfunding tool Craigstarter on top. It was a lot more work but gave us the following benefits:
More control over the design and branding of our shop.
The ability to include stretch goals to unlock bonus rewards.
The ability to use coupons, including a 10% student discount coupon.
Excellent customer service tools like the option to give partial or full refunds with the touch of a button and update a shipping address easily.
Aside from Shopify’s payment fee of 2.8% we didn’t give up any additional platform specific fees. In comparison, Kickstarter would have taken an additional 7%. This meant we could invest in the best materials.
Shopify is good at capturing shipping data which helped us work with a fulfillment partner in a seamless way and use tracked shipping.
Creating Marketing Assets
To be able to tell the story of a photo book that didn’t yet exist Dan created gorgeous mock ups based on all the work we had done so far in terms of picking out materials and designing the book itself. We were able to use these images in our deck, our preorder shop, and the Notion page we built to do press outreach. Can you believe the pictures below aren’t real? They’re so accurate that we still use them on the shop now.
Deciding On Backer Rewards, Stretch Goals, and Bundles
To encourage folks to order NOTICE early we set a three week window during which the book was discounted for early birds and each order came with a limited edition Behind-the-Scenes zine as a free bonus. Why three weeks? Short enough to reward people who were closely following along, but also long enough to give everyone the chance to know about it in this busy world of information overload.
We sent the preorder link to Process readers a full day before we put it out into the world as a way to say thank you for following along with the project. We didn’t want the most dedicated followers of the project to miss out on the early bird discount.
The zine is a complete making-of companion detailing all the work that went into making the book from curation to test prints, choosing materials, deciding on a printer, and more. The only way to get it was during the three week window.
It was a ton of extra work to make this zine but we felt it was a compelling bonus that would motivate folks to get in early. We made it to dispel myths and empower other photographers to make their own book. The zine proved to be very popular and a big part of why many decided to preorder early.
We decided to set some stretch goal to give the campaign an arch and narrative to follow along with. Our initial goal of 100 preorders meant we could send NOTICE to the printer. A stretch goal of 250 preorders unlocked a private Q&A Zoom on book making, and 500 preorders unlocked a bonus set of NOTICE postcards for all.
Another strategy to entice early orders was to offer NOTICE as part of several limited edition bundles for our early birds. We had bundles with a print in an edition of 30, five bundles that included a private mentoring session, and a very short run of Special Edition versions of the book. At the very top of the pyramid we placed a Special Edition with a one-of-one original peel-apart instant image along with all the other bonus goodies. The bundles did very well and most sold out quite fast.
Everyone loves a look behind-the-scenes and zines.
A preorder-only discount is a great way to reward your most loyal supporters.
Having stretch goals to unlock additional free bonus items gave us something exciting and new to talk about through the campaign.
The special edition of NOTICE was very popular because it was a great item and price point for people who were able to contribute a little extra to making this project come to life, plus it’s always fun to get something extra rare.
Similarly, bundling a high-end art print in a very small edition with the book was a popular choice for folks who were able to contribute a bit more and were excited to have something extra special that could live on their wall.
We should have been more ambitious and set stretch goals for 750 and 1000 books peordered sold as well.
Figuring Out International Payments
Shopify allows all the major payment platforms and it’s up to the store owner to decide which to accept. We initially wanted to avoid using Paypal because it complicated our accounting and Paypal takes an extra cut. After receiving a few messages we learned that for some Paypal is the only payment option for international orders in their country so we decided to turn it on for the preorder period after all.
I will dedicate an entire future issues of Process to this topic because there is far too much to say. For now I can say our biggest lesson learned was that you have to continue talking about your project launch if you want people to know about it.
This is especially challenging for the introverts among us. If it was completely up to me I’d rather just send out a single message announcing a project and it would reach all my people and they’d order it right away but that’s just not reasonable in 2021.
We are under constant siege of entertainment and news to distract and clutter the airwaves., and various algorithms make it so even people who are excited to support might not realize you have a new project out until you’ve talked about it a bunch.
One way we made it easier on ourselves to talk about NOTICE during the campaign was by creating a ton of extra work and bonus items that we were genuinely excited to share and talk about. That made it so it didn’t feel corny to keep yelling into a bull horn about this new book we were so excited about.
In the end was a resounding success and we learned so much about how we could make it better next time. We hit our first goal within an hour of our initial email to Process readers, our second goal within 12 hours, and our third goal of 500 within a few days. At the time of this writing we are nearly sold out of our first print of 1000.
The most exciting moment was when we looked at our preorder backend and realized that NOTICE would be shipping to people in over 40 different countries. We could never have anticipated that. Here are just a handful of photos of NOTICE abroad.
That’s it for this week! In future issues of Process I will share more lessons learned from the process of publishing a photo. Many areas still to cover from distribution and fulfillment, to shipping, materials, press outreach, marketing and promotion, etc.
In the mean time, if you don’t have your own copy yet of NOTICE grab one here before the first print is sold out. We have a few dozen copies left.
In the next issue of NOTICE I will feature photography by the Process readers, which I curated from your entries for last issue’s giveaway. You’re so good!
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
My friends at Retro Camera are back for another great Process giveaway. I’m a long-time customer of this Belgian family business that serves analog photographers of all experience levels. For this giveaway they have kindly made available a wonderful prize pack including a Harman EZ-35 camera plus a roll of Ilford HP5 to get your started.
To enter send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Process 40 Giveaway” before 11pm EST on November 26th and answer the following question:
If you could pick one area of your photography to improve in the next six months which would it be? Examples: shooting with flash, composition, or presenting work.
Note: Please include your IG username and mailing address in the email. Both are only used in case you win and will be deleted otherwise. The winner will be randomly drawn.
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Follow along at @wesley.