My lessons learned from publishing a calendar with Calvendo

A calendar is one of the most intuitive and obvious outlets of landscape photographers. That's because there is a market of calendars showcasing beautiful places on earth and a series of 12 or 13 large format prints is just a great idea for landscape photos. This has the effect that the market for such calendars is saturated and only very few photographers manage to position themselves in these products. The alternative is to publish calendars for oneself - it's not that expensive nowadays and the artistic freedom is all yours. Yet, the distribution is the downside of this way. Seeing a self-published calendar in book stores is a rare exception. Luckily, there is a third way and it sounds promising: There a publishing houses that publish nearly every calendar submitted to them, print them on demand if there are orders and get them in the catalogues of virtually every bookstore via an ISBN. I tried this way of publishing a calendar for 2016 and would like to share my experiences with the German publisher Calvendo.

What does Calvendo offer?

The Calvendo claims to publish every calendar that has been entered through their online designer. They do not charge any money for it and offer you to distribute it. So there are a few things they invest in advance, while you only invest your time to design a calendar of your choice. The biggest thing they are doing is buying an ISBN (or several, if you choose to publish the calendar in various sizes) and enlist the product in the Catalogue of Available Books. That means that every book store - including online giants like Amazon - can find the calendar and any customer in the world can order one. The book store then orders them at the publisher, who prints them on demand.

The prize for this service is not to be neglected. Calvendo charges nothing from you in advance, but keeps the lion's share of the earnings. Depending on the price the photographer receives 15 to 30 percent of the earnings of every calendar sold. Earnings means retail price minus VAT minus retailers share minus cost for ordering and delivering (that's cost Calvendo has to spend to get the article to the book store). For example, a calendar that sells for 30 Euros earns you 1,88€. A calendar sold for 50 Euros makes 5,44€ for you. So the deal is: There are no costs, but there is also not much to earn for a photographer.

You may find the answer to any further question here:

What did I like about publishing a calendar through Calvendo?

It's easy: Whether you have designed a calendar before or not, the procedures you have to go through at the interface Calvendo has created for its customers will not be an obstacle. They provide you with a well structured process including upload of images, selection and positioning as well as creating additional elements like text. Although the interface is not the most precise I've ever used - there are some minor issues with cropping and positioning images on the calendar sheets - it's certainly a very good one. One reason it's so simple is that is does not offer many variations. So basically in terms of where the days and months are put, which font they are set and how large the area that is reserved for that is, all calendars created through Calvendo will look quite similar.

The jury: Almost any project created with Calvendo will be published by the company. But luckily that does not mean they take anything without looking at it and throw it on the market. Although I started my calendar with a clear idea of how it look in the end, the Calvendo jury returned it to me twice before publishing it - with very helpful tips for improvement. For example they advised me to use a bigger font on the front page, so that it would be possible to read in the thumbnail images of web shops. It's in these details where their experience shines through and they shared it with me for a better final product.

Costs: There is no way denying that the fact that Calvendo does not charge any fees from you when you publish a calendar is making the decision a lot easier to go with them. As I pointed out above, they do have some costs in advance of a potential first sale of your calendar and they take the risk of not getting anything back. I'm pretty sure the majority of projects do not pay off for Calvendo, but some do and then they take the lion's share of the profits.

What did I not like about it?

Print quality: As I mentioned Calvendo is an on-demand service that means they will only print the exact quantities that are ordered by the shops. That's obviously impossible with offset printing, so every calendar is as individual digital print. This is not a bad thing per se, but in the case of my calendars I'm not completely happy with the quality. There are three problems I observed:

  • First, the paper they uses is far to light for my taste. I prefer heavy, stiff paper that does not fold accidentally when turning a page. Especially in the bigger sizes you should pay a lot of attention not to damage your precious product. When you look closely in sidelight, you see tons of uneven bumps and micro-folds, which is not a very nice thing. On top of that, the corners of the paper start to bend a little even when the calendar hangs on the wall. I've seen much better with other calender services.
  • Second, there is a clearly visible colorcast towards warm tones in brown or green parts of the images and a cast towards purple in blue or grey parts. I designed a calendar with photos from two winter tours in arctic Norway, so there is a lot of blue and white involved. On top of that in some pages there is a very slight banding in the sky. This is a minor issue, but it moves the product some more inches away from perfect.
  • My third issue does not sound bad in the first place: I did not observe the colour issues in the largest of the three sizes. It looks pretty accurate and I like how the atmosphere of the photos transports itself to the viewer. However, I have a problem with the inconsistency of the prints. I've seen several copies of the smaller sizes and two of the largest - the inconsistency was present in all of them. Given the care and attention I devote to my photos I do not like to get a grab bag. I want reliable print quality.

Time issues: At the front page of the Calvendo website you read the promising lines "Your Images on the market tomorrow!" That's promising and the process of creating a calendar is quick and easy. You could finish a calendar in some hours, even with one interaction with the very fast jury. With the confirmation mail you are confronted with the reality: "It can take up to 8 weeks until the products are actually available in shops". I would not blame Calvendo for this time span - in my case it really took that long - but I'd love some honesty beforehand. Don't advertise with something that's not the reality. Furthermore until now there is no image available in any of the online shops that I've searched. This is where I reached the point of a no-go. Who will buy a calendar without seeing the cover of any other image? My project was finished and accepted in the first week of September, so it's been four months and a whole calendar season.

Prices and profits: Very good calendars sell for good prices. For an impressive meter-wide NatGeo product it's perfectly alright to charge 50 Euros or even more - if the product lives up that, people will buy. The average price for a calendar is significantly lower, however. Well produced calendars with impressive landscape photos are around 20-25 Euros in the 60x40cm category. Calvendo charges more from the customer: The mentioned size comes with a 35 Euros price tag and the big one (60x80cm) sells for a whopping 50 Euros. With that price, you're well in the premium segment of the market and here there no way around stating that Calvendo calendars are far away from premium.

Would I do it again?

I've written about the pros and cons of my experiences with Calvendo, but if you read the words it will not surprise you that I can make it short: No, doing it again is not really an option for me. A product with mediocre quality that is not well presented in shops but has a heavy price tag ... there is actually nothing that can outweigh these cons. I suspect that this is not a judgment that is applicable to Calvendo alone, but is rather a general verdict to print-on-demand as a way to produce and sell quality products for landscape photographers. Other ways have other obstacles, but I surely will try them in the future.

What are your experiences with Calvendo, with other on-demand services or completely different ways of selling calendars?