For those who regularly check into Improve Photography you may have seen my articles on business. I have been actively pursuing a side gig of selling my landscape prints around Southern Utah and have been seeing some success. With the successes and failures I have learned a few things, one of those is the most asked question out there. Today I am going to tackle that question: how to price my prints?
To be honest, I sell more physical prints than 90% of photographers (I think anyways). I don't say this to brag. I make enough to cover my photography and to pay additional bills while only working four hours on Saturday mornings. I say this to let you know I have a decent understanding of pricing and how it works.
I also have been in two galleries, so I know that world… well just a little. Not a ton, but enough to get an idea on what to expect if that is the route you are wanting to pursue.
The other thing that I do is listen to podcasts. Not just photography ones, but business and economic podcasts. As of right now I listen to seven different podcasts that intertwine money, finances and business in some way. Easily 2-3 hours of my week is dedicated to this, usually while I am getting ready for work, driving out to photograph, and driving to and from work.
I also happen to be married to a wonderful woman who has a degree in business management whom talks to me about principles of business.
I am no professional in every respect of finance and business, but I have a background with real world experience.
With all that is said, lets dive into a very complicated topic, and possibly shed some light on the world of pricing photography.
What is your business?
This is the most important decisions you need to make right now with your business. This will dictate the rest of your decisions from this point on out. I have broken down the three basic business models for fine art photographers and probably their business model to generate income.
- Licence photos
These people make a majority of their income from the first three bullets on the list. They probably sell a few prints a month and don't plan on it as their main source of income. Many professional photographers fall into this category. They love printing, but in the end they don't make it a priority in their business model. Because of this, their prints cost fair bit more than your average photographer like me.
- Your main goal is to sell lots of prints
- Don't focus on anything else
This is me. I am not focusing on any other form of income but will take any other form as it comes.
- Sell few but expensive prints
- They work through galleries and art dealers.
I know a few of these guys. You have to have a name in the industry to pull off this model. If you have not made a splash in the photography world, this route is probably out of your reach. You need to build to this point. Rarely will you find yourself here at the beginning of your photography career. On a side note Option B and Option C don't get along that well if they begin to overlap and you will see why in a bit.
What Is A Print Worth?
Before I go any further let me break down some principles that must be understood to properly price your prints.
There are million dollar photos in this world. But something you should know is that you do not set the value of the print. Of course you set the price, but the worth of a print is set by your audience. If they perceive your photographs being worth $500 dollars you can sell it at such. If they perceive your prints to only be valued at $5… that is what they are worth and what you can sell them at. This is where you have to step back and ask yourself how much would you actually pay for the print. This may hurt your photographer ego. If you imagined walking down a road and saw your print and wanted to purchase it, how much would you actually pay for it? You might ask an unbiased audience if you want to get a second opinion. If you only think your prints are worth $5 or $10 dollars, the print market is not for you. If you find that you would pay $20 plus dollars for it, you might have a chance.
How Material Effects Price
Material effects price drastically. There are two reasons for this. If you print on expensive stuff, you have to charge more to recover costs. Different materials also carry more value, even though they actually may not be the best for your photograph. If you print on metal, you will be able to charge more because it carries novelty and people see it as worth more. I can sell a 20×30 metal print for 3x the amount I can sell the same image in a luster paper print.
Material matters. Choose your material wisely.
The popularity of canvas prints has been massively increasing. I have grown to really LOVE CanvasPop for my canvas printing needs. They just make it so easy. They also do framed prints, photo collages, and triptch prints (These are so cool to me)
Want to know how a hole in the wall and a 5 star restaurant differ when they both sell tacos? Presentation. They might even get their meat from the same cow. But if one uses white plates with a dash of salad on the side and the pretty drizzle that zig zags its way across that plate they will charge more, even if the hole in the wall has better tacos.
Present cheap, sell cheap. Present high dollar sell high dollar. In the photography world that means sell your prints matted. Put a frame on it (if you are in a gallery). I was selling my pictures without mats and people thought $15 was an exorbitant amount for a picture. I threw on some mats from Amazon on them and suddenly $20 is a steal of a deal and it only cost me around $1 extra.
Literally that's is all you need to know about this subject.
As rule of thumb in the art world, the bigger that art piece is the more expensive it should be. So if you are wanting to sell your prints for $500 dollars or higher, it better be a big print. People will pay a lot for size; not so much for quality. As a side note on this, I was reading from a website that says you should charge a minimum of $51 dollars for a 8×10 or you are losing money. I think that is crazy for a tiny print. No one in their right mind buys prints for that small and for that much unless its from someone famous. This leads me to my next topic.
Profit Price Curve
Lets talk about the profit price curve. The profit price curve shows an idea that if you price too low you can't sell enough products to make up the difference in profit that you would have made if you just charged more. It also shows that if you overprice your product you won't ever make a sell and thus you wont pay your bills. The reason there are no prices on the graph below is because the price is totally based on the seller's needs as well as the audience's. The goal is to find yourself somewhere in the middle of the graph. Middle means you are maximizing sales and making the most profit. If you find yourself selling lots of prints but not making much, you are too low on this profit curve. If you are finding that you are hardly making any sales you might be too high on the price side of the axis. Don't be discouraged. This takes time to perfect!
On the business side of things, we need to start looking at a phrase called cost of good sold (COGS). Cost of good sold is how much it costs you to actually print an image and get it to its final presentation. The first step is to go to your printer and see how much it costs you to print an image. I will use one of my printers, Pixel Foto and Frame, and go to their price list to help with this example. I will be printing a 11×14 print (I don't normally print this size) which costs me $3.90.
Sweat! Now that I have my print am I done?
How are you going to display this image? Will you be just shipping it out as is or will you put it in a small matted frame and bag and sell it at an art show?
Ok, lets shoot for that set up. That is a print in a sheath of plastic with a mat and backing so that it is firm and protected and looks sexy. I use this clear bag, mat, and backing set on Amazon for my art show set ups. So for this example I found a quick 16×20 mat that is cut to hold a 11×14 image. I can typically get 50 bags, mats and backing for around $25 dollars. After dividing out the price of the set up, it only cost $0.50
Once you add you print cost $3.90, to your display set up $0.50 price, your total cost is $4.40.
Since it is art you can do a couple things. You can throw all caution to the wind and charge $300 for the price of the print, make it a limited edition of 15 and try to sell it. Be my guest, but you will be unlikely to sell out.
Remember the principles above? Luster paper prints can be valued at less because it is not a premium product. It is a lower class material. Also a 11×14 print is relatively small and in the art world, size matters. Larger prints will always fetch a higher dollar amount. If you are working with such small sizes it will never go anywhere at a $300 dollar price tag unless you have a name for yourself.
Your other option is to follow a basic principle of pricing goods, that is, charge anywhere between 2x or 7x the COGS price. So we could charge $22.00 because that follows the rule of 5x COGS. But remember this is art. Size does play a role in the price of the good. Since you are larger than the standard 8×10 print you should charge more. Since we are going to go by that idea, lets do the 7x the cost of good and charge $30.00 dollars for the print. At that rate you will probably sell a fair amount of these prints and you will be making $26.40 dollars per print. If in a single show you sell 4 of these in 3 hours, you just made $106 +/- a few bucks for whatever you are being charged in taxes and credit card fees.
So the most important thing from this section was the 2x and the 7x the COGS price point. If you are struggling with a basic price point, start here.
The Price of Good Sold method and the pricing rule works best for photographers who run by Business Model A and B. It is easy to work with and since you are planning on selling lots of prints with high turn over you should do well.
What if you are not selling lots of photos and only plan on selling online? There are a few points to think about here. It's not likely that you will sell lots of prints through your web site with mobs and mobs of photographers out there all vying for peoples attention offering great photos for a dime a dozen, few people actually ever buy prints through photographers' web site.
But whatever, let's say you want to do it any ways. Use the previous pricing method, but don't include the matting, unless you say you will include it in the print. You may charge less for not doing the matting or you can simply charge what you think the print is worth. So if you think the print is worth $40 sell it at that without all the fancy set up. You might sell a few.
But Nathan, don't you sell prints on your website? Why do you sound so negative? So in the past year I have sold 1 print from my website. That was during Christmas of last year. I have sold over 100 prints in person in the last two months alone. I have it there so people can simply see price points and come back to me in person and buy.
Option C Photographers
So your goal in life is to be a galleried photographer. You want to have high price points. Follow this principle.
It is easier to sell 2 $10,000 dollar prints, than 200 $100 dollar prints.
If you are going big, go big. Remember the rules up above. Print only using the highest quality printing material. Print larger prints. Frame your images so that they stand out professionally in all ways.
Set all your images to limited edition. Scarcity creates desire and value. That goes back to economics' supply and demand graph. In order the create an artificial scarcity, prints are limited. If the day comes that you are that high in demand, your work will go up in value after the sale. Very few photographers will ever get that. I would not plan on it, but if it happens we will be the first people to cheer you on!
So how do you price your prints?
We know the cost of goods model dictates that your prints should be 2x to 7x the amount it takes to produce the product. Since you will probably be selling with a gallery, they typically charge 20% – 50% of the total sale as a commission . So if you charge $300 for a 20×30 metal print that cost you $150 to produce, the gallery could take $150 of it and you will be left with nothing.
The 2x the price rule does not work well here.
Now lets think about the 7x the price rule. It still cost you $150 dollars to produce your image that you sold for $1,050. The gallery is still going to pull 50% of the sale (Estimating high) still, but since you are selling at $1,050 you will walk away with $375 dollars in net profit. Not bad. It will take about 4 prints at this high price point for you to make $1,500 which pays you at roughly $9 dollars/hour. After taxes you could be making close to $7.
Say hello to minimum wage.
So the 7x the price rule still does not apply here either very well. It works better when the item cost more to produce, but you are still potentially facing the same problem.
In order to sell in galleries you will have to accept the pretentious artist philosophy and charge more… A lot more.
When preparing to sell at galleries, charge what you want. Figure out what you want your monthly salary to be, divide that out between your prints and set your price point. I personally would not sell anything in a gallery for less than $850 dollars and that's only if the gallery is taking 30% of the sale. If you find that you are not selling prints at your chosen price point, lower the price to see if causes people to buy. Keep in mind, you may have to wait until you are out of the gallery that you are in to do so.
Do Market Research
My final thoughts are to do some market research before setting your final print price. Look up half a dozen photographers in the area and see what their prices are. Determine their skill level and see what price points they are charging. You can price match, undercut them, or you could charge more depending on how you feel your work should be valued in comparison to theirs. All possiblities could work. I set my print prices using all of the above rules. I've talked with many photographers and analyzed their prices.
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