Just recently I had an inquiry from someone who had seen my prints in the most recent show. The background here is that when I show stuff locally (that is, within the Snoqualmie Valley for the Sno Valley photos) I tend to cut prices. Maybe it’s silly but I think of it as a way to give back a bit to the communities in which I’ve been photographing. (I also let people know that if it’s their property that’s pictured, I’ll give them a print free. Crazy, I know.)
Anyway, not long after the opening, I got some email from someone asking how much a certain print would cost, unframed. As a general rule, when I show work, I set the price by taking my current pricing for the loose print, adding in the wholesale cost of goods to frame it up, round up to the nearest five buck interval, and call that the price. The net result is that I’m usually doing the mat cutting, frame assembly, etc. at less than minimum wage. It doesn’t matter – no matter how much I assure people that they’re getting a deal on framing, they always, always, always think that they can get it done for much less. So they want an unframed print.
Anyway, this person wanted to know. So I sent back email, quoting the unmatted, unframed price. And back comes another email, plaintively asking “How much would it be for a smaller print?”
Now, I’m not selling prints for thousands of bucks, here. I’m selling loose prints for what seems to me to be a low price. And yet… And yet, every so often, someone comes along, seems to want a print, and then tries to chisel the price down to what they think is reasonable, even if it means that what they wanted was the framed, 10″x15″ print framed out to 16×20 and what they end up with is a unmounted, unmatted, unframed 4″ x 6″ print.
It makes me think the whole pricing idea I’ve been working from is just wrong, wrong, wrong. The pricing model is based on the idea that I want to end up at the cheap end of “this is a valuable item you’re buying, treat it with respect”.
And the behavior of buyers suggests that perhaps I’d get a lot more satisfaction, sell more prints, and get my prints into the hands of more people who’d enjoy them if I priced the prints at some low margin above the cost of goods sold. Such thoughts have been rattling around in my brain for years, now. I clearly recall reading about Jay Dusard giving prints to the cowboys he’d photographed, and how the cowboys would take these exquisite Fine Art Photographic Prints and thumbtack them up on the wall next to the stove, where they’d get all greasy and marked up but where the cowboys would enjoy them non-stop. Way back when I read that, I had this glimmer of thinking that perhaps the cowboys were right and that the Greater Art World is wrong, and that perhaps prints ought to be priced really, really low. So low that essentially anyone can enjoy them, even if enjoy them means taping them to the refrigerator door in the kitchen.
So I’ve been carefully calculating the cost of actually producing prints. I’ve been thinking about why we price large prints so much higher than small prints.
I think the new year is going to find me with a radically different model for pricing and selling prints.