Musings on Photography

Print Pricing

Posted in business, print pricing by Paul Butzi on December 12, 2007

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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.

12 Responses

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  1. Ed Richards said, on December 12, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Are you coming around to Brooks Jenson’s views on this?

    One rationale for pricing big prints (>16×20 image size) is that the folks who room to hang a print that big probably have money as well, unless they are thumb tacking it up in the barn.

    As remarked when you moved to digital printing, a lot of the assumptions about print pricing go out the window when there is no incremental work in the second print or the bigger print, only material costs. Way different from silver, where big prints are a real pain.

  2. Rosie Perera said, on December 12, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    I actually had an interesting, but opposite experience. I’d been showing my prints in the local gallery for years, and only started putting prices on them at all after the curator suggested my photos were worth selling. Since I’d never sold a print in my life, I felt sheepish about charging anyone for them, so I put a price slighly over my cost: $40 for a simply framed 8×10. Nobody bit. Finally one year I decided to take a risk and raise my price to something which said “this is good art, and it’s worth paying for” and charged $250. I sold my first photo ever. Makes you wonder.

    What some photographers do is make lots of small copies of their best photos (in the form of cards) and sell them relatively inexpensively for people who like them but don’t want (or can’t afford) to shell out lots of money for them. But with cards, they usually get sent to someone, not kept. What about the idea of making matted (or mounted on nice card stock) 4×6 prints that people could put up on their walls or bulletin boards and enjoy. Think of all the people who have that kind of stuff, informal reproductions of good art, up on their walls in their offices at work. Now if they could be enjoying really good photos of the area around where they live rather than (or in addition to) post card reproductions of Michelangelo’s David or something, wouldn’t that be cool?

    And what about something even more radical, based on your idea of art as a verb? What about offering short photo workshops to people in your community, at a very affordable rate, where they’d get some coaching on how to take a better photo, get to go out with you and take some neat photos they could be proud of in the Sno Valley, with you helping them to see beauty in their own environs and learn how to use photography to figure stuff out, as you do. Then you could take them back to your place and give them some immediate helpful (mostly positive) feedback (this would only work if they had digital cameras, of course), let them print a couple of photos themselves and take them home to tape up on their refrigerators. Definitely not the kind of photo workshop any big-name photographers or photo schools are offering. But it would make more of a difference to people’s lives, I think.

  3. Martin Doonan said, on December 13, 2007 at 3:38 am

    I think there are 2 ways to make decent money in this world: pile ’em high & sell ’em cheap or low volume-high margin.

    Trouble is, if you want to sell to many people, the former route is the only effetive one.

    My observation of people’s reaction to photography is that they largely relate the work to what they could have done themselves. The effort involved, the quality of the print and the materials used just do not factor. Unless the audience can be educated into understanding why good photography cost more than a couple of bucks a sheet to produce, there will always be a problem.

    I suppose you could just use in-camera jpegs, print them on buck a sheet paper and sell for $5. I bet you could sell loads but I’m not sure you’d be happy doing so.

  4. Dave Beckerman said, on December 13, 2007 at 6:56 am

    At this point my sales are all web-based, so that may be a factor in these comments, but:

    My own experience has been that people have no way of judging the worth of a print other than the price. The cost of materials is not a factor. Nor is the cost of time to take the photograph, or all the wasted negatives / captures that were tossed.

    When I first began selling prints on the web, they were very cheap. Not much more than what the materials cost. I could barely manage to sell a few.

    As time went on, I experimented with different prices, and was surprised to find that I sold more prints when the prices were higher (to a certain point).

    Eventually, I came up with the idea of selling prints in three basic sizes, small, medium, and large (what I call the tube sock business model). The idea being to appeal to different segments of the market.

    Another aspect of my sales is that many of them are bought for gifts. And again – the price tells the consumer something about how I value them and hence how much the eventual recipient should value them.

    Anyway – my idea is that you don’t buy a painting based on the amount of paint that was used to make it. At the same time, I am working on producing high quality reproductions that can sell at a lower price – and are clearly sold as reproductions.

    So there you have my two cents – or should I make that my dime?

  5. Andy Frazer said, on December 13, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    Brooks Jensen pointed out (I’m paraphrasing) that 99.99% of the world will not pay over $20. From some recent shows that I’ve attended, there seems to be a lot of truth to this theory. Offer something for $20 (low margin, high volume), and also offer something else for the high end (low volume, high margin). Maybe sell 8×10’s or 4×6’s (matted) for $20, and also sell 12×18’s for $200.

    It’s not about one or the other. It’s about going after two separate markets.

  6. Doug Stockdale said, on December 13, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Ah, price pricing, a most vexing subject for an artist to price their own work.

    It seems to me that galleries have a pretty good idea about pricing and the relative ‘value’ of an artist and their work. And they seem to have no quams about what price they ask. Remember, the gallery owners are also dependent upon the right price in order to still sell something and yet stay in business.

    Having my own business (consulting), I know what the range of fees are for folks who do what I do, and the fees are not cost priced, but based on the benefit of the advice.

    So for me, I am not dependent for my living from selling photography prints, but at some point soon I would like to be. Thus, like you, how much do I sell my prints for, eh? (Mentioning Brooks as an example, he is not dependent on prints either, as he & his wife probably make a fair living from the various LensWork products).

    So my current thinking is if someone wants a ‘cheap’ print, they can print their own low-res one off my web site or blog. If they value a fine print, want to see the range of values that I can imbue a nice rag paper with and thus want to own a fine print, then they should be willing to pay the market price for it. They benefit, I benefit.

    Then the next question you have to answer for yourself, what is the market price? My guess is that is almost the same question, what is your market?? Fine art collectors (those who apprecaiate the subtles and thinking behind a work), or is it Ikea & Kmart for those who need ‘something nice’ on the wall for less than 20 bucks or is your market someplace in between? Answering that may tell you what your pricing could be.

    So the Cheshire cat asked Alice, “just where do you want to go??”

  7. Doug Stockdale said, on December 13, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Darn, I hate it when I think I’m being smart about a quote, then I get it wrong. Grrrr

    So here’s the correct quote:

    Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

    The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

    Alice: I don’t much care where.

    The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

    Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.

    The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk (photograph) long enough

  8. Print pricing « Singular Images said, on December 13, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    […] Print pricing Filed under: Art Market, Artist, Photography — Doug Stockdale @ 11:11 pm One of the stickier things that artists have to deal with is pricing their work, which is something that I have been avoiding for the better part of the year. But with the pending publication of my folio and that I need some funds to invest in some equipment, I have to come to grips with this.  Which is why I got sucked up into the pricing discussion with Paul Butzi. […]

  9. Paul said, on December 14, 2007 at 5:15 am

    The interesting part about pricing, as I learned a long time ago, is that given a choice, sometimes people won’t buy the product if it is priced too low.

    When I was shooting weddings a long time time ago, I tried to enter the market as a low cost provider and had similar experiences to what you had. People would contact me, but then wanted to haggle over price! Also, there were some who didn’t choose me because ‘Something must be wrong if his price is so much lower. No thanks!’

    By simply raising my prices about 50%, I was able to get more business!

    Thinking along those same lines as I think to price my prints, I am thinking of prices that far exceed my costs. I, like you, want to be able to provide prints that almost anyone can afford; however, the reality is that there is a mental connection between price and quality/value, although in reality, that link may not really exist.

  10. […] to price prints? Paul Butzi considers this question, and again. I’ve been asked by two people about prints from Inphotos.org as […]

  11. […] the difficulties. Also, Paul Butzi has a number of posts about pricing. Well worth the read. Start here and read forward. There are lots of great points and comments as well. However, in this post, […]

  12. […] to all for the interesting comments on my Print Pricing post. There’s a lot of food for thought […]


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