Musings on Photography

print pricing, part the third

Posted in business, print pricing, the art world by Paul Butzi on December 15, 2007


Ken Smith posted a long response on print pricing. It’s long enough and takes a view sufficiently divergent from mine that I think it warrants a detailed response.

Ken wrote:

It is obvious that the pricing discussion is outside the gallery world. If you have several galleries, even in different financial demographics one has to charge the same for retail price, and the commercial galleries I’m with all take a 50% commission. When you sell a print yourself in any venue, it is considered bad business to discount hugely from the set retail price, because any gallery would say you are undercutting them. All a client needs to do is come to you directly and get a reduced price. There goes your gallery representation.

I don’t participate in the gallery system in the sense that I have a standing arrangement for representation at any galleries. Have I had shows in galleries? Sure. Have I sold work through galleries? Sure. But it’s been a long time since I’ve sought any representation arrangement with a gallery.

I don’t see such arrangements as all that great a deal. It’s not that I think gallery owners are bad; it’s just that the economics of the arrangement are necessarily not very good for the photographer. Having a pile of (say) 20 prints in a storage closet or flat file at the gallery, waiting for the gallery to show them to prospective customers – that’s just going to be a huge capital investment on the part of the artist compared to other ways of getting work in front of potential buyers. And because of the overhead of the gallery as a retail channel, there are necessarily limits on pricing, and a substantial cut of the proceeds must be taken by the gallery. It’s not malice on the part of the gallery owner, it’s the practicalities of running a retail front selling art.

For artist’s whose works are necessarily unique (like painters, for instance) galleries may well make sense. For photographers, who are selling prints with a fairly large development cost, very low cost of goods sold, and the ability to produce large numbers of prints, I just don’t think the gallery retail channel makes much sense as it’s currently put together.

Even outside a gallery environment, even for a hobbiest, to only charge for paper, ink, frameing is absurd. What about the mat cutter, the Rototrim paper cutter, the studio and it’s furniture, the camera equipment, the printer purchase. How about the skills gathered all those years to even be able to come up with a print. Are a few cents all it takes to satisfy vanity?

I think you’re confusing what you want something to be worth with the price it can actually command. It doesn’t matter if I think my years of training and effort, my capital investment, etc. mean that my minimum print price should be $1500 if the buyers don’t care about all that and won’t buy at that price. And, in my experience, buyers really *don’t* care. That it might well cost more to make a photo than can be reclaimed by selling prints of it is not only possible but is highly probable.

The question to ask, for me, is not “Can I make money selling prints, above and beyond the entire entailed cost of getting to the point where I have a print?” The question is “Now that I have a body of work that can be printed, how can I extract maximum utility from it?” And when it turns out that I want to extract that utility in the form of money, and the maximum return is less than the cost of production – well, sometimes that’s the way it works out in the real world. I’ve already done the work, so I might as well extract whatever I can from it. Even if that’s below the cost of production.

If you’re earning your living from selling prints, and you find yourself in the position that your maximum return is less than the cost of production – well, the usual term for that is ‘being in the wrong business’.

I frankly don’t see how vanity factors into all this. Maybe you can fill me in on that.

A full time artist trying to make a living with his work, having committed to the work for the long term, is now competing with those that don’t look at the print sale as a business, but a fun sideline to their day job. A full time artist is attempting to grow in his reputation and so must keep trying to find places to show his work where it will be seen by a wider and wider audience, potentially to reach a museum curator, etc.

Yes, full time artists must compete against people who might be less committed. Yes, a full time artist must spend a great deal of time on promotion.

Are you saying that because this is so, I’m not free to sell my work at whatever price I decide is appropriate? I made it, I own it, and I can do with it whatever I please, including selling it dear or selling it cheap, or even giving it away. If that causes problems for you, well, my advice is to suck it up and figure out a way to compete.

If I’m selling prints for, say, $70 and you want to sell prints for $1400, then I’d suggest that you need a way to differentiate your product from mine, and that way had better be sufficiently persuasive that you can persuade enough folks that they will get 20 times more value from your work than from mine. Remember that at the same time you’re doing that, I’ll be reminding them that they can own one of your prints or 20 of my prints.

This is not malice on my part, nor is it unfair competition or treachery or unethical or cheating or unscrupulous or even just dodgy ethics. It’s just the way the marketplace works. No matter how much artists might wish it, their special status as artists committed to their work does not suspend the economics of a competitive marketplace where customers are free to make choices about buying their artwork.

If you’re finding it hard to sell your work at the prices you’d like because you’re competing with amateurs who are undercutting you on price, then it seems you have two possible courses of action: 1) change your business model, 2) attempt to persuade every amateur in the world to raise their prices to match yours, so that they get fewer sales and you get more.

Choice (1) has a substantial chance of success and choice (2) is laughably unlikely to succeed. I’d suggest that if you follow choice (2), it’s going to end up pretty much the same way for you as it turned out for the buggy whip manufacturers who insisted that people not take up with those nasty, dangerous, non-traditional, new-fangled automobiles.

So the price he gets after the gallery takes 50%, and he then deducts his framing cost, transportation or shipping cost, is only the beginning. He has to pay for all the structure that allowed him to make that print, including health insurance costs, work that never sells or is damaged, promotion, freebies to benefit auctions that are requested often. There is the website building software, the webhosting fees, the domain registration. Office supplies, and materials for experimentation. Glass of different sizes stacked in the garage, and the skills to cut that glass. All materials for framing have to be archival, and unless you live next to a supply outlet, you better have extra on-hand. All that is absorbed, before even a print is sold. Maybe 20 pieces sit framed in each gallery’s store room, waiting for a customer, but the artist is holding all the costs of making those products, until someone decides to take one home. What other business operates so speculatively?

I agree. The cost of doing business is high – just like other businesses, which have similar cost issues. Lots of small businesses that are producing hard goods face the problem of having to produce on speculation and maintain inventory at multiple retail locations. On the other hand, your business has retail opportunities outside the traditional channel, and technology has made it easy to maintain minimal inventory.

A client who buys work then is buying into the commitment of the artist, with his own commitment that costs a bit more. He will share in seeing that artist grow over time, for it is a commitment for the long term. That is what the collector is getting for the extra cost – something that is within and behind the print on the wall. It may be difficult to value, but it is real.

I don’t doubt that, in the gallery world, there are people who are actually buying a chance to share in seeing an artist grow over time, and appreciate the fact that the artist is committed and want to show a similar commitment to the artist. But honestly, after you get past those two customers, I think people are buying something else.

And in any case, that interest and sharing can happen just as easily at $15 a print as it can at $1500 a print – perhaps it will happen more often, since more people can afford to buy.

With now an easy online presence where any amateur with a real job can sell work without the all-or-nothing commitment idea, those that have a long term promise have been end-runned. The struggle to sell in a diluted market now is even tougher. I am not saying it’s not great to see lots of photography out there, but it may be worthwhile to consider that the photographers of the past that we look up to, had the commitment, stuck it out and built a reputation and a body of work.

Actually, there are quite a few photographers of the past that I admire who either had day jobs (e.g. Meatyard, who worked happily as an optometrist), or who sold work at what now seems like ridiculously low prices (think everyone before Adams hit it big).

And, to be honest, I don’t much care about the fate of art photography as a profession. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I think that art-making is far too important to be left to professionals.

And in any case, I know lots of photographers who have made the commitment, are sticking to it, and are building a reputation and a body of work. Essentially none of these excellent photographers are making a living from it. But there’s a difference between being committed to your art, and quitting your day job. However much you may feel that the only way to be fully committed to your art is to do nothing else in your life, the vast majority of artists are not now and will never rely on their art for a living.

Who will we have to look back on if no artist can make a living in this market, and folds to go work at Boeing.

I don’t see the point of this part of your argument. If I don’t charge high prices, no one will remember me? If I don’t charge high prices, no one will remember you? Who the heck cares? It doesn’t matter how much I charge, no one will remember me. The odds are just vanishingly small no matter what I do. If I charge a million bucks a print, all I’ll be famous for is charging high prices. Big deal.

I know a lot of artists with day jobs. In some cases, the day job is not helping their art. But in other cases, their art is informed by what they do for a day job. I don’t know that it’s clear that every artist should aim for doing art full time.

Prices should represent the TOTAL cost of getting to that point of making that print. And one should consider, if one is respectful of the medium, that pricing is relative to what is within and behind the print. Otherwise, someone in the future will be asked ‘Who influenced your work?’ All that is come up with is ‘Flickr’?

Nonsense. You can set your prices however you please, of course. But the optimum price point has much to do with the price/demand curve and nothing at all to do with the cost of production. You can amortize the costs of getting to a print across a few highly priced prints, or you can amortize those costs across a lot of lower priced prints. It can work either way. But if your goal is to maximize your profit, the pricing decision should be based on optimizing the price to get maximum return, and not on trying to regain the costs as quickly as possible. This is basic business school and economics.

And what is this business that if I’m to be respectful of the medium, I need to orient my print sales around selling relatively few prints at a higher price as opposed to taking advantage of the technological shift in printmaking and selling lots of prints at a lower price? You make this statement but I don’t see any support for it, and to be frank it strikes me as silliness. I admit that I strongly suspect that ‘be respectful of the medium’ is a code phrase for “I’ve got a nice little arrangement with things the way they are, and if you meddle with it I’m going to accuse you of being disrespectful.”

If it is only about the pretty picture, then why not find a magazine with nice shots, cut out a page and go to walmart and buy a plastic wood-grained frame? Hang it on the wall. From two feet away, it is a nice picture, and serves the wall and owner well for a time. Still, it is an weak approximation of aesthetics or art.

Uh huh. This sounds suspiciously like ‘blaming the audience‘.

Look, if someone wants to take a magazine, cut out a photo, frame it and put it on their wall, I’m fine with that. I don’t see it as a problem, nor do I see it as evidence of some inadequacy on the part of that person. There are a lot of people who can’t afford $1500 bucks for an archivally framed, archivally mounted print which they can arrange on their wall with color balanced gallery lighting. Are you saying that someone who’s working two minimum wage jobs so that their kids can eat three squares a day doesn’t deserve a little beauty in her life, even if that’s a print she clipped from a discarded magazine and put in a Walmart frame?

Because if that’s what you’re saying, then I wholeheartedly disagree with you. I think that even the less fortunate people in my community deserve to have some nice stuff in their lives. I’m not looking down on them and deciding that they’re unworthy to participate; I’m instead actively looking for ways to produce and sell art where they can have a chance own it, too. Is that really such a bad thing?

Nothing has been ‘given up’ by the buyer or the print. So there is nothing inside, it has no heart and reflects its worth in the collaboration made. But when one buys a print by someone who has climbed the ladder, lasted over the long term, has a reputation and a future, then the pretty picture has a foundation, a dream, and is part of the much larger story of photography and art.

Oh, please. Spare me the sanctimonious blather. You’re saying that the justification for a high price is that the artist paid his/her dues? And that the buyer doesn’t really get as much out of it if they buy at a price that doesn’t make it painful for them? Give me a break. Really, please, give me a break.

What about the guy who’s spent his life running a dairy farm, working hard and getting dirty, and he looks at one of my prints and thinks “I just know my wife would love to have this, but it’s just too expensive.” Are you saying that when he buys a print at $50, he’s given up nothing? When he buys a print at $50, it’s a big deal to him. Bigger, maybe, than when some corporate CEO plunks down $1500 and writes it off as a business expense when he hangs it in his office.

You’re saying that the only art worth possessing is art where the artist has suffered, worked on their art for a long time, and has built a reputation and a future? And the sale of art isn’t really positive unless the buyer makes a real sacrifice to make the purchase? Really, you think that? Because I don’t.

Add these thoughts to the mix when thinking about how to price your work, then do what you think is best.

Sure, I will. Look, I don’t want to seem as if I’ve got any ill will for you, and for the rest of the art photo world that finds that new technologies may mean the end of their profits. In some larger sense, really, what I think doesn’t matter. The changes are happening. You’ve already embraced inkjet printing, which I assume has lowered your replacement cost for prints you sell.

I think big changes are coming in the way photographs sell. I think that easy, extremely high quality reproduction at large volumes will necessarily change how art gets sold, and I actually think that’s a good thing. But I also think it means that the days of photographic art selling primarily as mythic objects that possess untestable magical properties that justify high prices are over. I actually think that’s a good thing, too.

19 Responses

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  1. Bryan Willman said, on December 16, 2007 at 11:32 am

    This whole discussion seems a bit odd.

    There have *always* been much less costly (cheaper) forms of images to compete with photography, because various printing processes (as in Posters) were available before photography was well established. Many of the most famous images of the last 200 years have been published in magazines and newspapers, and individual copies where either very cheap or literally free.

    For the commercial side of photography, it’s been a truism for a very long time (like at least 35+ years) that commercial photographers do NOT sell photographs. They sell solutions. Solutions to needs for a particular look, for a kind of reliable representation of a story, for images that will sell product, for a reputation that will keep an AD from being fired. (“I hired what more can I do!?” – I actually heard that from Cam Chapman about why the most famous product guy in Chicago got all the gigs in about 1980. One of those rationalizations that may well be completely true.)

    Any conversation that tries to justify High Pricing based on “how hard the artist worked” or “what the total cost of product sold” for the artist is, is completely in the weeds. Nobody cares, nobody ever has.

    Yes, Adams prints and now Picasso paintings sometimes trade hands for a lot of money. I’d like to point out that both of them are dead and don’t get any of the money (nor do their estates), and further, this bears as much relationship to normal art as winning the power ball does to normal checkbook balances.

    To be a financially successful landscape photographer, you must find a way to fill some need. You returns will be a function of fulfilling that need, not on what you “deserve” (deserve has got nothing to do with it). Are your works somehow very striking? Do they align with somebody’s political ax? Are they of MY farm?

  2. Bryan Willman said, on December 16, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Above quote should be:

    “I hired Mr. X. – what more can I do??”

    I don’t recall Mr. X.’s name, I just know it wasn’t Cam. (Though he clearly did a lot of work.)

  3. K Smith said, on December 16, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    I submitted my perspective on your question of pricing, because you were asking it, by putting it on your blog. It sounds like you already have your mind made up, so why have a discourse?

    To dissect my comment into small pieces, makes it easy to take them out of context relative to the overall ‘flavor’ of the comment. I will attempt to answer your comments in a few paragraphs. The overall ‘flavor’ of my comment was to say:

    Suppose you had no income other than your prints, and it was your business…just for a moment imagine. Yes, you committed to that business, because you love working for yourself, and you think you can make a living doing the fine art style of photography that you love. Then, you have no other way to live your life than to figure ALL the costs into your pricing. Remember, you have no other income coming in, but what you sell in your prints. That is simply business. How can you have expenses, without a way to pay for them?

    To really grow in the business one does have to have a gallery presence. If you want to have your work seen by many people, then you must realize that corporation art reps, art consultants, etc. go shopping in galleries, tho more are now coming directly to me via my website. They also take a commission, but if purchased, the work is seen by a wider audience. Like any business, one is wanting to get what is made out to a wider and wider audience.

    Of course, one can leave the business and find something else to do, but if the work was good, and eventually would have risen to some importance, isn’t it a shame to the overall history of the medium that one is stopped short of what could have been realized.

    We are talking about two things then. About what one would like to do for the art, and what one has to do because of the business.

    Are you still with me? Making no income unless you sell prints? Making no purchases unless you have the sales? How does one buy the new HP printer? Or the best camera to do the job? One doesn’t. That is what I am talking about when I say all-or-nothing, commitment, etc. If it is a business, then the price of the goods sold has to incorporate all costs of the business. Leave nothing out. If it is not a business, then it doesn’t matter what the price is. Give the work away….and that’s where I might have splurged in using the word ‘vanity’. Sorry about that. Ok, one is making the prints to make others happy. A good thing, but if one is also in a business, then how does one survive afterwards? Don’t get me wrong, I give plenty of small prints away to models, people who have shared their time or their land to my landscape, etc. That is another thing, but also part of the business.

    For pricing, which was the question you had in your blog, seen from a business viewpoint, I believe my comments are valid when taken as a whole. If you are in another situation where it is not necessary to share your expenses across the product made, then you are indeed fortunate to do what you like, and be able to make work for less than true cost.

    also, a note: when one amortizes the true costs of business justly, the end profit one makes (without considering ANY labor costs) IS very small.

    And, inkjet printing is not cheaper than making silver prints. I’ve done both for a long time. The time involved is similar. More equipment is needed for inkjet than for darkroom production. Digital work allows for more possibilities of experimentation, more choices of creativity, and why I have almost totally switched. With the right skill, the print made can be just as good, tho I don’t want to compare – they are two different mediums.

    I am glad you brought up the question of pricing. It is a difficult subject because so much is ‘relative’. I hope you find the answers for your own situation. For me, it is good to readdress the question, to put into words and revalidate for myself the commitment made to this creative life, this business. Thank you for that.

  4. StephaneB said, on December 16, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    To commit oneself to a losing business has always been a bad idea. The business being artistic does not improve the idea.

    Everything Paul explains is business 101. The rest is just wishful thinking.

  5. David Ray Carson said, on December 16, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Paul, basically the biz model you are leaning towards is the Terry Redlin model.

    Terry has made millions. He is loved by millions. He is not respected in the upscale art world. His original paintings, back when he sold them, were $50-$70k. Now you can buy this from his site: Plenty of big name artists have made millions too (Jeff Koons comes to mind), and their work may grace coffee cups in museum shops as well.

    Different paths to the same goal: Money (note: doesn’t mean riches). Maybe fame. Validation.

    It seems like three paths in the art world (for living artists):
    – sell few, price high
    – sell many, price low
    – and if you are wealthy enough, sell whatever, price whatever

    Here’s a quote, also from his site, “Terry Redlin paints what the average person hangs over the couch. And his images hang over hundreds of thousands of couches.
    Ducks struggling against the wind. Startled white-tailed deer. A cabin tucked into wooded lakeshore. A house on a hill with windows lit to welcome neighbors. Rusting wagon wheels. Someone lending a helping hand. Children fishing. Dogs, like loyal family members, following, guarding.”

    Also, “He is out to please the public,” says his wife, Helene. “When you’re accepted by the public, it’s as if your personality and everything else you have done with yourself and your life has been accepted.”

    “I want to please people,” he agrees. “And the average person, well, they think like I do. I think I’m an average person with a very average mind. So I just paint what I like.”

    It boils down to marketing, not “quality.” See “Zen & Art of Motorcyle Maintainence” for discussion on *that*. How do you want to be perceived? Ferrari or Ford? Toyota or Lexus? Porsche or Yugo? Honda or Acura? Some of these examples are obviously different aspects of the same company.

    I don’t hate Mr. Redlin; he is technically excellent, but there is a reason why he built his own museum.

    No matter how rational your rationalizations, it comes down to pure emotion. Your relationship with money is a window to your relationship to the world, and vice versa. If you don’t care what people think, then price your work accordingly.

    A bit of a zen koan, ah?

  6. Darrell Klein said, on December 16, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    I have really enjoyed reading both sides of this discussion. This is something I have thought over many times myself. I had just about arrived at the conclusion that it is next to impossible to make a true living doing artistic photography as a a sole profession and source of income. This discussion has driven that point home even more for me. I believe that Paul is right, the times are changing. The ones that are able to adapt will be the ones that survive. This has happened many times throughout history with many different things. We shouldn’t really be surprised here.

  7. lumieredargent said, on December 17, 2007 at 4:20 am

    “Ferrari or Ford? Toyota or Lexus?”

    I have exactly the same respect for engineers of all these firms. They work marvels in different set of constraints.

    Give the budget to a Ford engineer and you get the 1969 GT40, a Ferrari beater, a work of art, a piece of beauty.

    The more I think about it, the more I agree with Paul. And I am even more intent to follow that path. The hope to make a living is nil. So what? I already have a paid job. This is pleasure. And if I can share it and pay a small part of my next gear with it, that’s fine!

  8. StephaneB said, on December 17, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Another problem with high prices is they have imprinted in the collective mind that an original print is an expensive, over-priced thing. So the initial reaction to the idea of buying a print is generally somewhat cautious instead of casual like when someone buys a CD. It should be the other way around. Buying prints is definitely a leisure thing and should be relaxing.

  9. Gordon McGregor said, on December 17, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    At some point, in the not so far future, the notion of print delivery will head in the same direction of books, CDs etc.

    Much like music and iTunes, people will ‘buy’ a print to display on some sort of improved e-ink hanging display. Like the digital photo frames of just now, but with the same density and tonal range of a good print.

    I don’t see it as particularly far in the future – 10 years maybe ? Certainly well within most of our lifetimes.

    So what’s the print distribution pricing model in that situation ? $1500 for an image file ? The notion of high cost/ value used to maybe make sense when dark room printing required much time and hands on effort per print, from the photographer/ printer. Now you make one master file and print multiple near perfect reproductions, assuming your equipment is well calibrated and maintained. The cost makes less sense.

    I’ve sold my digital files occasionally for 4 figure prices, but it generally feels wrong when I sell prints for triple digits to private buyers. I’d rather have 10 people pay $50 and enjoy my images in their home than one sale at $500. I’d make as much money, more or less – and the printing costs/effort is essentially the same once I’ve got to the point of being able to make one good print.

  10. Gordon McGregor said, on December 17, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    as a run on comment to my previous, what stops people is I think a realisation that even on their ‘artifically limited to 10’ edition runs, that they’ll probably never sell more than one or two anyway – so they try to extract as much as possible from that one or two.

    Courage of your convictions or belief in your talent/ marketability would seem to push towards a lower prices and higher volume approach. Fear of few sales pushes towards the higher price and fake scarcity marketing approach.

  11. David Ray Carson said, on December 17, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    I don’t think some of your readers are understanding what I am saying.

    Perhaps it will be more clear if the example is cast aluminum sculpture. The more you make, the less they are worth in the mind of an art buyer. Think of a Toyota Civic.

    If you make less of your sculptures and make it known there are less, then you can market your work like a Lexus.

    Same materials (basically). Less physical labor.

    Maybe one wants to market their work like a Civic. Maybe you want a larger audience at the expense of exclusivity. Whatever works. This is not a new idea.

  12. David Ray Carson said, on December 17, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Not to beat a dead horse here, but a danger of lowering one’s price to the floor is commodification. 99cent prints/wallpaper, anyone? Toothpaste? Toilet paper?

  13. Darrell Klein said, on December 17, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    David, I understand exactly what you are saying. It’s just that the pricing model you describe is losing traction in many parts of the United States. There will probably always be high-priced work. It will just face more and more competition from more reasonably priced work. Photography is being demystified and the prices are starting to reflect this.

  14. David Ray Carson said, on December 18, 2007 at 7:36 am

    Photography, as an art form, hasn’t been mystified, as far as art history goes. Maybe you are talking about the optical/chemical mechnical reproduction process being mysterious vs inkjet?

    In any case, I think what’s hanging many people up here is just that: the ease of mechnical reproduction. That is a red herring because no matter what you price your work at, chances are you won’t sell any, or maybe just one or two. So the plan of lowballing many inkjets isn’t going to work anyway, for most artists.

    If you are serious about targeting the low end, just fire off 20,000 offset prints and sell each for $5. As has been said before, the majority of low ender’s don’t care about print quality.

    Things haven’t really fundamentally changed, as far as SELLING the work goes. You sell it as a poster, it probably is treated and thought of as a poster.

  15. David Ray Carson said, on December 18, 2007 at 10:31 am

    You know, I can’t recall a discussion about the producers of an object, as a group, actually wanting to lower prices. Buyers, certainly. Individual producers do this too, to undercut competitors, increase market share, increase their fame, to satify some deep need, etc.. yes.

    I know we are all individual producers, and not talking for all photographers, but some of you seem to be advocating lower prices across the board. Do authors of books do that, en masse? Does a rational person, with the interests of their profession do that? Only someone with a different motive, and the means to support that motive (day job, independently wealthy, what have you).

    If your work can’t get past the gatekeepers of art, ie. galleries, magazines, blogs, whatever, or you choose not to use galleries because they are distasteful to you or your work is not in style, that’s your right of course. But since most people, regardless of wealth, have little idea about what is “good,” they want a tastemaker to confirm that for them. I suppose you can post a full rez photo on Flickr and say, “High-rez jpg file for sale via paypal for $1” and see what happens. Maybe it will make you feel better.

    This whole discussion seems less about, shall we say, the “art of pricing,” and more about grinding axes about galleries.

  16. […] 18, 2007 Ken Smith wrote eloquently, expressing the idea that Suppose you had no income other than your prints, and it was your […]

  17. Paul Butzi said, on December 18, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    You know, I can’t recall a discussion about the producers of an object, as a group, actually wanting to lower prices.

    Generally speaking producers don’t, as a group, discuss pricing. That’s because it’s usually regarded as price fixing, illegal, and a good way to get thrown in jail.

    some of you seem to be advocating lower prices across the board. Do authors of books do that, en masse? Does a rational person, with the interests of their profession do that?

    The authors I know worry a lot about making maximum money. Generally they trust the publishers to hit the optimum price point. Publishers and booksellers, on the other hand, spend a great deal of time and effort setting prices. And yes, they will happily reduce prices if it will net them more profit. Trust me on this. hint: ever seen books marked down or stacked on a ‘clearance sale’ table?

    A rational person, with the interests of their profession, will do what they have to do to optimize profits.

    This whole discussion seems less about, shall we say, the “art of pricing,” and more about grinding axes about galleries.

    Well, some of us are discussing the art of pricing.

    Others seem to be arguing that discussing the art of pricing is something no artist with any merit at all would get caught dead doing.

  18. David Ray Carson said, on December 19, 2007 at 8:40 am

    Generally speaking producers don’t, as a group, discuss pricing. That’s because it’s usually regarded as price fixing, illegal, and a good way to get thrown in jail.

    This rebuttal is not an argument. I haven’t heard anyone say, “Let’s form a cartel and price all prints at $20.” C’mon, man. Let’s take the temperature down a notch.

    The authors I know worry a lot about making maximum money.

    If you want to compare apples to apples, we should be talking about the subset of authors who create art (like fiction, etc), not the ones who write travel guides. Do you think for one second that most would trade their status of an artist for more money? That they would maximize their profits and be market their work as a Harlequin romance? (Again perceptions at work, not “what it is”)

    Authors of books do not generally get together and say, “The market is changing! Down with the publisher (gallery) model! It’s broken! Time for everyone to self-publish, or better yet, PDF!” It takes a very, very lucky and talented person to self-publish and make it. The exception proves the rule, the exception isn’t the rule.

    A rational person, with the interests of their profession, will do what they have to do to optimize profits.

    A rational businessperson will mainly optimize profits. A rational artist will also optimize profits, but not at the expense of an art reputation.

    An artist who doesn’t play the art game looks as foolish as the businessperson who doesn’t play the business game. Few in business cultivate the reputation of getting up late, being sloppy with numbers, and not running forecasts (ever though they might be like that). Likewise, few artists strive to look like they are eying the bottom line like an accountant, maximizing profits, and filling every niche.

    It’s perception. You might not like the art world. But you can’t change how people perceive of your work with logic alone.

    Others seem to be arguing that discussing the art of pricing is something no artist with any merit at all would get caught dead doing.

    Where some are getting hung up is they are explicitly applying the art of mass market business pricing principals to the small art market, I fear to their art career’s detriment. I am saying, “Watch out!” Most of us (except Warhol) play the game.

  19. David Ray Carson said, on December 19, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Another way to think about it: Is your market fine art or decor? It doesn’t change what you call your work, maybe, but it requires a different marketing (included pricing) strategy for each case, and each strategy usually winds up affecting your reputation. A value neutral fact.

    One thing that probably will change your work, however, is if you produce with either market in mind. Your work will become less you, and more them (the audience), and vice versa. Unless, of course, the whole point of your art is a critique or meta-commentary of the art or decor market.

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