Musings on Photography

Size and Price

Posted in business, print pricing, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 13, 2008

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Pretty much everywhere you look, bigger art costs more than smaller art.

For an illuminating example, take a look at the very interesting website www.20×200.com [hat tip: Adam’s very interesting comments on this post].

The 20×200 project is about making art affordable. To that end, it sells art in three editions, differentiated by size. These editions are:

  • small: roughly 8×10, edition size 200, price $20
  • medium: roughly 17×22, edition size 20, price $200
  • large: roughly 30×40, edition size 2, price $2000

I think that’s pretty interesting, and I learned a lot of interesting stuff by browsing back through the various offerings and noting how many of each size sold.

At this point, I don’t have any conclusions from all this. Just an interesting observation.

Here are my Cost of Goods Sold for three sizes of print, printed on my HP Z3100 on Crane Museo Portfolio paper:

  • 6″x9″ : $2.11
  • 14″x21″: $6.64
  • 20″x30″: $12.87

That’s just the cost of consumables. I’ve not included wear and tear on the printer, nor have I included the cost of the time it takes me to sit down, load paper, push buttons, pack the print for shipping, etc. When I add in my costs for my time, I get a price scale that looks like this:

  • 6″x9″ : $19
  • 14″x21″: $24
  • 20″x30″: $30

Now, what’s interesting is that when I add in the cost of my time, I get a price for the smallest print which is not very different from the cost 20×200 charges for their smallest print. But when we bump up the size, the 20×200 price jumps by a factor of ten. My price jumps by about $5, because that’s the difference in cost for me to crank out the larger print. It basically boils down to more ink and more paper. And when we take the next bump in size, the 20×200 price jumps by a factor of ten again, and my price jumps by about $6. The 20×200 price is now about 67 times more expensive than what I plan to sell a 20″x30″ print for.

If you go and look at the 20×200 web site, they’re not just offering big prints for these higher prices. If you believe what they’re saying about how many prints they’ve sold in the various editions (and I see no reason not to believe them), they’re actually selling them at these prices.

Now, I understand that they’re using product differentiation to sell similar but slightly different products at a set of prices that span a wide range, and they’re doing that so that they can snap up what in the pricing world is called ‘consumer surplus’. I understand that if someone has $2000 in their pocket to spend on one of my prints and is willing to spend the entire $2000 to get that print, and I sell it to him for $30 I’ve essentially left $1970 in his pocket instead of putting it in mine. Let’s ignore that problem for a second. It’s an interesting issue and I’ve not fully thought all that through, although I’d point out that there’s nothing stopping me from selling that guy 67 different prints at $30 and having a very happy customer.

No, there’s a different question on my mind, and it comes from the fact that 20×200 are using the same reproduction technique I’m using (inkjet printing) and if their volume is larger than mine, their COGS is certainly lower than mine. It’s not like their costs to produce that large edition print are a factor of 100 higher than their costs for the smallest print. My question, really, is this: why are people willing to actually pony up $2000 for that large print? Is it just that they’re unaware that the cost to produce the small print is 2 bucks (about 20% of the sales price) but that the cost to produce the largest print is something like $13 (and thus less than 1% of the sales price)?

I suspect that some of this has to do with tradition. A big painting costs much more than a small painting because it takes the painter longer to make the large painting than the small one. And buyers haven’t really come to grips with the fact that when it comes to buying SOME kinds of art, the cost of goods sold is now very low, and so they haven’t really adjusted their expectation of price.

When I started making big prints, a lot of my photographer friends told me the advice they got in school was “If you can’t make it better, make it bigger”. They told me bigger isn’t necessarily better. They told me that smaller prints suited their artistic vision, and that size wasn’t important. And then they went and sold different sized prints, and guess what – they priced the bigger prints higher. On the one hand, they’d say that size didn’t matter, and then on the other hand, they’d say that size mattered a whole lot.

I find all this fascinating and confusing, and looked at from a purely production side point of view I don’t see a whole lot of reasons why a 20″x30″ print ought to be priced at 100x the price of a 6″ x 9″ print. What would happen if 20×200 inverted their pricing, and sold the smallest prints in the smallest edition size and the highest price, and the largest prints in the largest edition size and the lowest price? Would it suddenly become very fashionable to have very small prints on your walls?

12 Responses

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  1. Andreas Manessinger said, on March 13, 2008 at 7:53 am

    I tend to think of it this way: When I sell through a service like Imagekind or 20×200, I simply accept their way of doing business. When I print myself (or use a local fine art printer), I charge a relatively high amount in the range of 350$ when I print myself, and about 500$ when I need to pay a fine art printer. If a customer does not buy at that price, the image will not get sold. Basta.

    For me these prices are absolutely justified. I have high costs for equipment, I spend enormous amounts of time on photographing, post-processing, etc, and even those prices are in reality nothing more than a tip. It is not that my art is on the verge of being unprofitable, it is, that even the thought of profitability would be tantamount to a severe loss of reality.

    Thus: my stanza is, that I rather sell nothing than selling under value. This way at least I value my work 🙂

  2. Mike Mundy said, on March 13, 2008 at 8:01 am

    My thought is that bigger is not necessarily better, but certainly more impactful. As a buyer, by paying more for a bigger size, you are getting–probably–more of a “Wow” factor.

  3. cinnamon gurl said, on March 13, 2008 at 9:33 am

    I don’t think you’re valuing the artist’s time appropriately. It’s not just the actual time to sit down and make a print or a painting but the years and years of education and experience that go into every single piece, and of course the capital cost of the equipment.

    Perception of value is a big factor. A photographer I know said he couldn’t sell anything on his walls if he priced them at $50 each, but as soon as he bumped the price to $150, they sold like hotcakes.

  4. Hugh Alison said, on March 13, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I like the 20/200 idea as a starting point, although I don’t really see the point in limiting edition sizes any more – except possibly to keep the buyers happy with the big sizes.

    I’ve been thinking 20 euro would be a pretty fair price for an unmounted A4 (8×12 inch) print on normal paper such as Epson Archival Matte,including postage, anywhere in the world.

    Similarly, I think I could probably have a set price of 200 euro for an unmounted A2 (approx 17×22 inch)print on 308GSM Hahnemuhle shipped anywhere.

    Because I am not having to pay the gallery markup, and because I am not shipping mounted prints, that gives me a margin to cover shipping.

    In the same way that the web and microstock have rewritten the rules for stock photography, the web and digital printing could rewrite the rules for photographic art.

  5. Ben said, on March 13, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Except… Jen Bekman has a galleery space in NYC and is covering the cost of that and supporting the art that she shows by making sales off 20×200 and also running her seasonal competitions. Not that I think you are too wrong. You should also think about the sales concept that you would rather have a store that sells 10 $2000 items a week than 2000 $10 items a week. Much less work for the same reward. People like paying more for work, it makes them feel like they are buying something substantial. Just a thought!

  6. Ed Richards said, on March 13, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    I think an assumption in the valuing of your time for the print at about $15 is that you are assuming you will not sell many prints.

    There is an old story about the craftsman who makes chairs one at a time, each chair unique. The tourist comes in and sees the chairs at $50 each and asks how much for a set of 10? The craftsman says $5,000 because it would be boring to make 2-10.

    Would you consider it a fair return to to be paid $15,000 for doing 1,000 prints?

    But all of this pricing discussion based on costs misses the point you made very well several months back – no one cares what your costs are, you have to find what they are willing to pay.

  7. Oren Grad said, on March 13, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    >> 20×200 are using the same reproduction technique I’m using (inkjet printing) <<

    There are exceptions, like this one:

    http://www.20×200.com/art/2008/02/opp-alabama.html

    I ordered the contact print version out of curiosity. On first acquaintance, I’m not wildly impressed with the print either esthetically or technically. I’ve put it away and will go back to it later to see whether I change my mind.

    Regardless, it must have been considerably more fuss to run off 200 of them than it would have been for an inkjet edition, and I’m still impressed that they bothered.

  8. Paul Butzi said, on March 13, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Would you consider it a fair return to to be paid $15,000 for doing 1,000 prints?

    Let’s figure I’m pulling a profit of $13 per order. Figure that with this volume of orders, I have essentially no setup time and no teardown – it’s all time spent printing address labels and feeding the printer. My printer will print two prints in four minutes. Let’s say I can do one print every four minutes. That’s $13 in profit every four minutes, or $195/hour.

    Yes, I’d be happy to fill print orders for $195 an hour. I suspect most people would.

    [note: my proposed price for a 6×9 print is actually higher than $15, so that my actual rate of compensation would work out to $255/hour. Again, I’d be happy to fill orders for $255/hour.

  9. Robert Hoehne said, on March 13, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    I know someone that buys an artists piece of work every week, every week another $25, never fails. The artist has huge costs for reproduction, studio costs, equipment costs, invested years of time in their art.
    The artwork is a music CD, why is a print so different?

  10. Frank Armstrong said, on March 14, 2008 at 7:23 am

    It is a big seduction for an artist to see their work sell (if only once) for a $1000 or more just because they made a bigger print. But at that point, I wonder what drives what — size or dollars? I have (so far) resisted making silver prints larger than 16×20, just too damned much work to make anything bigger — bigger space around the enlarger, bigger easel, bigger trays, bigger sink, bigger print washer, bigger drying screens, bigger storage boxes, bigger mattes and frames. All those “biggers” have much bigger cost, too. But for less cost than all those “biggers,” I can buy an ink jet printer that takes up less space and will crank out 17×22″ prints all day long with much less work on my part. This is not an arguement on whether I should go ink jet over silver — I sit strattle that fence already — but everyone is talking about cost of production vs. selling price. My question is should an ink jet print sell for less or the same as a silver print? I think this conversation is driven by the fact that with relative ease, one can crank out a multitude of prints. I have in the past sold a 125 silver print edition of one image for $10K — took me working everyday for two weeks to make 125 matching prints. (A company gave the prints mounted in a beautiful custom presentation to the principals in a $100m deal.) I could have done the same work in 2-3 days if ink jet. I don’t have answers, only experience. Currently I sell a 16×20 silver print unmatted/unframed for $800, and any smaller size for $600 via my gallery reps. And I’m toiling with prices for sizes of ink jet prints…..sigh. Of course, nothing in my diatribe address the value of the artist’s image regardless the size.

    P’taker

  11. Jon Fitch said, on March 14, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I agree with your COGS analysis. I have roughly the same costs. What I don’t agree on is your “soft costs.” If you are going to do a business analysis, you need to do a full one.

    You need to account for electricity, depreciation of all equipment in the chain of production including cameras, printers, computers, etc…

    Every time I click my camera’s shutter, I figure I’m depleting the value of the camera by 1/10,000 of it’s purchase cost. Camera insurance? Lens costs? Time spent making the photos and then post-processing?

    In addition, the probability of a flake ruining the print increases in direct proportion with the area of the print. You don’t seem to have factored that into your pricing. I’d take your COGS, triple it, and then add in the value of your time to account for the “soft costs.”

    6×9: $20 is a good price. These are almost “throw away” promotional size.
    14×21: $40.
    20×30: $60.

  12. Bryan Willman said, on March 22, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Actually, there seems to be confusion in the market between cogs and “burdened costs”.

    So actually, given the real burdened costs (all the support equipment, the effort, etc.) the price *ought* to be $B + $C where $B is some base cost.

    So an 8×12 would be $60. A 16×20 would be $75. A 20×30 or whatever might be $90.

    That is, one would expect the cost per square inch to go down, because you are paying, say, $50 flat rate to make the image at all.

    There ARE things priced this way – business cards. Want one? $25. Want 100? $25. Want 1000? $35.

    By the way, Paul, you need to apply a bigger multipler to your cogs. In most ventures it’s 4x to 10x. That’s rent/utilities/distribution etc. Note that doesn’t change the “why is 4x the paper area worth 100x the money”.


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