A friend and I were recently talking about how to set the price for our images and this brought up some thoughts I’ve had over the years. Typically people price their work in one of three ways:
1. Cost method, total up your costs and then add a percentage for profit.
2. What others are charging for “similar” work. If others are getting $150 for an 8 X 10 then I should be able to get that too.
3. What the market will bear.” Price your work as high as it will sell for and get as much as you can.
First let me say that if you’re trying to earn your living from your photography, then ignore everything I’m about to say. I made a purposeful decision not to earn a living from my art because I didn’t want to lose my passion for it if I “had” to do it every day. Looking back these many years, I do not regret that decision and in fact it’s been reinforced by another lesson that I’ve learned; art and money do not mix well because it requires too many compromises. Worrying about producing art that others like and will buy is not conducive to risk taking and being creative. When I create I want to think about only two things; the art and how I feel about it.
So what method should you use to price your work? I’m suggesting that there might be another way to determine pricing based on your goals rather than your costs or market forces. Several years ago I asked a similar pricing question to someone I respect and he in turn asked me a question: in the end would you rather have your images in thousands of homes or to have sold them for thousands of dollars? He emphasized that there was no right or wrong answer, only what I preferred. I immediately answered that I would like my art to be in thousands of homes.
Therefore I have chosen to price my work reasonably and affordably compared to my peers, because my goal is to produce art that I love and allow as many people to purchase it as possible. This approach fits my goals; I do what I love, have remained independent and I am able to pay for my equipment, supplies and photo trips. I am the luckiest person in the world!
However this approach has come under criticism from my peers for two reasons. First, I only offer open editions and many feel that this cheapens my work and makes it less “serious.” But the truth is that offering limited editions is simply a pricing strategy, it creates a shortage to increase the price. This approach goes against everything I believe, and the thought of someday not being able to make any more prints is completely unacceptable. My intent is that my art be enjoyed by many; not 12, 25 or 50 people!
The second complaint other photographers have with my pricing is that my lower prices hurts them. If my friend is asking $1500 for his image and I’m asking $400, then he believes that my lower pricing makes it harder for him to sell his higher priced work. However I do not believe this to be true, because we are not buying a commodity such as apples. If I’m selling apples for $400 a ton then it does make it harder for someone else to sell the same apples for $1500 a ton. But in the art world we are not talking about apples and apples, but rather apples and oranges. If someone really loves my friends oranges, they are not going to buy my apples just because they’re cheaper.
Likewise someone will not buy my art just because it’s cheaper. People buy art because they love it!
My beliefs about editions and pricing go against everything that the traditional art world and gallery system believe. I don’t care. I create for myself and count myself lucky to find others who appreciate and want to purchase my art. My goal is to put that art into as many homes a possible. This is what makes me happy.
P.S. Joel Tjintjelaar just published the first interview in a new “Artist’s Vision Series” in which he focuses on the vision behind an image. My image “The Angel Gabriel” is featured in this first interview.