An opportunity has presented itself, and you are asked to sell your prints in a gallery or a business. But what should you charge? Set your prices too low, and you’ll go broke. Too high, and no one will buy. What is a realistic balance?
The answer to that question is as much magic as science. The problem is that there isn’t a hard and fast rule to determine pricing. Instead, it’s what the market will bear.
Here are a few things to consider when it comes to setting a print’s price:
- What does it cost to make a print? Download my Cost Estimator spreadsheet to see what it costs you to make a print. http://www.jeffcolburn.com/PrintCostEstimator.html
- What commission will the gallery/shop/art show take?
- What are your business expenses? Go here to calculate that https://nppa.org/calculator
- What do other photographers charge?
What does it cost to make a print? Many photographers have no idea. I’ve gone into stores and seen an 8×10 print, double matted and framed behind glass for $15. If the photographer isn’t losing money, he’s only making a couple of dollars. He also gets all of the local photographers mad at him for selling his work so cheaply, because it devalues their work in the eyes of the consumer. This is no way to run a business, and when you start selling photographs, you’re running a business.
Some photographers think that selling in a shop or gallery makes them a pro, but if you can’t live off of these sales, then you’re still a hobbyist. You’re feeding your ego, not your wallet. And it’s your wallet that you want to be fat and happy.
What commission will you pay to a business or gallery? Probably 50%, 40% if you’re lucky. That’s the dark side of selling through a gallery or shop. If it costs you $25 to print and frame an 8×10 print, and you sell it for $50, you make no money. You’ll spend your $25 to replace the print you just sold, and have nothing in your wallet. Sell that same print for $100, and you get to keep $25 before taxes. How many of those prints do you have to sell to make a livable $30,000? About 1,200 prints a year. Do you think you can do that? Neither do I. That’s why your photographs need to have a decent profit margin.
Use the calculator above to determine your business expenses. They will be much higher than you think. Save money where you can, especially when you first start your business.
A good starting point to setting your prices is to see what other photographers in your area, with similar subject matter and framing, charge for their work. This also gives you an idea of what the public will pay for photographs. When my work was going into a gallery, I visited galleries and shops in a 20-mile radius and made notes about what everyone was charging.
A couple years ago, I also talked to a local artist who had work like mine that she sold in art shows. I found out that the price point that people will buy at was $99. She sold plenty of prints for up to $99, but almost none over $99. This was valuable information for me, and made me decide to put off doing art shows until the economy got better. I just couldn’t make the income I wanted with $99 sales.
When you start out, your prices will be low. But remember, you can always raise your prices, but never lower them. Imagine how angry people will be if they paid $300 for one of your prints, then come back to your gallery a few months later to find that same print is now $200. You better have your checkbook ready because you’ll be giving a lot of refunds.
Start low, but have a fair price. Increase your prices by about 5% once or twice a year. You can also increase your prices as you get into more galleries, your sales increase and your notoriety grows.
You can charge more for limited editions too. And as the edition sells out you can increase the price of the remaining prints. You can have anywhere from 5 to 250 prints as a limited edition. I like the 20 to 50 range.
See what your local market is like to see if you can make a decent income. If not, check markets that are further away, but in wealthier communities.
Don’t stress over what to charge. Set a price, see how it works and start increasing your prices from there.