The market for photographic prints has boomed beyond recognition in recent years. 10 grand is the new five hundred bucks. This has led investment advisers and asset managers to recommend art as the wisest investment of the moment (along with wine, cars ...).
This is a simplification of reality.
The art market is booming because of artificial scarcity. Buyers rarely sell. Some invest in art they actually like and never part with it. Others buy and put in a vault, gunning for higher returns than the banks can offer and greater stability than Wall Street. Plus a solid sense of achievement and prestige that Amazon stock cannot emulate. Museums acquire or receive donations that rarely return to the market either. For these, and a number of other reasons, the market isn't fluid like a stock exchange and is strongly biased in favour of appreciation. It is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, that keeps rising strongly but somewhat artificially.
That doesn't mean there are no rational rules to help you understand the value of a print based on objective parameters. This is what this set of articles is about.
This matters for one main reason. Nothing in the following pages will help you anticipate price fluctuations or the standing of a particular artist. This is not an investment guide but a set of pages essentially aimed at helping you determine what in your photographs can be considered an objective source of added value for a potential buyer.
Mercantilism is not the goal. You may not want to sell your photographs, or buy those of others, and you'd be wrong in both cases 😉 But it's always interesting to be able to project your work on clearly defined axes of evaluation. None of us work in a vacuum (at least, if you do, this is the wrong website for you) and creating interesting work always happens at the interface between our personal inspiration and the inspiration drawn from the work of others. And it's far easier to evolve consciously when we have an objective frame of evaluation at our disposal. The following pages will help you evaluate your work and artistic decisions for meaningful criteria.
Also, if you plan to swap photographs with others (which we encourage and are building a platform for), some sort of agreed and objective method of evaluating value is very useful.
So this course is meant to help you estimate the value of your photographs in a way you feel comfortable with, and help you make conscious decisions about where you want to take your photography.
How can you price your prints?
Note the mention of the word "print". This is not about selling stock photography or any other dematerialized form of your work. This is about estimating the value of physical objects that happen to be works of art and, more specifically, photographic prints. In those, the intangible value of the image is added to the craftsmanship value of the object itself. The two are compounded into a value greater than the sum (if you've done your work correctly).
A common practise based on printing costs only is to apply some margin to take random losses - and your desired income - into account, and set that as the asking price. For example, if the price of shipping and printing add up to 80€, you could decide to sell for 160€. This would absorb the inevitable mishaps and hidden costs, and still leave you maybe 40€ of personal income. That works for many people, but it's a very accountant-like way of looking at art. Even if you only start that way, it will be very difficult to increase your prices over time. How do you justify the increasing margin, without taking added artistic value into account ?
Can you calculate the costs of creating a specific photograph and incorporate that in the price of the final print? No. That's a Marxist point of view that doesn't apply to many situations, least of all works of art. You cannot sell an uninteresting print for 5 figures simply because it took you 7 trips to Antarctica to create. Nor can you expect a high selling point simply because you printed with pure gold. If that use of gold doesn't add anything to the desirability of the print to the potential buyer, it is worth the cost of metal at best.
Can you simply state your price empirically? Yes. But, again, you do not exist in a vacuum. You are entering a market, which means others have already set price points to which you will inevitably be compared. You need to back your claim with evidence.
And this is what this series of articles is about. Each one will address a specific source of value creation that is either present or absent in your work and potentially adds value to your prints. Based on objective artistic considerations, you can evaluate a margin that makes sense and helps you state a selling point that doesn't take your costs into account but focuses on value in the eyes of the potential buyer.
I've never set foot in an art school, at least not for my personal training. This course isn't designed, inspired or sanctioned by any official art institution.
I make no claims that this is the best or only way of looking at this subject. Nor that it will provide information meant to guide you in a professional career. It is a free guide meant to provide a framework for your own reflection and to provide some interesting reading. It is only the process I use myself and which I am sharing freely for others to use in their personal hobby.
Also, please understand that the rules that govern prices in an insider market (essentially provenance, pedigree, size, success of previous sale, representation, mainly investment oriented) are very different to those of our outsider market, in which the focus is much more on creating perceived intangible value for the buyer.
What I have done, then, is condense observations from decades of buying / selling photographs, the readings of multiple books, and lessons from years of strategic and brand marketing. I have structured this tutorial in a way very similar to how company or product value is determined by strategic consulting firms.
A work of art being the product of high-quality craftsmanship and author intent, the pricing methodology described in this tutorial helps you estimate realistically how much financial value your intent adds to your craftmanship. If I printed totally uninteresting photographs using platinun, 99% of the print's value would be in the craftmanship. If I created a fascinating series and printed it at home using cheap paper, cheap third-party inks with no archival properties or visual pop, 99% of the value would be in the intent. In between such extreme cases lie a multitude of real-life situations that can be formalised through a systematic approach.
In the spirit of collaboration, comments, critique and suggestions are not only welcome but eagerly anticipated. Please consider a constructive comment, an additional piece of information or a social share a little thank you for the information provided and a way of nurturing community.
On with the articles 🙂