"Your work is too expensive! Your prices are ridiculous!"
99% of commercial artists have or have had nightmares about hearing that. Not only is research suggesting creative brains are hardwired to neglect money (so artists tend to be bad at financial negociating), the myth of the poor artist is also hard to shake off. Many feel bad about asking for money in exchange for what isn't perceived as serious work.
That is wrong on soooo many levels, I don't know where to start.
Let's try this way 🙂
Fact 1: Prices have nothing to do with your artwork and everything with perceived value.
In many countries farmers growing high quality food, organic food made from quality seeds, healthy food that will keep buyers nourished and free of illness for decades - in other word, the most essential thing on Earth - usually are pretty poor. To become wealthy in that business you sometimes have to select GMO seeds, farm intensively, kill the top soil and replace it with cancerous chemicals ... It's not the farmer's fault. It's 100% the customer's, who's not willing to pay what it costs to grow food properly. That same customer will gladly sink a gand and a half in a phone that will alienate his/her mind and make her an attention battery to feed social platforms. Only because coolness is perceived as higher value than healt (while we have health). Sounds orwellian? It's not nearly as bad as reality.
Fact 2: Prices have nothing to do with how much work is involed in the product.
And that counts for products you may have spend weeks creating. Adam Smith and Karl Marx may have defended the idea that the amount of labour involved in a product/service should determine its price. And they have been proven wrong a gazillion times. If Tom mows your lawn recklessly in 3 hours and the following month Jeannie comes along and does it perfectly in 1, are you going to pay Tom 3 times the money you are giving Jeannie? No. You pay proportionally to the value, tangible or not, you feel you are getting from an object or a service.
Fact 3: Some people would pay a king's ransom for an influential urinal.
How does that relate to art? Duchamp was turned down at a show when he proposed a urinal could be considered a work of art. Yet it eventually become just that. Not only that but an industry-shifting work of art. A shift we seem unable to shake off to this day. Some artists, decades later still copy/cite Duchamp to justify uninspiring work that sells for prices that would make you swoon. Other artists just take their own road and steadily build a body of work that gets appreciated by a loyal collector base and keeps rising in price. Urinals, paintings, films, photographs, mixed media ...
Conclusion: The true price of a work of art depends on the perceived value of ownership for the collector.
Out of context, this photograph of a cat probably has zero value to anyone but me, it's former owner. Out of context, no one would pay 5 000 $ to own a print.
Notice the emphasis on perceived value of ownership in the conclusion above. Those words are the formula for establishing fair prices.
Prices need to be fair
The price you ask for one of your prints needs to reflect the perceived value being created by its ownership. Buyers and collectors fall on many wide spectra when it comes to available funds, expertise, appreciation for a certain style/genre/technique ...
If you overprice severely, chances are you won't sell much, because dealers and the Internet give us such an easy way to know and understand prices elsewhere. Even if you do, the buyer will eventually resent the mistake. If you're in this for the long run, you'll need all the word of mouth you can get. That's why Phr is about building a community of artists and art collectors.
If you underprice severely, you'll not appear serious. Again, you are not selling in isolation. Other people out there are selling similar photographic prints. If your price undercuts theirs threefold, you will create doubt. And you'll feel unsuccessful even if you do sell.
A fair price is mutually beneficial. Even if print sales make up a tiny tiny tiny subfraction of your income, you'll feel pride at selling for a very decent price. And they buyer will feel pride at finding and acquiring a thing of lasting beauty and quality that speaks to his/her worldview.
So, get to the formula, will ya?
Okay okay okay 😉
Your print has a production cost. Not what it cost you to fly to the Gallapagos, cost of your camera, prior education ... just the cost of the print.
Want a 500 000 000 $ Da Vinci for free? Just click here. Your photograph can be seen for free on the Web. Or in a gallery. Or in a museum. Or at a friend's home. Or at you mum's (yes, my mum and dad have some of my photographs on the wall 🙂 )
What you are selling is the ownership of a physical object. How much does it cost to make that object?
Let's assume a great A2 piezo print on high quality art paper, with matting and shipping cost you 80$ You sign it and ship it off to your buyer for another 20$. How much have you sold it for?
How much perceived value are you creating?
This is where the 7 factors in the previous chapters come into play.
In the insider art market, that value is often linked to investment (which is a shame as it priced great artists out of the reach of many of their most loyal fans). How well the last sale did is more or less the main factor for determining the asking price at the next.
We're not in that market.
The value you are offering is directly proportional to the bond you are creating. There is no secondary market for your work (yet 😉 ) A discerning collector is unlikely to buy your work in the hope of x5 returns. That discerning collector, however, might be happy to let him/herself fall in love with the value package you are offering and just buy because of that bond.
I can't tell you who will find greater value in superb print quality, in low edition numbers, in mesmerizing subject matter, in subject matter, in a fascinating statement ... no one can, not even the collector. What I can tell you is that the more of these boxes you tick, the higher the premium your prints will command over production costs.
Calculate your value multipler
So, here's my suggestion.
(1) Round your production cost to the nearest 50. So 50, then 100, then 150 ...
(2) Evaluate yourself on all 7 factors. Give yourself a grade from 1 to 10. Add it all up. Divide by 7.
(3) Multiply your production cost by your value factor average (your value multiplier).
For example: your production cost is 50$ and you gave yourself an average of 3. A starting point for pricing your print could then be 3x50 = 150$. If your production cost is 100$ (very nice A1 print) and you gave yourself a good average of 7, 700$ could be a good place to start. I suggest your minimum mulitplicative factor should be 2. And you need to be very sure of yourself to go above 5 😉
That's not set in stone. It's a starting point for your thinking process. You might like some of your photos more than others. Or have more limited runs for some, hiking the price for those higher. Conversely, say your production costs are really high because your printing large aluminium sheets, or platinum prints, for instance. In that case, the print quality factor takes on a larger than usual role in the pride of ownership and you might want to lower your multiplicative factor somewhat, so as not to enter really expensive territory. Your call.
But the formula gives you an objective way of evaluating how much value you are creating on top of the print quality (which is one of the factors). It also forces you to use high quality printing. Because if you're pushing lousy 3$ prints as 50$ gems, ..., your artist days will be short-lived 😉
What this does is provide an objective basis for discussion that eliminates a lot of the subjectivity. Because, in this matter, your ego is your worst enemy. More on this in the next chapter 🙂