Every now and then I receive e-mails from people asking how I price my work. Then just today, I was having a Skype conversation with my mother and she asked the same thing about the crafts she makes. Why is this so hard?
When I first started to sell prints I was surprised at the good deals on high quality prints but as a result, I felt some embarrassment in turning around and selling a print for $75 to $100 when the print only cost me $10 to $15 to print. Later I had people come to me and say outright, “Isn’t that a little pricey?” Then I started doubting myself and my value or worth.
So what goes into this equation? There certainly are the raw materials i.e. the print cost but there are far more than raw materials to consider. There’s your camera, lenses, computer, and processing software and the time that it took to produce the print. And the list doesn’t stop there. Did you go to school to learn your trade or to perfect your skills? All of these things–and more–should be considered overhead. They all went into producing that photographic print or country doll for that matter.
I’ve overheard people looking at a piece of artwork say, “Why should I pay that price when I could do that?” This is wrong on many levels but for the argument’s sake let’s say the value of a piece of art is based on its uniqueness. Then the question is: Could you really do it? Do you have the camera, the lenses, the software and more importantly, the trained eye and creative spirit to see the scene or produce the concept? My guess is nope! I consider myself a pretty darn good street and cultural photographer but when I look at my peers (guys and ladies that I see as my equal, so to speak), I am amazed at the things they see or come up with. The truth is, had I conceived it, I might have been able to pull it off–maybe. But I didn’t think of it. This is what makes it uniquely theirs.
But then how do we price out work? Is there a pricing matrix we can use? There are some matrixes out there–most of them lame. Honestly, the easiest way to price a print is to look at your peers and see what they are selling their work for. Use that as a starting point. Then consider your market. Are you selling an 11×14 print in Seattle, Delhi or Penang? Each market will place a different value on your work. In Penang, you are more likely to sell an old colonial doorway from its heritage district than you would a portrait of a Buddhist monk whereas in Austin, Texas people might snatch up the monk portrait and at a great price. All this to say–you have to know your market and what that market will bear. In many ways it comes down to trial and error and how much you want to sell your work.
Here is another way to price your work. Remember I said that most pricing matrixes are lame? Well, that is true but there is one that many of us rely on. It is the matrix found in a PhotoShelter account. When you sign up for a PhotoShelter account, you gain access to their vast experience in photographic sales. And I mean vast. It seems as if everyone I know uses PhotoShelter to sell his or her images online. Once you set up an account with them, you have the option of using their pricing matrix as is or tweaking it to fit your needs. They give you the seller, the ability to set your profit to whatever you want and they give the buyer the option of a myriad of sizes and qualities from which to choose.
Personally, I have less issue with pricing prints. My real struggle is how to price an image for a client to use as a billboard or some other type of advertising. Here is where they shine. There are the same options for the seller to set whatever profit margin you’d like but the cool thing is they allow you to tailor it to each market. So for the image and the same type of use, I can charge one price to a customer in the United States and a completely different price to a client in Malaysia.
That’s just the beginning. They allow a user to literally walk through a pricing matrix that asks them how they will use the image, in what type of media, the length of run etc. then out pops a standardized price. This has saved my hide on several occasions. I frequently get a client of a small NGO or an ad agency from Nowhereistan calls and ask for rates for use of an image. I simply ask them to head to the website, find the image and run through the rights managed matrix. Sometimes I never hear from them. Other times they are impressed by the ease and professional touch it gives.
So whether you are pricing your own images for a small craft fair or selling to a major corporate player, do yourself a favor and don’t sell your self short!
What the client sees when buying a print using PhotoShelter.