I am writing in response to a question posed by another artist in a forum about selling fine art photography at art shows.
With regards to pricing, I've already determined most of mine but wanted to inquire if you think $200 for 16x20 canvas (they are finished nicely with solid backs and hangers) and the same price for 11x17 metal seems reasonable. I shopped for discounts so the markup is pretty decent. I understand it's bad form to undercut other vendors, but I want my prices ready before I get there & not to have to scope out what others are charging.
" it's bad form to undercut other vendors"
Really?!? How did you come to this conclusion?
The price you set for your own work is not connected to prices set by other artists? Are you selling unique works of art? Or, are you selling a commodity with an established price in the market? If a potential customer can purchase a 16x20 canvas from you for $200, or walk 50 feet to another booth and purchase the equivalent product for $175, then yes, you should drop your price to $170. But, if that was true, then I doubt the jury would have chosen two identical vendors selling the same thing.
The jury selected you for the show because you are offering works of art that they want represented at their show. They did not choose you because your price is 10% below the going rate for "16x20 canvas wrap in something will match the couch." If you are at a show with the best fine art photographs that the visitors/customers have ever seen, then you could raise the price to $1000 and still sell out your inventory.
If you don't trust your art to be appealing to the public, then changing the price won't fix it. Consider this thought experiment as a way to set your prices. Set up your booth at the show and offer all your work for $5. Would you sell everything? If you did so, and you had anything left that didn't sell, even at the nearly giveaway price of $5, then those items that didn't sell should be taken out of your inventory because nobody wants it at any price.
Obviously you can't sustain a business if you lose $50 on every sale. So, you have to raise your price. What about $10? Go to your next show and price everything at $10. You have doubled your prices, but a 16x20 canvas wrap is still 95% less than your considered price of $200. Do you still sell out your entire inventory? I actually did this myself at a show 3 years ago. I had printed a bunch of 11x14 and 16x20 photos, matted, some even framed. On Saturday morning, I priced them at $45 each. By Sunday afternoon, I had a display price of 3-for$25, and I still couldn't sell any. The price wasn't the problem. Those photos simply were not good enough at any price. People loved them when I posted online, but not enough to give me $20. So...whatever you can't sell, even at $10, comes out of your inventory.
Now, $10 for a 16x20 canvas is still unreasonably low to sustain your business. For your next show (still in this thought experiment), double the price again to $20. And then again to $40. And then again to $80...$160...$320...$640...and so on. What is the price when customers are no longer willing to give you their money in exchange for your art? The ideal price is determined by your own art--it's not determined by other artists at any given show.
There is no such thing as a "fair price" for art. If you are the best artist at the show, then you should be pricing your work higher than all the other artists. You are not selling epi-pens or AIDS medications. No artist is that important.
You should never "have to scope out what others are charging." If your 16x20 canvas is not selling at $200, the reason is NOT because another artist is selling a 16x20 canvas for $150. It's because customers don't want to buy your work. And, if customers don't want it, then you could drop your price to $120, and they still won't buy it. You will never stay in business by offering your work at the lowest price. IKEA sells 48" x 60" canvas wrap photo prints for $49. Home Goods and Target sell 24"x36" canvas wrap photos for $29. I've read the fine print on the tags. These are photos by real artists who produce great work. They have sold the rights to these images for mass-production. If you are going to compete for low-price, you will have to offer your work for free.
Giving away my work for free is my goal for my own work. I'm serious. I'm not there yet, but my plan to organize my business as a not-for-profit corporation. Doing so will allow me to give away my work for free, while funding my operation by accepting donations. Personally, I HATE putting prices on my work. I hate wondering if my work would sell better if I offer a 2-for discount. So, I will give it away for free. But, doing so without restrictions would be absurd. I'm thinking I'll have a form for customers to fill out. It would state that the market rate for this piece, a 24x36 framed photo, is $299. But, as a not-for-profit organization, I accept any offer by people with low income.
Anybody who wants to pay full-price at a show can make their purchase as usual and walk away with the piece. But, for a discount, customers will fill out an offer sheet and sign a statement that they qualify as a low-income buyer. The difference between their offer, let's say $50, and the market price of $299, would be subsidized by donations from art patrons. And, they have to fill out their contact information so I can record who is getting the benefit of the charity. I can either accept the offer and complete the sale, or, if I think it's too low, or I get multiple offers for the same piece, I can hold the offer until the end of the show and then select the highest offer, or make more and deliver them later. As a pricing model, I will be letting customers bid up to their highest acceptable offer, instead of me guessing how much they will offer. And, it's possible that some customers might even offer more than the standard market price.
Yes, some people will cheat and lie, just to get a free photo. But, most people, nearly everyone, I believe, will be honest about their ability to pay. My guess is that people will offer about 30-50% less than the standard price of $299. Then means that most of my sales for a 24x36 framed print will bring in $150-200. That would be great with me, because that amount covers my cost of production, which is all I really care about anyway. And, that is the price I end of giving to friends and multi-item discounts anyway. My profits will be gone, but my operating expenses will be covered by tax-deductible donations from other sources. I can afford to go to art shows in low-income areas, or to shows that are for charitable causes, and do so without needing to make big profits.
The quality of my work still has to be high. Even for free, people won't take home a large, framed work of art if they don't like it. I still have to produce work that will get selected by a jury. But, the benefit to me, as an artist, is that I can stop worrying about what the price should be. I believe that the added attention I receive with a not-for-profit business model will more than make up for lost profits.
Four years ago, I started selling my photographs as a business. Each year, I learn new lessons about improving both my art and my business. All those lessons have one thing in common. I will never succeed by trying to be like everybody else who is already selling fine art photography at shows. I have two options for success. I must be better than everybody else, or I must be different from everybody else. Being better is too vague to measure, so I focus on being different.
Yes, I read comments on this forum to get ideas from others. And, yes, I walk around art shows to see what other artists are doing. But, I do so in order to get new ideas. I do not sell 16x20 canvas wraps, or any size canvas, at any price. There are already far too many artists doing so. Some of my work would look nice on canvas, I suppose, and it would sell, but I don't want to compete in market where my pricing competition is IKEA, Target, and Wal-Mart.
In summary, I have no idea if $200 for a 16x20 canvas wrap and a 11x17 metal seems reasonable. I don't know what the images are. I don't know what your productions costs are. I don't know if you are taxed as a hobby or as a for-profit business. I don't know what your business goals are.
But, consider this offering from IKEA.
The image is by the photographer, Peter Adams. I chose this one because he has many landscape images of the southwest, which, to me, seem to a similar style to many of yours. IKEA is selling a canvas wrap of 55" x 78" for $149. Consider this offering in comparison to your image, "Ruby's Inn/Bryce Canyon," as a 16x20 canvas at $200. They are both gorgeous images of water and mountains at sunset. The one by Peter Adams, sold through IKEA, is 13X larger and sells for 25% less than yours. If your only question is the price you set for your work, then $200 seems much, much too high. What else is there to consider?
Does the size matter? Many people don't want something 6-feet wide. If that's the reason, then why is your size 16x20? Why not 18x22, or 15x25, or 19x21? It's a canvas wrap, so it's not going to need a frame. If your answer is that 16x20 is a standard size, then $200 seems unreasonable because commodity pricing should be as low as possible.
Is it the quality of the image that matters? If your image is so unique and special, then no, $200 is not reasonable. It should be higher. If your images are much better than all the others, then your price should be higher.
Or, have you determined that $200 is the price you need to get in revenue to cover your cost of production to operate as a profitable business? If that's the case, then it doesn't matter if anybody else thinks it's reasonable or not. You set the price you need because it's your business. If your work isn't selling at $200, you can only lower the price if you reduce your production costs elsewhere. But, lower prices by other artists at the show will not reduce your production costs
Photography is FREE
That statement is my null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is generally assumed to be true until evidence indicates otherwise. I learned about the concept of the null hypothesis in my grad school statistics courses. I am applying that concept to my photography business. My proposal is that photography is free. Since 2011, I have been frustrated by the complication caused by money in the business of photography.
I selected this photograph for this article because it has received the most recognition of all my work in the past year or so. It's a good photograph, but it's not great art. I did not create the double rainbow. But, I was ready to capture it with my camera and edited the RAW image in a way that I knew would be pleasing to many people. I also knew that I needed to post the image quickly. I took the picture at 8:20 PM, and I posted the edited photog
I am a Baltimore-based photographer, capturing life around me and sharing my observations with you.