Climbing the ladder of fine art print pricing

These are a few of my favorite things (covered car with shrubs) -- by Joe Reifer

These are a few of my favorite things (covered car with shrubs) — by Joe Reifer

Let’s break the fine art photography print pricing down into categories. All prices are for unframed prints.

Fine Art Photography Print Pricing

A: $50-100 for a small print. You are happy that somebody likes your photographs and wants to own one. You charge a token amount to cover the cost of printing. Prints are sold directly to the buyer either in person or online.

B: $250-500 for a medium sized print. You’ve moved beyond the small cafe show into small galleries. You’ve sold a little bit of work at level A. The craftsmanship of your prints is quite good. You’re now selling your prints in editions. You’ve been taking notes on marketing. Sales may be direct or through a small gallery that takes 40-50%.

C: $1500-2500 for a medium/large sized print. You’ve been discovered by someone who can help market your work. Prints are now in the 24×30″ range or bigger. You may have received some hype in a medium sized gallery, and perhaps some attention from a contest or magazine. Your prints are sold in small editions. You get about 50% of the sale price minus your expenses.

D: $4000-10,000 and up for a large print. You’re now in the major leagues. For some reason your work has tipped from level C to level D. Could be an influential gallery, museum, book, media attention, critical acclaim, hardcore marketing, social climbing, dumb luck, or a combination. Probably a combination. The few people I’ve met in this league don’t necessarily make photographs that are any better than yours or mine.

I am currently at the lower end of level B and selling very few prints because I don’t like hyping myself, and haven’t found the right person of influence to whisper my name into collectors’ ears. If you are a person of influence who has a talent for whispering, drop me a line.

To keep life simple, I produce prints of my night work in two sizes:

  • Regular size — 12×18″ print. Typically framed to 18×24″
  • Large size — previously 20×30″ but I’m upping the ante to 24×36″. Twice the regular size. 2×3 feet. Go big or go home. That’s as big as I’m willing to print from 35mm digital right now.

If you were to ask me last week what my pricing was for an unframed print, I would’ve said $150 for a regular print in an open edition, and $300 for a large print in an edition of 5.

As Walter says in the Big Lebowski (quoting Theodore Herzl), “if you will it, it is no dream.” I am jumping up from level B- to level B+. All pricing is artificial. I will embrace the artifice. Here is the new pricing:

  • Regular unframed 12×18″ print: $300, edition of 5.
  • Large unframed 24×36″ print: $750, edition of 2 plus an artist’s proof

Aspect ratios will vary for a few images shot square or on 6×7 film. This editioning may be seen as a completely artificial marketing device. Or perhaps as a realistic number of prints that can sell of one image. Or a purposefully crafted number of prints that I could care about making before my attention span runs out.

There. I just jumped up a level in the fine art photography pricing world. All I had to do was type the new pricing into my blog. Maybe one day I’ll claw my way up to level C. I am not holding my breath.

Are you trying to sell prints? Where do you fall on the scale, and how are you planning to get to the next level?

Update: After finishing this brief meditation on pricing fine art photography, I read New Republic art critic Jed Perl’s vitriolic polemic against Koons, Murakami, and the modern museum experience. A very highly recommended rant indeed (via Gallery Hopper).

8 thoughts on “Climbing the ladder of fine art print pricing

  1. Pingback: Imaging Insider

  2. And then there’s Brooks Jensen’s view that prints should cost $20… Have to admit I’m pretty cynical on editioning and other marketing schemes for creating/suggesting scarcity. I could ramble on this subject and gallery dynamics forever…

    I do like his method of selling a set of loose unbound prints in a nice die-cut folio package. Here’s a link: http://www.brooksjensenarts.com/foliodesc.html

    It’s nice (I think) because you can offer a lot of value for a reasonable price – while keeping production costs relatively low. Also nice cuz prints can be easily handled (or framed), unlike a book.

    Kind of reminds me of an idea I was kicking around on taking my small double-accordion handmade book to a large size. Where presentation and packaging would still be a large part of the experince. Also similar to an idea I kicked around of offering a set of prints in a slim wood box.

  3. I also think prints should cost $20, or $100 for a 16×20. I’d rather sell 10 for $100 than one for $1000. The idea is to get the work out there in as many places as possible.

    Know your audience. Art (or at least MY art) is priced for the people that like my work, not the elitist snobs running the fine art museum world. Galleries and museums don’t buy my art, Joe-working-class-citizen does. I’ve tried selling $300 11x14s. No one buys them. However at $50, people do actually buy them from time to time. Sorry to be a splash of cold water in the face, but if you don’t sell prints at $50, what makes you think they’ll sell at $300?

    Your update:
    Perl’s closing statement: “I wish more museum directors and trustees understood how hungry–and how disgruntled–museumgoers in America really are.” really rings true for me. Whenever I leave the MOMA, I do it angry and disgusted by the exhibits that are so incredibly out of touch with the overwhelming majority of that museum’s visitors. Similar to Washington DC and Hollywood, this rarified air society has become insulated from reality and has no idea what the public really wants or needs.

    Duchamp fucked it all up when he called his urinal “art.” “Fountain” was done as a gag– to break the limited idea at the time of what art could be. Unfortunately, instead of art patrons getting the joke and moving on towards an art world where photography, industrial design, movies and commercial art would be accepted as “fine art”, it sent the art world down a slippery slope into a dead end where artists feel they must outdo each other, seeing how far they could push the envelope of what was acceptable until we’ve got “artists” spraying paint administered as enemas out of their asses, and “Piss Christ” et al.

    We’ve come to the point where people actually stare at a PURE WHITE 20 foot square canvas discussing its importance and depth in reverent, hushed tones. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I mean, where can you go from there? No canvas at all? Duchamp painted us into a corner from which there seems no escape.

    Concept by itself is not art. It’s preposterous and a terrible insult to artists who actually use artistry and technique as a means to bring their concepts to fruition that this kind of trash is in OUR museums.

    Pssst: Murikami, Koons and Elliasson: Making it BIG does not make it art. It just makes it big.

    Everything is not art. If everything is art, then nothing is, and if you think that nothing is art, then you have no business making art.

  4. Brad – Brooks Jensen has done all photographers a disservice with his pricing talk. If I want to just cover the true cost of making a small print, then at a minimum I need to include the cost of the print, and the time it takes to make, sell, and deliver that print. If I’m only selling prints occasionally, that cost is higher. At least $100 for a small print, just to cover the basic costs. I do like the folios, but the price is much too low. This hurts everyone else who’s trying to make a unique hand made product and sell it for a reasonable price — not Brooks Jensen’s barely break even or or money losing price.

    Troy – I actually don’t care whether I sell 10 prints for $100 each or 1 print for $1000 as far as the money goes. As far as the selling part goes, I’d rather just do it once because it takes a lot of time and energy. Even better, I’d rather have someone do it for me. The reason why people don’t buy 11×14′s at $300 is that category B is a strange in-between place. If these same prints were in a high-end gallery at a category C price they might sell. How to get them there is another matter entirely. Glad you enjoyed the Jed Perl piece — he kicked some ass with that one.

  5. I agree with Troy…

    On folios, I think the secret (and appeal) is that the incremental costs of doing, say, 12 8x10s over a single 8×10 is low. Just the cost of paper and ink; maybe a $1.50 each. The cost of folio design/manufacturing can be amortized over many projects and prints. And I think the special packaging has a lot of user appeal – it’s a personal-feeling package/body/portfolio of work that probably feels great in the hand.

    In the end, you have a product where the user perceives a lot of value. The initial “overcoming inertia costs” (getting out of the chair, dealing with an order, prepping, mailing, etc) are roughly the same.

    I’ve bought a lot of prints in the past, and sold a few. Gallery purchases don’t interest me anymore; as does gallery representation; knowing that markets for dark/gritty SP is tiny. What sells *well*, currently, at a local gallery are images that are flower-based, montages, and vintage collectable prints. I know two dozen photogs that are represented and have fantastic work, but sell little. It’s easy to start with a splash, but the real test if if there’s any staying power after six months or a year.

    OK, hmmm, so I just processed a bunch of bizarre/weird/dark pix from the staging area at the pride parade in SF yesterday. Yes, $300 sounds about right. Should look great above anyone’s living room couch no matter what the color is… Dial 1-800-52prints, operators are standing by… :=)

  6. We need to remember galleries take a 50% commission. Therefore they will only want to rep groups C or higher to make it worth their time and expenses for running their tidy art business.

    This weekend I dropped off FRAMED prints for a group show at 111 Minna. Instincts were to price the work at a B+++ level. The cost of framing plus the 50% commission had me rethink my madness. After a brief chat with the curator, he took a look at my work and in so many words said “Group C.” Interesting.

    Serious galleries want the art framed. If you can sell a print priced at level B, then add in the frame costs. Doesn’t that move you up half a level?

    Pricing is one thing. Selling and marketing the work is a full time job.

  7. JW – not surprising. Framing a medium sized print can cost between $100-400 or more, and the artist usually absorbs this part of the expense. I got a few price quotes for face-mounting a large print to plexi and adding a back frame — this would easily push me up into level C pricing for framed.

    Troy – you’re an exception to the rule because you can sell some volume at level A without a lot of effort. This puts a few grand per year in your pocket, which is a good thing. “Getting the work out there” — does that help you grow your business at all? If someone buys a $50 print, the only thing that may lead to in the future is them buying another $50 print. If you play the game this way, how can you sell more volume? Is there a market for more volume?

    Brad – people like you and me that sell less work are in the following predicament: selling at level A will not likely get you to level C. I’d like to get to level C pricing one day, so I’m following the natural progression. Can you imagine showing up at FotoFest and showing your work to a curator or publisher and when they ask you about print pricing you say $50? They’d laugh you out of the room. A friend who was at level B+ went this year and the feedback was that you need to be at level C to be taken seriously. If that’s not your goal, then there’s nothing wrong with staying at level A.

    On the surface, the problem with your local gallery is that they represent too many photographers. The few that are selling well are either agressively marketing their work or have vintage work that’s already of interest to collectors. If work like yours or mine hangs in that gallery nobody will buy it. If work like yours or mine hangs at 49 Geary and someone like Robert Koch says it’s very important work, then someone will buy it. At level D even.

  8. By “getting the work out there” I mean that people having my prints in their houses and offices puts my work in more people’s consciousness. I’d rather be hanging in 10 homes or offices than one. The odds of having the right pair of eyes seeing the work, opening some new door for me, is that much greater.

    Look at how the music industry has changed in the last few years with artists promoting and selling their own work, eschewing the old fashioned marketing and distribution stewardship of the the major labels (who also take most of the money generated) for a grass-roots, direct to the buyer business model. It’s a much higher profit margin for the artist. Is this any different?

    Because after reading the Perl piece (tho I gotta admit, I already felt this way before reading it too), do I really want to be a part of that gallery world? Does my work fit that marketplace and culture? I’m not so sure. Yes, I’d jump at the opportunity to move up your pricing alphabet if it presented itself, but I’m not expecting it because my work dwells outside that world. Rich esthetes aren’t moved by my work the way bikers and motorheads are.

    Know your audience and market to it.

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