This is a big question for all photographers, pro’s and enthusiasts alike.
The answer is not simple. No one can tell us what the answer is. we have to decide for ourselves. However, there are some things to consider before deciding.
To simplify things, lets take the example of selling prints via our website. this is something many photographers want to do and setting up a website is relatively simple.
First, a sobering fact. few photographers sell more than a few odd prints A YEAR through their personal website. Fact. In fact, for those who pay Clikpic or a similar company for hosting their website and providing the website template, few will even recoup the websites costs. Some will, certainly. (I do), but most won’t. There are tens of thousands of fine photographers out there doing the same thing and the chances of someone finding your site, let alone browsing it long enough to find an image the like so much that they are prepared to send you money for it are slim. Sorry, but that’s a fact.
But lets say you want to give it a go. (And I encourage you to do so. I sell through my website and make a small part of my income through direct print sales but the website has far greater value to me in becoming my online brochure to advertise my style and abilities to other potential customers. For me, that is where the value is – in the work it generates).
So, you spend some time building your website and launch it. But the big question is, ‘what should I charge for prints’?’.
There are several ways of looking at this. If you are to look just at what a print actually costs – say a pound or two for something A4 size, three or four pounds for something a bit bigger and add on a couple of pounds for postage, your direct costs are very low. Lets say, ten pounds all in. So do you double it. 100% is a good mark up, surely?. However, sadly many potential customers are already dropping out at the £20 price point. They can get a landscape or flower photograph from Tesco for less than that, framed and ready to hang. Is yours any better in their eyes? And they still have to buy a frame. Of course, yours is unique, not mass produced, but most buyers don’t see it that way. In reality, £20 is hardly worth all the hassle to you of sending the jpeg to a lab for printing, then making up an receipt, keeping accounts, packing the image up and going to the post office to post off and so on and yet already many buyers just won’t pay it. Start charging £30 or £40 a print and buyers laugh and click off to a site which charges £10 for a similar print (trust me, there are thousands of photographers selling good, not great, images at £10 or less)
You also need to factor in that this price model doesn’t take any account of the thousands of pounds you have paid out for gear and computers as well as software plus the travel expenses in getting to the location perhaps several times to get that wonderful light. It may be nice to get the recognition of selling a print and it may be okay to make a few quid but be under no illusions, you are making a MASSIVE loss selling using this model.
If you do factor in your real costs for gear and travel etc then there is no way to price prints sensibly. You would be charging many hundreds of pounds per print.
This is the model I have been using for the last three years. I am having to re-evaluate my approach at the moment because of the points I have just made.
The alternative is to go exclusive. This is the brave step. If your imagery is VERY good and you have absolute belief in its value as art then you can forget the actual raw material cost of a print and go down the art pricing model.
This takes account, not of cost, but of value. This is where what your images are ‘worth’ comes in. if someone truly loves an image or images of yours, how much do they love them? Do they love them enough to INVEST in them. To stake some of their hard earned money in something they feel they will treasure for years, pass on to their loved ones, in something which has true value.
Buyers willing to do this are few and far between. If you think getting the £20 a print customers onto your website is hard. Getting buyers who will pay £100, £200 or more for a print is far more difficult.
This is where you need to build a name for yourself, a reputation, and you need to develop your own style. It is no good going to Durdle Door and Bamburgh Castle and making a superb image in great light but which is essentially no different to thousands of other equally technically good images of the same places in great light which are on sale on thousands of other photographers websites using the £20 a print model. There is no reason to buy yours.
If you can build a reputation like Charlie Waite, David Noton or Joe Cornish you can charge hundreds of pounds per print on your name alone. Check out their websites and see what they charge! Those who get such a reputation are as rare as, well, as rare as Charlie Waite. Almost none of us will make it.
However, it is possible with masses of hard work, loads of networking, hundreds of fruitless dawns and withstanding loads of rejection to gradually carve out a lesser reputation than the ‘greats’ but a reputation nonetheless. With this kudos comes value. Your prints will acquire a value and you can then learn what that value is and price to it. If you can charge £100 or more a print then things are becoming more realistic from a business point of view.
Some will add perceived value by releasing limited editions and short print runs. I have doubts about this model in many cases, but that is another blog topic.
You can add value by framing the print, but you have to be prepared to organise this and handle all the variety of demands buyers will start to place on you for certain coloured wood frames of different thicknesses and different mount colours and can you do non-reflective glass and can you send it to my sister in Canada, oh and can you do it in two days because we forgot her anniversary and can you…. Customers at this level are paying much more and so demand much more. Are you prepared to deliver this kind of service? What does delivering this level of service mean to you in terms of cost. Cost in both cash terms and in terms of your time?
I am sorry there are no clear answers here, just facts. Cold, hard, facts. If you do decide to go for premium pricing because you feel your images are truly worthy then you need to back this up with premium service, superb quality prints on archival materials delivered with premium packaging. It is no good sullying the image you are building with shoddy communications and packaging. Everything has to reflect the fine art photographer image you aspire to.
A lot will depend on your needs. Are you just looking for the warm glow of knowing someone likes your image enough to pay you a few bob for it and perhaps earning a few quid each month to keep you in memory cards? Or Are you looking to go semi-pro? Not giving up the day job, but wanting to run a small business alongside your day job to bring in a serious contribution to kit or mortgage? Or is your plan to go pro? become a full time photographer? The answer to this question will help you decide on the pricing route you take.
I wish you well in your decision. Whatever that is, why not consider joining me for my ‘making Money From Your Photography’ workshop where I will help you do just that, whatever model you decide to follow? Get in touch with me for details via the ‘contact us’ page on my website.