April 27, 2012

I’d Rather My Art Be In Thousands of Homes, Than To Sell It For Thousands of Dollars

A friend and I were recently talking about how to set the price for our images and this brought up some thoughts I’ve had over the years. Typically people price their work in one of three ways:

1.  Cost method, total up your costs and then add a percentage for profit.

2.  What others are charging for “similar” work. If others are getting $150 for an 8 X  10 then I should be able to get that too. 

3.  What the market will bear.” Price your work as high as it will sell for and get as much as you can.

First let me say that if you’re trying to earn your living from your photography, then ignore everything I’m about to say. I made a purposeful decision not to earn a living from my art because I didn’t want to lose my passion for it if I “had” to do it every day. Looking back these many years, I do not regret that decision and in fact it’s been reinforced by another lesson that I’ve learned; art and money do not mix well because it requires too many compromises. Worrying about producing art that others like and will buy is not conducive to risk taking and being creative. When I create I want to think about only two things; the art and how I feel about it.

So what method should you use to price your work? I’m suggesting that there might be another way to determine pricing based on your goals rather than your costs or market forces. Several years ago I asked a similar pricing question to someone I respect and he in turn asked me a question: in the end would you rather have your images in thousands of homes or to have sold them for thousands of dollars? He emphasized that there was no right or wrong answer, only what I preferred. I immediately answered that I would like my art to be in thousands of homes.

Therefore I have chosen to price my work reasonably and affordably compared to my peers, because my goal is to produce art that I love and allow as many people to purchase it as possible. This approach fits my goals; I do what I love, have remained independent and I am able to pay for my equipment, supplies and photo trips. I am the luckiest person in the world!

However this approach has come under criticism from my peers for two reasons. First, I only offer open editions and many feel that this cheapens my work and makes it less “serious.” But the truth is that offering limited editions is simply a pricing strategy, it creates a shortage to increase the price. This approach goes against everything I believe, and the thought of someday not being able to make any more prints is completely unacceptable. My intent is that my art be enjoyed by many; not 12, 25 or 50 people!  

The second complaint other photographers have with my pricing is that my lower prices hurts them. If my friend is asking $1500 for his image and I’m asking $400, then he believes that my lower pricing makes it harder for him to sell his higher priced work. However I do not believe this to be true, because we are not buying a commodity such as apples. If I’m selling apples for $400 a ton then it does make it harder for someone else to sell the same apples for $1500 a ton. But in the art world we are not talking about apples and apples, but rather apples and oranges. If someone really loves my friends oranges, they are not going to buy my apples just because they’re cheaper.

Likewise someone will not buy my art  just because it’s cheaper. People buy art because they love it!

My beliefs about editions and pricing go against everything that the traditional art world and gallery system believe. I don’t care. I create for myself and count myself lucky to find others who appreciate and want to purchase my art. My goal is to put that art into as many homes a possible. This is what makes me happy.


P.S.  Joel Tjintjelaar just published the first interview in a new “Artist’s Vision Series” in which he focuses on the vision behind an image.  My image “The Angel Gabriel” is featured in this first interview.

See the Post

See the Article in Google Docs

13 thoughts on “I’d Rather My Art Be In Thousands of Homes, Than To Sell It For Thousands of Dollars

  1. Cole,
    I own a couple of your images and every time I walk by “The Angel Gabriel”, I always think “what a great deal this image was”. I purchased it because I loved it, not because I wanted to sell it down the road at a profit so I do agree with your strategy. Having said this, I still think I paid too little but don’t tell anyone…..

  2. Pricing is a bone of contention for most photographers trying to sell their work. I am a hobbyist first and love to sell one or two prints just to pay for the odd filter or two. I will definitely give your strategy some thought.

  3. Fantastic! I’ve been trying to convince friends that this is a valid concept, but haven’t managed to convey it as clearly as you have here. Totally agree.

  4. Art is a strange thing. We do it because we love it yet it would be nice to see others enjoy it as well by purchasing it. Pricing art is VERY difficult. Too low and it somehow cheapens the experience, too high and it won’t sell – but should it?

    Sometimes when I have an art show, I’ll price my original art really high because I don’t want to sell it. If it should sell and since I priced it really high – I’ll get over it.You can always take another picture or paint another painting.

    You’ve made great points here 🙂

  5. Cole, A great perspective you have here. It is admirable that you make such exceptional photographs available to the common art enthusiast. As a proud owner of one of your prints I can say that it is a great deal in that I have displayed it proudly in my home and it has been enjoyed by many, myself included.

    I have been in ‘business mode’ as of late trying to put a value on my work and your opinions here have great weight. I have done the commercial thing for many years and returned to fine art to renew my passion in photography, and to make photographs that I want to make, without compromise. It would only make sense to be able to share your vision with as many as possible.

  6. I’ve struggled mightly with the pricing question the past few years…it’s been one of the things that has kept me from attempting to sell. Thank you for does help. I do have a question though…what is the thought on smaller sizes (say 8×10) as open editions and larger prints as limited edition?

  7. Rob, editions are used to increase prices by creating a limited supply. But the truth is that the majority of photographers never sell all of their edition. So why do it? I suspect that they feel it makes them look more professional.

    I started out offering editions simply because everyone else was. But then I started thinking about the day that I sold out and couldn’t print any more of my work. I didn’t like the thought of that at all!

    Some get around that by offering editions for each size, 5X7, 8X10, 11X14 and etc. others have large editions, say 200, but then what’s the point?

    I say ask yourself what you think an edition will do for you? If there’s a good reason for them and they will help you meet your objective, then go for it.

    Another reason I’ve heard you should offer editions is that the open edition print has little value because there can be an infinite number of them. Likewise I’ve been told that no serious collector will purchase my work with an open edition.

    I personally collect work and when I purchase something there is only one criteria that I have: do I love the image? I could care less if it’s an edition or not. So when I hear someone will not purchase my Images because they are open editions, I can only assume they are using a different criteria than I.

    Lest I be misunderstood, I am not crusading for some sort of photographic social justice through low prices. I am a raging Capitalist and feel people should set their prices anyway they want and offer editions if they choose. Your personal goals will determine your pricing strategy and open editions and lower prices help me meet mine.

    My best advice is; know what you want, do what you want and don’t listen to others advice unless it makes sense to you!

  8. Hi Cole,

    Your views are refreshingly honest and straightforward as usual. And as usual, I agree with them completely. I do use the editions numbering (by size) as you described… because the gallery I often have work in insists on editions no larger than 25… why?… who knows.

    I am not driven to spend much time thinking about price… same price for a print sold by me as in a gallery sold with their getting a commission. I have people tell me the price should be set higher… why?… so I could sell fewer or so my ego would be fluffed up?… not doing this for the money anyway.

    The bigger thrill is simply that someone wants a print badly enough to buy it. I don’t even spend any time worrying about whether someone is “stealing” an image on-line… they must want it at lot… not that I would enjoy their using it for their own profit, however.

    Like you, I am not trying to feed a family from this rewardingly creative experience!

  9. i always feel the same as you Cole.
    whenever i have to price my work, even a wedding, the pricing always frustrates me more than actual work.
    seems when i do photography as work,
    i come home finding my brain don’t want to think about it anymore.
    so, I’m game. if i do able to sell in the future,
    i will price my photo for thousands of homes.
    thanks Cole.

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