Recently I was asked to compile my thoughts on the subject of pricing images for Art Shows. This is a vast subject and one that depends on many variable factors. I could give a whole class on the topic, but my condensed answer is as follows… A few things to consider;
1). Have you ever done an art show before? I would strongly suggest doing a few small, cheap shows before dropping hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a booth fee at a major Art Show. Get your feet wet with a few shows that have a booth fee around a couple hundred dollars or less (and/or takes a percentage of your sales) before dropping lots of money. You need to know who your target audience is before dropping that kind of money on a show.
Do you know who your target audience is? Without knowing your target audience you are just guessing, and though that may work sometimes, at some point you are going to get burned and it’s going to really hurt your wallet when one of those shows fails to come through… Pricing is important, but you can have your price set right and if it’s not in front of the right people it still won’t sell.
3). Do you know what your best selling images are? *Spoiler Alert* You are often the worst judge of which of your images will be the best sellers! Granted there are some that are just ‘No Brainers’. Often as the photographer we have a certain bias towards one image or another. We can have an emotional attachment to certain images, due to any number of circumstances, making that image more special to us than it might be to the casual passerby.
4). Are you getting your printing and supplies as cheaply as possible? If the idea is to make a profit then the lower you can get your production costs, the better!
5). Are you matting the prints and/or framing them yourself? If you mat and/or frame them yourself and buy your supplies in bulk you can cut your production costs in half, given that you are getting a fair price on your printing.
It goes without saying that if you do a show at a posh fundraising event where the audience is wealthy you can typically expect to charge more and still make sales. If instead you are selling at your local state fair for example, you’d better adjust your price accordingly or you might not cover your booth fee! At the end of the day what is important when you invest in space at a show is to sell your images for a profit. Lots of oooh’s & aaaah’s might make you feel good for the day, but in the end they don’t pay any bills. It’s kind of the same as Facebook ‘Likes’ on your images… if you are trying to make a living off of your photography, people ‘Liking’ your work only does so much good, online or at an Art Show. So you need to figure out what your total expenses are for each image first, and what the bottom line is that you need to make off each image in order to cover these expenses. Then you need to consider what your expenses from that show will be (i.e. booth fee etc). You can then set your pricing to cover the image production expenses, the Art Show booth expenses and then add some additional to the selling price to put back in your pocket. You will have many other expenses as well. Setting up an aesthetically pleasing display is not cheap, however it’s not reasonable to expect to make back all those expenses in one show. Those types of expenses are investment cost, ones that you will need to pay off over time. At nearly all of my Art Shows I make at least a 100% profit on all the images I sell. I purchase all my supplies and do my printing in bulk, thereby keeping costs low so that even at a 100% markup my prices are still reasonable. I typically sell Thousands of dollars worth of matted & framed images at each show. I suggest a lower pricing structure for your images to start out with, one that you still make a profit on, but one that is also more feasible for your average shopper to be able to afford. There are not many people out there these days that have $200 to spend on a matted print. I know I wouldn’t pay that much no matter how much I like the image, and I consider myself pretty well off financially. Once you do a few smaller Art Shows (that don’t have major consequences if you don’t sell a lot) you’ll start to be able to track who is buying your images. Then you can pick shows where those types of people are expected to attend. You will also be able to track which of your images actually sell, those are the ones to bring to your shows, even if they aren’t your favorites.
Maintaining a reasonable pricing structure and moving product for even a small profit is better any day than over pricing yourself and selling nothing. One of my basic theories is, if you’re not Art Wolfe, don’t price your images like you are.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.
— Nathaniel Smalley