Pricing fine art photographic prints is always a challenge, there’s a lot of costs involved, a lot of competition in the marketplace, and a lot of variation in prices out there in the marketplace. While I don’t have the One True Way of pricing for photographic prints, I do have a few thoughts on the matter for those of you considering your own print sales.
As a starting point, you first need to figure out your cost of goods. Start with the photographic print itself. If you own your own printer, that cost will include the cost of the ink, the paper, and the amortized cost of the printer itself, Mark Segal has a nice article explaining how to do this over at the Luminous Landscape. In my own case, I print through an outside service, so I know up front that the cost of one of my standard-sized prints (16×11 inches image size) is about $25, then I add to that a few bucks for shipping or my time/effort to pick it up.
Next up is framing and matting costs. While I’d prefer to not be in the matting and framing business (and I do a lot of education to customers explaining why it might be in their interest to have my images framed somewhere else), a lot of my customers prefer the ease of one-stop shopping, as such it’s important that I provide the option, but it’s brutally expensive. Framing a standard-sized print with quality materials at a local frame shop can easily run a couple hundred dollars, which is prohibitive, so I largely work with vendors who will custom-cut archival mats, backing boards, metal frames, and glass with UV protection and anti-reflection coatings for me. By purchasing in quantity via mail order (except for the glass, which I get locally), I can drive the prices down to about $30-$35 for a mat, plus another $70-$80 to finish off the rest of the framing. My “cost of goods” for my standard-sized framed print is probably something like $140.
As an aside, these easily assembled metal frames are a real benefit for doing exhibitions and such because they’re reusable, while I may not be able to reuse unsold mats and prints, the glass, frames and often even backing boards are often easily reused, which is a real benefit if you consider that a 20-print show might otherwise cost three thousand dollars to simply print and frame.
With a $140 print cost, what should I charge? Well, first, I know I’d like to make money when I sell prints, so I need a margin for myself. And I know as well that there are a lot of costs not reflected here, the costs of travel and camera equipment aren’t included either.
Worse, most places i’m going to exhibit my work or that might market my work want a cut, a cut that can easily be as high as half the gross. That is, a gallery will typically want half of what a customer pays off the top, but the framing and other costs will still be borne by myself. If my standard framed print price is $450, then I’ll receive $225, and at best I’ll be making $85 before the cost of my $8000 camera, or travel to Greenland is included. Not a recipe for getting rich, fine art print sales pretty much never is.
My primary point here is to urge you to be aware of all the costs that go into selling your prints. There are strategies for reducing these costs, but be aware of whatever costs you incur, your first rule should be don’t lose money. The business plan of “lose money on each one, but make it up on volume” doesn’t pay.