Sunday, December 13, 2015

Market Price--Setting a price for my art.

Color printing sequence.
"How much does this cost?"
This is one of those subjects that makes artists uncomfortable. "How much should I charge or ask for my work. "
I make a point of not asking people to support my artistic output--I think that would be presumptuous--no one asks me to create what I make but me so it's not fair or just that I "expect" people to support me (and I don't).
However, I'd like to think that I make things that people might want, and assuming willing buyers are interested, I need to be prepared to tell them how much, and why, my works cost what they do.

Ideally, interested buyers would chance upon my work, become enthralled, ask me what it costs, laugh saying, "is that all?!?" and buy it on the spot, with another for a gift.
That doesn't happen often.
In my last local show, I had framed prints that ran from $100.00 for the small animal prints (Beetle/lizard/snake/horse) to just under $500 (for my most expensive--"Maple").  The frames, mats and glass alone cost $45.00-$90 each.  I also had a box of unframed prints--mostly black and white for $20.00 with a few of the color prints at $40.00).  My artist colleagues all remarked that my prices were way too low while the average lay person (non artist) commented instead that they were way too dear (in my guest book at least two people wrote, "Too Expensive!!! with three exclamation points and underlined three times.  They didn't leave a name so I couldn't really explain how much work they are, or how much the wood blocks cost or the paper or the framing.

But I do understand. Salaries here are very low, and the average person might earn less than 1000/Euro/month with professionals often earning 10% of what they'd make in the US. Many people now have lost jobs or have only one wage earner at home, so having money left at the end of the month for essentials is hard for many, and art works remain a luxury that come after many other needed essentials.

Obviously, the art market...people who invest in art or travel specifically to look for and buy art works by contemporary artists-- is made up of a different clientele.  Florence is NOT a location for art buyers (except antiques) so I know that I need to look elsewhere if I'm going to market or have any success in finding homes for my original prints.  But that still begs the question of what is "fair" or "reasonable".
There are two ways to go about it. The market price (what the market will bear) that ignores the work or material costs) and is based on what a reasonable person, who might be disposed to buy artwork as a gift or for themselves, would be willing to pay.
I imagine there is a "price point", a figure where the average person looking at a work might say, "hey, that's great, I really like that" at a number that they'd internally think, "that's a good deal' and buy it without remorse. (There are probably several price points---"fair, but I'll have to think about it", "fair but more than I can spend", "too expensive for what it is" and probably, "are they joking!?"....
These values will vary by location and context. My local craft fair won't move anything that costs more than $25.00 while my work would bring 10X those figures in Santa Fe, NM or San Francisco, where I used to live.
The other way to price is of course from the bottom end--calculating materials and labor and trying to factor in a "fair value" for my labor.....:
For the purposes of transparency and to stimulate the debate I've listed my expenses for my last print below:

"Autumn Treasure",  my 8"x10" 9-block woodblock print based on an etagami watercolor drawing was just finished.  I printed 20 copies (so far).  There are 15 copies with text and 5 without and they are all printed on expensive, handmade Japanese washi.
Woodblocks: 5 blocks: 3 Shina and 2 Okoume, (carved on each side): $5.00 each......$25.00
Paper 2.5+ Sheets Shin Hosho $25.00/Sheet yielding 9 pieces each+2 $24x2.5 .........$62.00
Pigment and rice paste, sandpaper and photocopies and scrap paper:  ............................$8.00
Labor*: Carving 2 days/10 hours total @ $10/Hr--------------------------------------------$100.00
Printing*: 3 half days/ 15 hours @ $10/hr......................................................................$150.00
Total: $345.00
Costs per print at 20 copies: $17.25 (assuming a $10.00/hr minimum wage).

If I print an additional 30 copies, the original carving costs get divided by the larger number of copies, and as I can now print faster now that I'm familiar with this set of blocks. So Adding in the additional costs of paper and labor: 3.5 sheets = $87.00 and two work days printing (12 hours)--$207.00=$550 total.
So now the total cost of production $550 can be divided by 50 prints, so:
Cost per print at 50 copies is now just $11.00
Obviously, I'd like to add in a factor to make all of this worthwhile, not to mention pay for rent, utilities, health care, and food.....and one can quibble about skilled labor vs. unskilled labor, etc.
Which brings me back to the original argument.
How much are these worth?
How much would you spend?
How much can I reasonably charge (with the intention of having them priced low enough that they will sell briskly rather than waiting for the occasional buyer willing to pay a higher price)? 
And if the total market--at any price--isn't big enough to justify printing 50 copies, I'd rather not......).
For the record:
My kids both said $20-25.00 was what they'd pay without thinking.
My wife pretty much said, "Why would anyone pay for that when you can just print a photocopy off your image from the internet...."
I (as the artist and culprit of this particular work) would have set them at $100 based on the labor involved (valuing my labor at much more than $10.00/hour) but I doubt I will sell any at that figure--it's a pretty, but simple piece and I'm not sure "worth" that figure to anyone but me.  So I was going to set them lower,  at $50.00 before I decided to open up this discussion to the internet/public.

* I have left out of the discussion the question of numbering/editioning these prints.
Traditionally, Japanese prints were NOT numbered. They would print as many as they hoped to sell, and if they ran out, they would print more. Prices were always lower because they were not "limited".
Buyers today all want "numbered" prints--and if I close the edition (to 20 or 50 copies) the price should be presumably higher to compensate me for the resulting "scarcity". Getting back to the argument at the top, printmaking was always meant to be a democratic medium....making multiples so that everyone could afford to bring art into their homes and lives. I'd like to find a way so that at least some of my output is priced so that it's not out of reach of someone who really likes it?

**This little print, "Autumn treasure/chestnuts" was meant to be targeted towards a market that had a modest budget and less to spend. For the sake of comparison, My "Narcissus" print (a little larger than this one) is selling at $200 and and my little Espresso Genie continues to sell consistently at $110.....



  1. Very interesting post.. It's tricky because within the equation is the value of your skill and experience, which I'm sure was gained over many years and by using large amounts of materials and equipment. Also you doubtless studied your particular technique at classes, via books or maybe at a college. So shouldn't that be reflected in the hourly rate you quote?

    1. Wage is hard. A divorce lawyer gets $400/hr to talk on the phone. A plumber $100/hr. When I worked as an ER physician it was close to $175/hr. When I was waiting tables it was $3.50.....Printmaking?!? Sure, classes, Self-study, workshops, travel, internet surfing, museum visits, rare book libraries...but no one buying a print really cares about that.

  2. Ooph. And I'm assuming for the sake of discussion we're talking strictly about unframed work... although even at that one needs to consider packaging.

    (And THEN if one is going to sell work through galleries one must double the price in order to break even. Even if I think a fair price is $50 I have to set the piece at $100 unless I only ever plan to handle all my sales myself.)

    It's a tricky balance... finding a price point that will sell but not undersell the work. If someone has a fool proof formula I've yet to hear of it, although I'll be watching to see if one turns up here! Thanks for opening the discussion, Andrew.

  3. I priced labor at $10.00/hr as a sort of proxy...I doubt anyone could say it's too if the resulting print price is too high then it means that the object value is less than the work needed to produce it, and that's a pretty important piece of information to take home. I know my labor is worth more. And I believe my works are worth more. But that was the point of this exercise. The question I asked though has remained unanswered. This particular print: 8" x 10", 9 blocks, 11 color impressions, 20 or 50 copies...what is it worth? What would you pay for it if you were inclined to buy one?

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  5. During my print club annual show I was talking to a member who was wondering how I could price my work so reasonably. So I explained it to her and told her that if I didn’t make a profit then it’s just a hobby and not worth dealing with the IRS. She told me that “No one makes a profit off printing and that we should be lucky just to break even!” Ouch.
    So your blog post is a good subject for this.
    I worked for a number of years as a product manager in the computer business and previously had to price my work for computer animation.
    When I had to price anything, weather it was made by me or someone else, I found that I had to come up with a mathematical method of pricing. This allowed me to defend my pricing with logic and no emotion.
    To do so I used the standard Profit Margin calculation since this is a standard way of discussing pricing of any type of goods.
    Profit Margin is a measure of profitability. It is calculated by finding the net profit as a percentage of the revenue.
    Net profit margin = net profit
    Where net profit is revenue minus cost.

  6. My products and or services had to cover all my costs and generate a profit or bad things would happen. While pricing product by the hour or the item I never dropped my Profit Margin below 35% even if I had to dump old or overstocked items.
    So to use your example:
    Woodblocks: 5 blocks: 3 Shina and 2 Okoume, (carved on each side): $5.00 each......$25.00
    Paper 2.5+ Sheets Shin Hosho $25.00/Sheet yielding 9 pieces each+2 $24x2.5 .........$62.00
    Pigment and rice paste, sandpaper and photocopies and scrap paper: ............................$8.00
    Labor*: Carving 2 days/10 hours total @ $10/Hr--------------------------------------------$100.00
    Printing*: 3 half days/ 15 hours @ $10/hr......................................................................$150.00
    Total: $345.00
    Costs per print at 20 copies: $17.25 (assuming a $10.00/hr minimum wage).
    Your Labor costs are too low, should be at least $20.00 an hour.
    There are no fixed costs for your overhead noted but you did mention them:
    • Rent
    • Utilities
    • Health care
    • Business insurance. (this is a must have)
    Since my studio is a separate space in my house I figure my costs by square foot for the whole house and then divide out to find the cost of the studio and storage space. US Tax code provides for this calculation. I do have business insurance for about $300.00 a year that covers $1M liability for visitors , damages and loss of income due to fire etc. in the house or studio.
    For example I have 375 Square Feet of studio/storage space and my cost to use that space is $1700 a year. (Cheap I know but just for example)
    This cost must be included in your pricing as percentage for cost of goods.
    So to make sure you have set a price that covers all your costs let’s do the following;
    Woodblocks: 5 blocks: 3 Shina and 2 Okoume, (carved on each side): $5.00 each......$25.00
    Paper 2.5+ Sheets Shin Hosho $25.00/Sheet yielding 9 pieces each+2 $24x2.5 .........$62.00
    Pigment and rice paste, sandpaper and photocopies and scrap paper: ............................$8.00
    Labor*: Carving 2 days/10 hours total @ $20/Hr--------------------------------------------$200.00
    Printing*: 3 half days/ 15 hours @ $20/hr......................................................................$300.00
    Studio/storage and other fixed costs: $5000.00 (year) / hours in year = 5000/8760=.60 per hour
    .60 * 25 hours = $15.00 for blocks and 20 prints.
    Total: $610.00
    Costs per print at 20 copies: $30.50 (assuming a $20.00/hr wage).

  7. So now to price:
    Minimum 40% profit margin is needed. Real cost of print is $30.50. So $30.50 * 1.40 = $42.70
    Now your price of $50.00 is a good one but you need to know your Max and Min price that you can afford. Min price should be $42.70 if sold directly in your studio.
    We have yet to add the costs of going to the show so……. These costs would be added to the fixed costs and would raise your prices by a couple of % points.
    As Sherrie York, stated you have to adjust pricing if you have gallery representation since many of them have contracts that restrict what you can sell an item for. Galleries do not want to compete with the artist since they will never make money. Their customers could just use their smart phone and buy the same print from your online store for a lesser price for example.

  8. Yikes! What a long response, hope it makes sense.

  9. Yes. It makes sense. This is very helpful. It's sort of intuitive, but not what I'd have come up on my own. I do have a studio and pay $250/m in rent and if you add in parking, gas, general materials (trash bags, waste fees, insurance, etc, you are right to include that. It's also hard to figure in labor as while printing might indeed be 5 hours....there was a lot of time before and after "thinking" about color separations, sequences, will I need another block, staring looking after one color run...things that don't necessarily get added in as "labor" but are. So bless you. Your input is very helpful and I'm grateful for your willingness to share it.
    The only other issue I have gets back to demand....If I produce work that costs more than people are willing to pay than I need to either produce less of it (it becomes "entertainment" for me rather than an income stream) or try to alter the production process to make them more easily, quickly and cheaply?

  10. I've got a lot of works stored in drawers...I refuse to sell myself short. I spent as much money as the cost of my home on my education and earn $30 an hour as a substitute teacher. My artworks are worth at least that, especially since the school districts insist that I must be a professional in my field. Also Doug has it right you must figure in a profit margin in addition to overhead, costs and time spent messing around (on line researching images [your do need to render your ideas accurately] as well as time spent ordering materials, taxes, shipping, drawing, planning). But I also figure in what the market will bear. I research by looking at other artists in Etsy whose work is comparable to mine then figure an average range of just those who actually sell several works a year. And you know what, that average usually comes pretty close to my calculated profit margin. The other thing you must consider is that you don't want to undercut fair market value, for if you do then you undercut your peers means. One way I protect my work from being printed from the internet is to watermark the higher quality images but thumbnails and image files without watermark are too small to print without crappy pixelation. Those persons who say too expensive simply have no idea of how much blood sweat tears and coin go into your work and quite frankly they simply don't value hand crafted artistry...let them ignorantly buy machine made crap from're education, skills and talent are worth more than mass market... art is a fine great thing and greatness should never be cheap... oh yeah I also calculate size into my pricing as well as color but I think you said that. Also when I track time for freelance design clients I bill my thinking time under research since I'm researching my own

  11. I feel best about my work if I think of it as a kind of countercultural endeavor; a form of resistance to the neoliberal forces that try to put a dollar value on everything. Of course, that means having an alternate source of income. I price my work fairly high relative to other people's work, but still it doesn't pay me a fair hourly wage. I don't think that's really possible for a solo-practitioner mokuhanga artist, unless one makes large editions or develops a way to re-use and re-mix blocks. Making a living from my woodblock prints is a pipe dream. But because I love it and am a dreamer, I continue to try.