This is really part of a much bigger theme of “how we undervalue our work”, I suppose, but I’m sometimes asked a simple question: “can I buy a print of that?”.
(It’s about many other things too – it’s about marginal costs of production, it’s about motivations, and it’s about friendship and favours, if there’s a personal relationship involved in the request.)
That simple request is actually a tough question. Much tougher than you might think. In the era of Amazon availability and digital production, it’s something that many artists stumble over.
I saw some stunning – and I mean absolutely stunning – aviation photos a while ago. The photographer and I spoke privately about how they approach print requests. Oh, I just send them out for postage plus a couple of quid, was the response.
And that’s absolutely their right as the image creator to take that approach. If you were producing posters at the volume of the bottom-scratching tennis player of my student days, then perhaps a few hundred thousand multiplied by that couple of quid is worth thinking about.
But I don’t.
This is why.
If someone asks me that question, there is just one aspect I focus on. That they value the image enough to want to see it, on display on their wall, looking great. That is all. Not “what it cost me to take the picture” or what sort of equipment, access or insight was involved. Just their value of it. (I will have a think about whether the circumstances of its creation, commissioning and subject make it appropriate to sell as a print, of course, but their valuing of it is where I start in terms of coming up with a price.) I focus on their request for a properly displayed product, based around the image.
And that’s how I build my response, and my price.
What’s involved in that “properly displayed product”? Well, quality printing, mounting and framing, for one thing. And safe delivery. I learned the hard way how Parcelforce respond to picture glass that cracks in transit… (Don’t use Parcelforce to do this, ok?)
Ah, but what about just the print, someone might ask? Or even just the digital file so I can print it myself and work from there? Let’s think about that for a minute. What they’re saying is that they’re trying to cut the cost somehow – maybe knocking out a 10×8 at the local print shop and sticking it in an Ikea frame. Valuing the work isn’t at the top of their agenda.
I don’t say no to this outright, but let me continue how I do the valuation as it has a bearing on the eventual answer.
So back to the “doing it properly” approach. Rough, rough guide to typical production costs for a quality job: for printing, something in the range £10-£60 depending on size, from a dependable, accurate, colour-perfect printer. Mounting and framing: perhaps £80-220 depending on size, possibly a lot more for something unusual or complicated. Delivery: allow £20.
So my maths goes like this:
Add together all those production costs. Add another 15% for the overhead of fielding the response and organising all those production elements to work together. So something A2ish with a generous mount might now have a price tag of £200.
And that’s just for the costs that other people are receiving for making this work into a great product.
What about the picture itself – the heart of this product? Without which it wouldn’t even be a thing at all? Is that seriously worth less than the cost of the production elements involved?
No. To do otherwise would be ridiculous.
So that gives a starting point for pricing. The formula is based on a small multiple (between 2 and 3, depending on product type) of all those production/delivery costs plus an 15% margin for the time and effort in administering sales. Some things will go wrong, at some point, and will need to be put right. Plus VAT, which of course I have to pay straight back to the government.
Just want the print? Ok, but it’s still priced as if the job were being done properly. So that formula above, just with a 1x multiplier. The overheads are still there – images don’t just leap from archive to print-readiness without a fair bit of effort on sizing, format and colour fidelity. The buyer might choose to put it in a three quid frame from the local market. They might choose to hang it in terrible light. Their choices, their call. But I’ve valued the work as if they wanted it to be as good as it could possibly be. Why would I even think otherwise?
And it is just a starting point. The very minimum that work good enough to be hung should be valued at. There are a ton of factors that can change that multiplier – from truly exceptional or rare content, to limited edition certification, to special attributes of print or production. Walk into any photography gallery and you’ll see all these factors at play.
Don’t ignore them just because it’s your picture. Don’t undervalue your work. Don’t undervalue yourself.
I hope that’s useful, and helps to explain why something that’s worth hanging on your wall isn’t going to be, and should never be, something you could get for the price of a round of coffees. The print will last much, much longer for one thing.