The Secret of Pricing Your Photos at FAA

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Valle de Muerte – Atacama, Chile

Many photographers will question my decision to share this pricing information on a public blog where my customers can see it. My pricing structure is not a secret, everyone knows that if you’re going to stay in business you have to make a profit. I offer excellent goods & services to my customers at reasonable prices. My repeat customers also receive a monthly private Discount Code offering them further savings on my artwork.

Fine Art America (Pixels.com) is my partner and hosts my online eCommerce store at my website Indochine Photography (IndochinePhotography.me). I’ve been with them since 2011 have been very pleased with their products and turnkey full-service. When it comes to administration it’s not the easiest site to work with, but it’s user-friendly and intuitive for my customers and that’s what counts. It’s also cost-effective for me at only $30 usd per year (per year not per month) for their Premium Service.

I’ve written about them plenty of times on this blog, and you can search the archives by entering Fine Art America into the search box. However, this post is about pricing your fine art prints, and more specifically pricing them at FAA. It’s rather complicated and confusing, and their pricing algorithms and update panels are not user-friendly for the administrator. That often happens when a programmer or site developer doesn’t really understand how business works.

Brick & Mortar galleries typically split art sales 50/50 with the photographer/artist (50% going to the photographer/artist and 50% going to the gallery). When I sold my work through Soho Galleries in Yucatan, Mexico, my split was 60/40 (60% of any sale came to me and 40% went to Soho). This was a bit unusual, but they were also doing all of my printing at the time (typically on 3 x 5 foot canvases) and that made up the difference for them (because I was paying for the printing).

First a word about the ethics of pricing your work. If you’re a Pro-tog (a professional photographer) you already know how important it is to charge a reasonable price for your hard work. There is an ongoing clash between Pro-togs and recreational shooters when it comes to this issue. When amateurs (talented or not) give away, or under price their work, it hurts the business of photography and professional photographers suffer the consequences. I will leave it up to you to sort that issue out in your head.

I excerpted the following statement from my website to help explain my pricing philosophy (you might find it helpful in developing your own):

Pricing can be a sensitive subject, for both the photographer and the customer. In this digital age everyone is a photographer whether they use a camera or a smart phone. But any discerning eye can immediately see the difference in image quality between a “newbie” and a professional.

To engage the services of a professional you will have to pay the toll. What he typically brings to the session is his knowledge, experience, equipment and professionalism. How important will the photograph be to you? Will it help you sell a product or service, show your home to its best advantage or provide an everlasting memory of loved ones? Only you can be the judge of that. My hourly rate is kept well below market standards, because I only shoot part-time and keep my overhead very low while traveling. If I was maintaining my business in the United States my rate would jump by a factor of 5 at least.

I’ve been snapping shutters for over sixty years. Since 2009 I have owned and operated my photography business Indochine Photography. I maintain a professional website. I was the staff photographer for The Yucatan Times newspaper in Mexico for over a year. I have won photography awards and accolades from my peers. I use pro-level Canon cameras, lenses and equipment. I bring an artistic eye and a strong business background to every session I accept. I am a professional for a reason.

If you’re not selling through a brick & mortar gallery (and few of us are these days) then having an online gallery is vitally important. Your online gallery (your sales platform) is an extension of your website, and it should offer full-service to both you and your customers. FAA (and similar companies) give this service at a modest annual fee. It’s my contention that your online gallery, at minimum, should offer a similar gross profit margin to that of a traditional brick & mortar gallery (50/50).

This is up to you the photographer/artist. At FAA you, and you alone, set your prices. Pricing your work is hard, because it’s subjective and requires that you be brutally honest with yourself. Is my work good enough? Are my prices too high or too low? What is a fair price? How do I decide what’s a fair price? Do I have a moral/ethical responsibility to other photographers and the business of photography? If so, what is that responsibility and what does it entail? You have to answer these questions for yourself.

I will share the process I went through to decide and set my prices. This is an ongoing process by the way and is not set in stone. I reserve the right to revisit my pricing algorithm at anytime and make necessary adjustments as required (and I do this when the need arises). As a matter of fact I recently went through this entire process once again, and made changes that I thought were appropriate. This is a dynamic process and not a static process.

Evaluation. Are my photos technically perfect (focus, exposure, composition). Does the subject have fine art interest and value. Am I proud of my work. Does it merit someone spending their hard-earned cash to buy it. If the answer is no to any of these questions then don’t charge for your work—simply gift it to family, friends, or interested parties.

Testing. Testing your work with various audiences will give you a sense of its potential salability (back to the point of am I good enough). I test new work on social media (my Facebook business page, my Facebook personal page, my blog Expat Journal, I share it with various photographer friends—Pro-togs and amateurs alike—and I will also share it with select online photography groups).

Comparison. I will compare my work to other photographers with similar skill sets, and I will see what they’re charging if possible. I use these methods as guidelines and not hard and fast rules. I checkout different photographers/artists and their websites and online galleries. I critique them in my mind, and make comparisons all the time. But talent doesn’t guarantee business success, and vice versa.

The Secret. So how do you price your fine art prints at FAA to realize a 50/50 split like you would get from a traditional brick & mortar gallery? You have to price your prints at approximately 50% of the final sales price. You cannot expect a $6 print (even matted & framed) to generate a 50% return on your investment (your profit margin comes from the print and not the ancillary products). You get 100% of the markup you set up on the print, but you only get about 5% commission on ancillary products.

Case Study #1

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60 x 40 inches (approximately 5 x 3.5 feet) Canvas Print

$750 Sales Price

$400 FAA Profit (Production Cost) = 53%

$350 Photographer’s Profit (Print + Commission) = 47%

This is not an exact science and FAA’s pricing algorithms and panels are a bit funky to use and understand. The thing to remember is that you make your money on the print and not on FAA’s ancillary products (this is true of traditional galleries too). You have to set your markup price and then toggle back and forth to check how they affect your sales price, which requires logging in as a member and then logging back out so you can see your customer prices. It’s really crazy and cumbersome.

Case Study #2

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Here is a smaller version of the same print matted & framed in a popular size (close to 20 x 16 inches)

20 x 13.375 inches, Matted & Framed, 2.5 inch border all around, metallic paper, wood museum frame

$240.00 Sales Price

$125 FAA Profit (Production Cost) = 52%

$115 Photographer’s Profit (Print + Commission) = 48%

These are just two pricing examples from my online eCommerce store. You can visit my store here for more examples. My research helped me to decide what prices I wanted to charge for specific sizes and presentation formats, and then trial & error (and a lot of time) was required to make them work at FAA. But once you set your pricing matrix it stays the same (until you change it), and all new work added to your store will be automatically priced.

Helpful Hint: There are two pricing tables you have to be concerned with (in Behind the Scenes which is a drop-down below your name), one is called Default Settings and this table automatically prices any new work added to your gallery, and Bulk Edit Prices which is where you make changes to your pricing matrix. They work independently of one another (a bunch of crap), meaning when you change your pricing matrix in Bulk Edit Prices it doesn’t automatically update Default Settings (this is a huge programming oversight that has never been corrected). Each time you make changes to Bulk Edit Prices you have to manually enter those same changes into Default Settings (a real pain in the ass). Once you have everything setup it runs smooth, but setting it up is time-consuming and problematic (but it can be done). SFD 

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 Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, World Traveller

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