I feel virtually everyone but you will have understood this statement correctly as meaning "you can sell pictures for as little as you like".
Originally Posted by lenswork
This nitpicking pales into insignificance beside the yawning logical inconsistency of your overall position, which is that on the one hand you make a standard plea of the case for marketing to boost perceived value in the eyes of customers and thus make it possible to achieve high prices, while on the other hand using (or rather abusing) whatever position you have to take a ball and chain to the efforts of others to build a worthwhile market in art prints.
All your apparent marketing experience has failed to teach you one very simple fact - if you offer prints for $20 (yes, I have understood that you offer others at higher prices), this has a powerful effect in making people think that $20 is the "right" price for a print and that anyone who charges more is a thief and a shyster.
I find it very sad in general whenever anyone in photography decries high prices being achieved by some photographic artist or other - is it just petty jealousy? Rest assured, if any client pays tens of thousands of dollars for a photograph, then
a) they can afford it without going hungry or forcing their children into prostitution and
b) this will only have been achieved through hard work by the photographer concerned, most likely together with a dedicated marketing effort by a gallery with which they are associated.
FWIW, my wife and I have structured our own print sales to match what I was taught in my college marketing course years ago. It is nothing new and works for most any product.
That is, have a mix of products at different price levels to appeal to different sized pocket-books. Not everyone can afford a Cadillac. That's why Honda made millions selling their economically priced vehicles. That doesn't mean that the buyers don't aspire to own a Cadillac. They just might not be able to afford it at the moment. So, should we disapprove of Honda's strategy? I don't think so. It doesn't diminish the value of the Cadillac unless the quality of their product is similar. And if the quality of the product is the same, should we be critical of Honda for achieving a lower selling price? Perhaps here we get at the root of the issue. How is that they can afford the lower production cost. Labor? Materials? Both? Do we then fall back to a nationalistic stance and defend our own process? IMO, it is best to recognize the value of each approach and let the buyer decide what has the most appeal to them. In the end, it seems that the decision boils down to taste, and it seems to me someone said, "There's no accounting for taste."
We sell 5x7 prints that we have branded JewelPrints(TM) (originally Ilfochrome, then Lightjet, and most recently Inkjet prints) single matted in 11x14 mats for $29.50 retail. Those prints are intended to be the "quick nickel" in our revenue stream. High volume, low cost. But, we have always provided a high quality product at that price. From the image, to the materials, to the presentation, it has always been classy. Through the change in process, the one constant has been the image itself. At that price point, process doesn't seem to be as big an issue with the buyer, but it makes a significant difference in the dollars transferred to our own bottom line.
But, we have had to make some tradeoffs in which images are selected for the product line. One needs to know what the market wants to take home with them. And while I would love to sell the images that mean the most to me personally, that isn't always what the public would choose.
So what about the more personal images? Those go to the smaller segment of the public who are looking for something on a different level. Something beyond what is considered a souvenir (from the French "souvienne," to remember). Perhaps a collection of images that represent a more introspective, revelatory peek at the artist's psyche.
Two different markets. Two different purposes. Sometimes as artists we can get lucky and the two markets converge to where the images not only are representative of a place or a moment, but are representative of our emotional state of being.
Mind you, my motivation is to make beautiful images and share them with the world. Not being a trust fund child, I have to obtain a return on my investment in time and energy to facilitate my passion for creating images. As one who obtained an economics degree, it would be foolish to ignore the lessons of supply and demand, unit cost, etc. Unless one is making a donation for the greater good, who pays for the cost of materials, the time spent hiking to a location to make the image, the time spent to make the print and to draft the promotional materials? Theoretically, we all get compensated for our "jobs" at some hourly rate. Do we compensate ourselves similarly for the time that goes into preparing prints for sale?
With traditional processes, it is much more difficult to remove the component that is typically the most expensive from the equation. Labor cost. But, what if one can reduce the cost of labor? Does it diminish the value of the image if either the artist no longer prints their own work, or if the process is automated somehow?
For a known photographer like Ansel, the best analogy seems to be "all boats float in a high tide" because his SEPs still command a goodly price even though they are printed by Alan Ross. Is the current price of those images related to process? To some degree for sure. Galen Rowell is another whose work held its value regardless of process (he didn't print his work ever to my knowledge, but supervised the printing). That would seem to point to other artists of high stature obtaining similar results. But a shrewder approach seems to be that of artists that use the reproduction process as a component of their marketing mix by selling non-archival prints for less than their archival equivalents, or traditional process at a higher price than non-traditional.
Regardless, Brooks' "story" analogy works in every instance and I believe that the concept is part of our own success. We are fortunate to have very reputable people selling our work who care about us as people and share an enthusiasm for our work. We help them to sell our work by giving them the tools to do a better job. The story helps them and the general public to understand why our work is important. On the reverse of each print, we share the how and why of the creation of each image, from what is special about the moment the image was made to how the print was prepared, so that the public is confident in their purchase and our committment to a quality product for a fair price.
Ansel Adams' approach was no different. His SEP's were created to put his work in the hands of those people who couldn't afford the larger prints. Interestingly, the less expensive work will help sell the more expensive work. By having more work on display than there is wall space. By having the work in more households where other potential buyers will see it. Likewise, the more expensive work helps sell the less expensive work by increasing its percieved value. "There was this huge print for $X,000 there of this same image, but all I could afford was this little one."
The next size up in our portfolio (8x10), there is a significant jump in price to $150. Again the processes that were used to create the prints evolved over the years, and our prices reflect a variety of factors. More time put into preparing the print (full gallery presentation, most of early work was printed for us by professional labs and therefore boosted the labor and materials cost, uniqueness of the images, the price of comparable work by our contemporaries, and a more challenging issue: collectors). The collector issue presents a whole different wrinkle to the equation, for essentially, once and artist has established a selling price for an image, it is frowned upon to decrease the price at a late date lest they simultaneously devalue all previous work sold to a public, who oftentimes are making a purchase as an investment, or at least with the notion that the print will increase in value over time, especially upon the death of the artist.
However, a collector I once met shared this insight about collecting photography. They said, "I don't buy an image as an investment. I buy it because it moves me." Their collection was the finest I have ever seen anywhere, in or out of museums, for it was not only an awesome assembly of imagery, but it clearly depicted the nature of the collector. While I was moved by the images individually, I was really moved by the vision of the individual who brought them together. To me, the value of the whole collection was far greater than the sum of the parts. So, it might be a real steal someday to have one each of Brooks' $20 prints, especially if you are the only one who does.
The principle of a mix of differently-priced products is sound, but the Honda/Cadillac analogy is flawed. Japanese automakers are famous for lean production, paring costs to the bone, and above all excellent production engineering (designing things to be easy to mass-produce) and a pioneering commitment to quality control (which the West struggled for a long time to catch up with).
Originally Posted by kswatapug
The only aspect of Honda auto-making which you can realistically carry over to photography is the economy of scale offered by inkjet printing - labor-intensive adjustment of a master file can be amortised over an infinite production run with almost zero labor content (the printer runs by itself and just needs refilling with ink and paper every few hours).
One thing you can be sure of, Honda has never sold an automobile without a good prospect of achieving a 100% markup on the recommended selling price (i.e. twice what it costs to make, distribute, advertise and sell its vehicles). I simply cannot believe that you are selling matted prints for $29.50 through a third party and achieving any worthwhile profit.
I realized as I was reading everyone's posts that I was going to have to say something. Fortunately you said it for me.
Originally Posted by jovo
The point of a photograph, from a buyer's perspective, is not how much blood, sweat, tears and money went into producing it, but whether they like it enough to pay their own money for it, and the less it costs, the more likely they will like it enough to buy it. $20 has worked out well for him on certain pictures, produced a certain way, and sold as he has marketed them. He's not saying everyone should do it exactly as he has - I think he was just trying to get people to contemplate the issue of pricing a little.
Originally Posted by df cardwell
FROM PAUL STRAND
New York City
March 21, 1949
…Rather than your getting it second hand, I want you to know that I was very disturbed by your portfolio—I do not refer to the content, (about which I would rather speak than write you) but the effect the price of it will have on the whole problem of establishing a proper value for a photograph. This arose, as you may remember, when the original suggestion of a similar folio of work of 10 photographers was raised. Either a photograph as an art work is worth something or it is worth nothing. I well remember the time when people said no water color was worth more than $100 and Stieglitz made them pay as high as $6,000 for a Marin. They did not like it but the concept that a watercolor is inferior and of less value than an oil was broken down to a great extent. I also remember when advertisers and agencies paid $5 for a photograph and $1,000 for a painting. The commercial photographers have changed that situation, and have given photography its rightful place within the hierarchy of commercial art values—Stieglitz tried and to some extent succeeded in giving a photograph its rightful value as an art commodity. I have adhered to that principle and will continue to do so.
It seems to me that your portfolio undermines the basic concept of the value of a fine photographic print. First it says: a little over $8 apiece is a reasonable price and secondly it says that the photograph as an art work can be made in any quantity or at least quality. I don’t think either is true and in the long run my feeling is that you will not increase either respect for, nor understanding of, photography as a medium of expression—I think it only fair to tell you what I think.
Our greetings to your Virginia and the very much growing up young Adamses—and to Edward if you see him—my class at the Photo League is an interesting experiment—hope for all concerned—
Ansel Adams Letters and Images 1916-1984
Sponsored Ad. (Subscribers to APUG have the option to remove this ad.)
Originally Posted by df cardwell
TO PAUL STRAND
Yosemite National Park
March 29th, 1949
You are an honest man! I appreciate your letter very much indeed for various reasons. I know that what you say comes from the heart and from basic convictions. I don’t agree with you about price, but that is a minor matter.
I have, as you know, the greatest respect and affection for you and you work. It is the only truly poetic photography in the world today. And I admire your devotion to the cause of adequate value of photographs.
I cannot agree with your logic in this respect: 1 print only from a negative may very well be worth $500.00—the photograph in itself is worth that. But, where we have one oil painting, one watercolor, one piece of sculpture—we also have many prints of etchings, many prints of lithographs, many prints of photographic negatives. To me the essence of the photographic process is its reproducibility. With adequate technique we can print a million duplicate prints of the same negative and each print can be as beautiful and perfect as the “master” print which, we suppose, is the expressed concept of the picture. To me, the photograph stands as an expression independent of the number of prints made from it.
In my Portfolio One every print is as good as if it were the final fine print I would make from the negative. The “fine” print was made; sometimes it took may hours to determine the desired perfection and feeling. Once that was done, it was a simple matter to simply repeat the exposure and development procedures. I kept accurate detailed notes and used a metronome in timing. Every 13 or 15 prints were developed at one time in 3 liters of fresh Metol-Glycin developer (6 minutes developing time). What differences there are can be traced to paper differences, and to occasional failures of control. These differences are very slight. One picture—the Saguaro cactus—was intentionally printed in two ways—one slightly darker than the other. I am equally pleased with both expressions. And so on!
The price of the portfolio is fixed as a unit. The separate prints will always be priced at at least $25.00. No separate prints will be available until long after the portfolio is completely sold out—if then. If the portfolio were done in an edition of 500 copies, I would have priced it at $50.
If I could make a fine print for $1000—and distribute them to a great audience, I would be greatly pleased.
I am touched by the fact that several students have bought the Portfolio and are pay a few dollars a month. It is all they could possibly afford. $100.00 is far too much for the average person for anything. It is much more important that the people who appreciate and truly desire to have the Portfolio be given a chance to own it, than to have it placed only in the hands of the rich—who are often very unappreciative of anything but hard cash.
I can’t reconcile you definitely social attitudes with your equally definite exalted financial value applied to art. Explain sometime, please!
But I DO appreciate the letter. Very much indeed!
Must see you soon.
To you and V. and the cat
Affectionate greetings for us all,
Ansel Adams Letters and Images 1916-1984
BTW, Strand may have done commercial work, but he didn't rely on it for his living. Like Stieglitz, he was of independent means. I think that this fact and the fact that Adams made his living as a commercial photographer are very telling here.
Very enlightening... Thanks for posting those... By the way I went to an inflation calculator: http://www.westegg.com/inflation/ And, 25.00 is worth 191.86 in 2005 dollars. That is still pretty cheap for an Ansel Adams Portfolio. Does anyone no how Ansel reacted when individual prints were selling for $50K before he died???
Any photograph is worth exactly what you can sell it for.
If you sell prints for $20, $50, $100, $10,000 then that is exactly what it is worth.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
i still don't see what the problem is -
he is selling photography at a price that people can afford.
Originally Posted by jnanian
Its not that he is selling a picture for what people can afford, it, in my opinion was the attitude and idea of his article that made others upset, when you make broad statements about what others should do, then your going to have controversay, fi Brooks wants to sell his lowline prints off the injet for $20 bucks, that is fine with me, but please don't lead to the fact that I am selling mine for to much, as Blansky said, it is worth what you can get for it..and I know as many others do, I can get more than $20 bucks for mine.