The Cost of a Photography Business – Selling Photos as Fine Art

17 Jun


So, you decide to put your work in a gallery. The advantage is clear, the artist does not have to be physically present to sell the work because any time gallery doors are open customers can browse and purchase. This frees up an enormous amount of time and allows you to other things with that time. But this service isn’t free because, generally speaking, galleries must earn money to stay in business and that money is made by charging the seller a commission on work that is sold. The percentages vary, but from my limited experience the magic commission is 40%.

On a side note, one time I put my work into a gallery that charged a modest monthly fee ($25) in addition to a reduced commission (20%). I agreed to this as an experiment for three months. I believe I sold one item which did not make up for my costs and so I pulled my work after the contract period. Recently, I got a card from the gallery stating that they did away with the monthly fee and bumped the commission to 40%. I think that, in general, most people’s work was not selling and too many people pulled their work out.

Back to my point…Now you have a pricing issue. Lets say the work is priced at a level the photographer is comfortable. For simplicity lets use my previous example of $85 for a framed and matted 11×14 print. Remember, the while the photographer sells the work for $85, she has material costs the equal $35. If the photographer feels that this is the highest price the market can bear, she needs to keep the price at $85. But when the work sells, the gallery takes $34, leaving the photographer with $16 profit ($85 price – $35 material costs – $34 commission). That stinks. Instead the photographer says, “phooey”, and prices the work such that the new price covers the commission. Doing some calculations, the total comes to $119 (gallery price=$85 * 1.4). Will the work sell at this new price? If the photographer has doubts she needs to work out a number between the two prices that she feels properly enumerated for her work and believes is not priced too high to sell.

So far, I have sold work through two galleries. The first was a frame shop in the small town of Washington, Illinois. While one might wonder about the sanity putting my work into such a small community, it really was a reasonable chance. This woman’s gallery had a LOT of very high quality original work from regional artists, the town was well-off, economically, and she did get traffic. Apparently, other than one local artist, not many other’s work sold since she changed her model to being strictly commission. The proprietor is wonderful woman to work with, and will likely put my work back in next year once the selling season ends.

The second gallery, The Blue Connection, is ran by students from the local university (Millikin). The gallery has a good vibe and filled the work of good artists. Since the gallery is tied to a university and loosely, with the local art council, customers may be willing to spend a bit more money on art than those going to Farmer’s market or community celebration.

In both my dealings with galleries, they operate in a highly ethical way, and when my work sells, I get paid. I have heard stories from artists who had work in a in another city, who was having problems getting the gallery to pay them for sale of their work.

One downside with galleries is they are dependant inventory. Not only does inventory eat up money but it becomes one more thing to manage. The more your work gets spread out, the more of a hassle it is to pick up and to swap out. It may well be worth your while to get your work in multiple venues, but think about the hassle that brings to your life before signing on.

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Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Uncategorized


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