Okay, I posed y'all a question (August 9th, on this blog) about why so few of you have given price information with your Critical Mass submissions. The photographers who replied mostly said that they didn't know how to price their prints. That makes me think that we'd better have a discussion about principles of pricing. I'll start it off and then you guys should chime in with your thoughts and insights.
(By the way, just to underline Shawn's point about his favorites not all making the final 175, 2 prints arrived today that I bought through the prescreening from a photographer who is not a final 175. He did list his prices, though, luckily for me and him.)
Photographic prints generally cost between $10 and $100,000, though there are prints above and below that range. Your basic trajectory is to start your print prices lower and have them rise as the demand for your work rises. Your price for a given size and type of print should never go down. (Although, this moment of total collapse of the world economy does actually present a rare opportunity to reset your prices if you find yourself trapped at a ratcheted-up-to-unsubstainable price point.) If you buy one of my prints from Michael Mazzeo Gallery for $10,000 and then find me selling the same print for $100 at Saturday Market, you are going to feel massively ripped off and betrayed. You won't buy my work again, you won't buy anything from Michael Mazzeo again, and Michael Mazzeo will stop carrying my work.
Your print prices are going to be weighed in the context of other artists' prices. You need to get a feel for what other photographers at your stage of development are charging. I will assume that you don't have gallery representation or you would have figured out your prices with your gallerist. That means that you should be finding out what other unrepresented photographers are charging, by asking them (which presents the added advantage of giving you a chance to also ask how their price strategy is working out) and by checking prices at non-commercial exhibition venues, such as university galleries. Once you enter into a relationship with a gallery your print prices will go up because of the value added that the gallery contributes by exhibiting them in a swanky space manned by salespeople who are on a first name basis with collectors.
As you get a sense of your pricing context you will notice that "size matters." Big prints cost a lot more than smaller prints. You will want to listen to your work and let it tell you how big it wants to be printed, but if it doesn't mind, you might do well to have work available in both affordable small versions and pricier big versions.
You also have to figure out about limited editions. Gallerists and collectors will want you to have limited editions. This is because it puts them in the driver's seat as soon as those editions sell out. At that point the price goes up because of supply and demand - this are your most demanded images, by definition, and now there is no more supply from you. The work remains cheap while you are still getting 50%, and once the price goes up you get 0%. This is a bad deal for you but you have to decide how far you're willing to go with it. Just recognize that you are going to lose control over your work when it's sold out. If you have smaller editions, you will lose control sooner of more of your best work. If you have larger editions, you will retain some say over more of your prints for longer. I keep my own work unlimited (as you may have guessed from that preamble) which also lets me trade prints, give them to my friends for Christmas and not freak out when they don't return from an international show (about 50% of the time).
When you first are starting out, you have no prints out in the world, in major or minor collections. If your prints are affordable then some adventurous souls will be brave enough to buy your work even though you're not famous. Those adventurous souls will become part of your team, displaying your work in their homes and bragging about how smart they were to discover you. The decisions that you make about price and edition size will determine how many of your prints are out in the world, being seen, thrilling people, and eventually flowing into museum collections.
Don Juan told Carlos Casteneda that the only bad choice you can make at a crossroad is to just stand in the intersection. In addition to costing you some print sales, it does mark you as "not ready for prime time" to not know what your print prices are. Do a bit of soul searching, a bit of research and make up a number. If you're unsure, stay a bit low (since you can't lower the price once you sell your first print,).
Now let's hear from you about any or all of this.