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Tuesday, 29 January 2013


I've looked at all of Mike's points quite thoroughly over a number of years. Conclusion: Do things that seem to make good sense and sleep soundly. I've seen Michael and Paula prints in person. I'm buying one each to have them on our wall. YMMV.

I think the confusing issue is the way the prints were marketed as :

".... (normally $3,500) are available for $350 each, one-tenth of the usual price;"

I know you didn't say as much, but I think a lot of people might have read this as "these prints are worth $3,500, but as TOP readers you get them for 1/10th the price". Someone else might read it as "..but these prints are only worth $350".

Of course you don't need to be a TOP reader to avail yourself of the offer - anyone visiting Michael and Paulas website will see the prints for sale on the front page. Mike deserves credit for facilitating the sale, of course

Dear Mike,

If I may further muddy the waters [grin] …

It's pretty much impossible to say what the value of these prints will be in the future. First of all, “supply” in the world of photographic art isn't how many prints of a photograph exist, but how many people are willing to sell them. In the case of this TOP sale, I would be very surprised if many of the buyers would be willing to part with their prints at the price they paid for them, given that they could not possibly replace them with comparable work at a remotely similar price. I can see it happening in the case of serious financial distress or someone deciding later that they just don't happen to like the photograph, but that's not a common occurrence. Given that the people buying here know that they're getting a huge bargain, a not-to-be-repeated opportunity, I think you'd have to pay a pretty hefty premium to convince them to part with the photograph.

How much of a premium? Well, that's what determines the market value for the work on the supply side. It's pretty safe to say it's going to be somewhere north of the selling price of $250/$350 … and somewhere south of $10 million (I think every buyer here would happily sell their print for that much).

But then there's the demand side. If there are no collectors interested in that photograph, the market value is zero. If there are fewer collectors interested than there are people willing to sell, the market value can be pretty low. If the opposite happens to be true, it can be rather high.

I'm with John on this. People should do whatever makes sense to them and lets them sleep comfortably, because there's no way to suss this out. This is not work anyone should buy as an investment because there's no way to assess the risk/profit equation. In 10 years you could have a photograph that's worth $400… except you can't find a buyer for it. Or you could have a photograph that's worth $40,000 and collectors are beating on your door. Or somewhere in between.

Don't worry, be happy, buy art.

For what extremely little it's worth, my occasional sales here on TOP have had no detectable effect on my sales outside of TOP. I have a portfolio of approximately 400 photographs for sale, year-round, year after year. Roughly 10 of those have been made available for sale on TOP, for never-to-be-repeated time spans of less than a week. You wouldn't expect there to be an impact. Most people don't buy a Ctein (or a Michael or a Paula) simply for the sake of owning a Ctein, they buy a particular photograph they like. And they buy when they like it; they don't sit around hoping that some year that particular photograph will go on sale.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 


This post on art pricing is worthy of a thesis or dissertation in economics or finance. Except that the data gathering part will be very difficult. However, you've raised a chockful of talking points for modelers or theoreticians to mull over.

Below are a few "tags" that I think are apposite to this very engaging article:

law of one price (When products are identical, that is.)
price discrimination (Why Michael & Paula's print sale ain't.)
Hotelling's lemma (What producers do given profit maximization assumptions.)
backward bending supply curve (What Carl Weese's print sale shudda been.)
Slutsky effects (Income and substitution effects of a price drop.)
Pareto optimality ("win, win, win")
time preference (For the pure investor only.)
assymmetric information (No longer applicable because of this blog post.)

I wish my interest in this print sale were more than theoretical...:(

Maybe an answer could be derived from the results of previous TOP print sales. Would any of the previous photographers, whose prints were offered through TOP, be willing to talk about this?

That was a stunning answer to Gary's questions. Clear, to the point and informative. :-)

I'm sorry, Mike, but here are some more awkward questions on this subject.

How does a photographer decide on a price for their work? If I am a photographer who has never sold a framed or mounted photo before, which I pretty much am, where do I start?

I’ve looked at the prices photographers ask for work on the web, and there’s a huge range of prices; I don’t know if they’ve plucked a figure out of the air, if they actually sell any (are they at the right sort of price to sell?) or what difference it should make to sell a photo over the web, from a gallery, or the wall of the local cafe.

What about the media used? Should inkjet prints and silver prints be differently priced?

I’d be quite pleased to sell a print at, say, $350 (£222), like Michael’s prints in the sale, but I am sure that any prospective buyer of my photos would be saying, “Roger who?”

Does it make much difference which country I am in? I'm in England.

I used to be pretty good at estimating prices for fire alarm systems and the like, but there are no intangibles like reputation or artistic merit involved in pricing. I do appreciate that cost of materials and time must have something to do with pricing photos.

I'm not looking for an absolute figure, just some method of calculation!

I'll chime in as a current owner of several Michael and Paula prints. It doesn't bother me a bit that the TOP print sale prints are selling for less than I paid for mine, in fact, I think it's a wonderful opportunity for others to own some of their work. The prints I bought were chosen carefully because I love the subject matter. I also bought one of their Azo Portfolios to help fund the Azo replacement paper that Michael helped develop. I don't care about the secondary mkt because I love my prints and will never sell them (my heirs will have to deal with that if they choose).

I should add that M & P's prints are simply exquisite; true works of art that you can hold in your hand and treasure. No one who buys these prints would have reason to be disappointed in their quality. I also very much admire M & P's dedication to their craft and art. Michael has basically spent his life photographing with a large format camera and they both have a wonderful body of work.

With respect, I think Gary's question is massively irrelevant. They are prints not investments (which by the way, like house prices can go down as well as up). His concern with resale prices and the suggestion of a disclosure means he is worried about people who bought wholly or partly with an eye on resale value. If so, then more fool them.

My TOP print offer three years ago sent 240 platinum prints and a hundred or so inkjet versions of the same negatives all over the world. Nikhil's sweet mention that one of these brightens the office is more or less what I hope a lot of them are doing. It had no effect on my gallery sales.

Last year I did a Kickstarter project to help finance the completion of my American Drive-in Theater project. The KS "Rewards" were prints (inkjet, not platinum) that Sponsors got for much less than they would cost as a gallery sale, not that different from the TOP print sale model. When the project went ballistic on the first day (largely because of a big plug at TOP) my primary dealer called to say that she had a presentation coming up to a couple in a fantastic West Side Manhattan apartment, and she wanted to, ahem, change our price. She met with them, showed the actual prints, my website, the Kickstarter project, and closed the deal on two 7x17 platinum prints. At the new price. The clients were not only not deterred, but accelerated by the popular success of inexpensive prints to acquire the rare, hand made print by the artist in platinum. Just sayin'....

It seems to me that if I like an art work, and it will give me pleasure in my home, and I can afford the purchase price: then to buy that piece of art is well worth considering. I've no plan of reselling. Why would I, when the art was purchased for my enjoyment?

There's the added good feeling, buying directly from living artists, of supporting them in the creation of yet more art. That's the beauty of TOP print sales.

The re-sale or secondary market has only limited interest for me. At the "stratospheric price" end, it is about gambling -- oh yes, that's meant to be "investment" -- and trophies to display to "friends".

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