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DoKomi - Reflections and Practical Advice for Artist Alley (Part V: The Prices)

Welcome to part V of this series! The last post focused on the sitting and now I'll be focusing on the pricing. This is a tricky issue that can lead to disagreement and frustration easily, so I'll try to write from a practical perspective while making room for plenty of caveats. (And just to repeat, this isn't only about DoKomi anymore.)


As a reminder for the division of this series, this is where we stand:

  1. The Table 

  2. The Merchandise 

  3. The Customers

  4. The Sitting

  5. The Prices

  6. Expectations vs. Reality


So let's dive right in: there's selling for profit like a professional because it is your profession and you need to make money and then there's selling for whatever you can get because you're either new to the process or don't really need to make money.


I'll start by addressing the latter and then working my way toward the professional before naming a few hard numbers.


If you don't need to make money, then I guess you might as well just do whatever you want anyway. This blog isn't really meant for you, but I hope you still find it interesting.


If you're just starting out and would like to make at least a little money, I might be able to provide some useful advice. Let's start with what not to do: do not pursue one of the following two very different strategies: (a) cheapest possible prices to maximize sales or (b) highest possible prices to make a profit with just a few sales.


What does that look like in practice? Well, it might look something like this:

scenario (a): you paid 1€ per print to produce and sell it for 2€

scenario (b): you paid 1€ per print to produce and sell it for 25€


Based on my experience, either of these strategies could theoretically work, but if you're reading this blog then I would guess that you don't yet have the fanbase to be selling tons and tons of cheap prints or posh, price-inflated prints.


So let me explain why both of these strategies are risky.


At the super cheap end of things you have the following issues:


  1. You need to sell A TON of prints/stickers/merch to recoup your total costs. Let's say you spent 100€ to produce 100 prints, 50€ for transportation, 150€ for 2 nights at a hotel, 75€ for the con fees and 25€ for new display materials including business cards (a MUST!), and 30€ on food and drink for 2 days: you are at 430€ worth of costs. Even if you sell ALL of your 100 prints at 2€ per piece, you will only make 200€. Sure, add in a few commissions and maybe a tombola, but you're still peaking at 300-400€ if you have the best sales days EVER. While I wish you luck, the more likely reality is that you sell half (likely less!) of your stock and then get some additional revenue from the commissions and tombola so that you end up with 200€ in your pocket. In this actually-pretty-likely scenario, you have a loss of over 200€.

  2. Did you notice that I didn't even include minimum wage calculated according to the amount of hours you spent drawing, producing your merch, and sitting at your table? Is your time really free and worth nothing to you?

  3. Have you had the opportunity to compare your prices to other artists? Because you might be harming them! If you are selling on the cheap, even the people who do not buy from you might keep in mind your prices when they look at other artists. If your A4 prints are all priced at 2€ while most other artists have them at 12€, then either you look suspiciously cheap (which people don't want to buy) or other people look unreasonably pricey (which they aren't). Undercutting other artists with your really cheap prices just devalues yourself and risks drawing the ire of the very people you should have solidarity with.


At the super expensive end of things you have these other following issues:

  1. You still need to sell more than just a couple prints! Let's take the same calculation as above (430€ costs for the con), but you sell each print for 25€. Well, you only need to sell 18 prints to make 450€, but how confident are you in that print? Is it on fine paper? Does it have gold foil? Is it an absolutely irresistible design? How big is it? It's a risky strategy because you might make bank OR next to nothing at all.

  2. Even if you have stunning prints, your high-risk strategy might be laid to waste by factors out of your control such as table placement. I have personally, and know of many others, who have been the victim of poor location. For example, if your table ends up at the end of artist alley next to the bathrooms, expect a lot of traffic to just leave before they make it to your table. People will look down the aisle, see that it ends, and walk away if nothing immediately catches their attention. It's awful and it has absolutely NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR PRICING STRATEGY. Except actually it does because you should try to price according to all the variables you can think of that could affect your sales. Overpriced prints + bad location = miserable sales. Other variables could be demographics of the attendees, time of year, or weather, just to name a few. Note: if you are suffering from one of these factors, but are hesitant to alter your price list, consider at least offering a "sale" the last day or last hours of the con.

  3. You might be pricing for an art-loving audience that is not synonymous with a con-loving artist. For some of my "high-end" prints that I do charge more for, I have been told by artists outside the comic/manga sphere that I could be charging twice as much (think 40€ instead of 20€). While I totally believe that I could ask for higher prices at an art show, I am not at art shows. I am at cons. Most of my audience is young and has limited disposable income. The value of anything is determined by the price people are actually willing to pay for it. So keep in mind your audience!


Given these potential novice mistakes, let's turn toward the professional for profit artist, because that's honestly the mindset the beginning artist should aspire to anyway.


Trying to figure out how to turn a profit is not about being a money-grabber, it's just about being realistic. And it isn't realistic to expect to come out of a con with few to no losses unless you've honestly and soberly reflected on your profit margins. In fact, I wager that the beginning artist is very, very likely to come out of their first cons at significant loss even if they do try to be clever about pricing.


So what can a profession for profit artist do that the noob should aspire to?

  1. Set comparable prices. Charge roughly what other artists are charging. Don't undercut others and know that both high and low prices can be risky.

  2. Adapt prices. Ideally you should offer your merch at the same prices if you'll be tabling at more than one con a year, but sometimes it can be strategically useful to put on a "sale" when things are slow and to increase prices when your own costs are going up.

  3. Offer a variety of items with different profit margins. Typically a print can yield a large profit relative to its production cost (1€ per print to produce and sold for 10€), but t-shirts and stickers might not (t-shirt: 18€ to produce and sold for 30€, sticker: 0.30€ to produce and sold for 2€). While it's nice to have high-profit prints, one t-shirt could still yield more profit than one print (compare 9€ to 12€). The risk, however, of producing expensive items such as t-shirts is that if they don't sell well, then you have pretty significant losses to deal with. Similarly with stickers, which people generally don't want to spend a lot of money on but which can be relatively expensive to produce, you are going to need to sell A LOT of them. By contrast, if a print doesn't do well, it doesn't financially hurt as much to retire that specific print before you've sold out of it.

  4. Get to know your market. Art is entirely subjective, so don't ask yourself whether your art looks "good enough" to sell. What you consider to be your best art might not be a bestseller. But that sketch you threw together in the middle of the night last year? Somehow the most desirable design you've ever produced. So, ask yourself whether you've put something to paper that other people would spend money on. Is there an audience for what you're producing? Do they go to the cons that you're at? Success at cons isn't a measure of how good your art is per se; it's a measure of how good you are at running a business (and maybe how much luck you have).


Knowing how to set prices is itself an art form. With or without prior experience, it might take some fine tuning to get things to a point that cons are profitable or at least not financially detrimental. Proper pricing will not single-handedly ensure that you turn a profit at a con, but it certainly helps!


tl;dr: Get to know your market and set comparable prices. Fine adjustments can be made once you have more experience, and they might include: running sales, offering a range of products, and appraising which prints are truly appealing for con attendees.


BONUS CONTENT:

Did you think I wouldn't name a few concrete prices? I said I'd try to be practical, so here's what I've been seeing at German cons. Below you'll find a rough pricing scheme with ranges per product. Some items, like jewelry and pins, are hard to estimate because the quality and production costs can be wildly different. Prints, on the other hand, are usually within a smaller range. Of course there are plenty of artists selling outside of these ranges, but again, this is just a practical simplification for reference.


Postcards: 3-5€

A5: 5-10€

A4: 8-15€

A3: 10-20€

Stickers: 1-5€

Pins: 5-25€

Keychains: 5-15€

Jewelry: 10-60€

T-shirts: 20-35€

Bags: 10-25€

Books (artbooks, light novels, comic issues): 10-30€







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