Pricing is always a difficult choice. The first thing you want to do is work out the cost of your materials.

If you’re making prints, how much does each print cost you? If you’re printing them yourself, count the cost of the printer, the ink, and the paper, plus the cost of the prints you screw up on while making them. If you’re getting them done from a place you found online, don’t forget the cost of shipping.

Think about the hidden costs – the costs of the scrap paper that it took you to work out the design, the electricity it cost to run the computer and printer or the lights in your place as you’re making it. Add a bit more to cover part of your con costs – table fees, registration fees, hotel, food. Then, finally, add more to be your profit.

Boggle at the result and wonder how artists ever manage to make a living. If you’ve ever wondered why artists charge so much for their prints, now you know. And you know that those of us who don’t charge quite as much per item are counting on volume to make up for it – betting we can sell more items at the lower price to make up for the loss of profit on each individual item. It’s not a bet that always works.

As a general rule, I tend to see prints 5″ x 7″ and smaller going for $5 and under, 8″ x 10″/8.5″ x 11″ going for $5-15, and 11″ x 17″ and up going for $15-45, depending on the size, quality, and complexity of the art. That’s a good general place to start from, and you can adjust up or down at different cons and see what price maximizes your own sales.

A friend of mine who sells crafts at craft fairs says that in her experience, the price of gas is a pretty good predictor of what sorts of things will sell. When the price of gas is high, items $5 and under fly off the table. When the price of gas is low, items in the $5-20 range fly off the table. In both cases, sales on items over $20 tend to remain steady.

Ellen Million has a good guide, Pricing Your Art, up on Elfwood.

Don’t forget taxes!

Unless you’re a non-profit organization (and that means you possess a letter from the Federal government giving you special legal non-profit status, not just that you’re not making a profit), you’ll have to pay income tax as well as state and possibly city sales tax, and most large conventions now require that you have a state tax certificate or sellers’ permit (free to get) to be able to sell.

I won’t go into it because the requirements are different for every state, but conventions that require you to have the certificate or permit should give you information on how to get one. Ask on their forums, or ask the artist alley director. Please do not email me asking what the requirements for your state or country are. I do not know! All I can do is Google it, and you will get results much faster than by Googling it yourself.

Most artists that I know of roll the tax into the cost of the item and charge whole-dollar amounts because it’s easier to handle counting change in a busy environment that way. If you don’t, you’ll have to bring coin change and a calculator and a decent receipt book. You should be bringing a receipt book or something like that anyway, to keep a record of your sales.

You’ll also be needing to pay income tax on your sales come next April (in the USA, at least), so keep good records. You may want to reserve a chunk of money from your profits so you won’t be surprised when it comes time to fill out your tax forms. If you live in the USA and you claim your art business as a separate business, not just as hobby income, then you can deduct the cost of your art supplies and at least part of your convention expenses at tax time, so be sure to keep your receipts for art supplies, food at the convention, your table and registration costs, gas receipts for travel, and your hotel receipt. If you decide to go that route, do be aware that U.S. self-employment tax is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% and that you must file estimated taxes quarterly.  Contact a financial advisor or tax attorney for advice if you’re thinking of going this route: do not take my word alone!


Pricing — 2 Comments

  1. Hey there, I wonder about that taxes thing a lot, in Hawaii at kawaii kon we don’t have to pay said taxes or anything, I’m going to sabakon next month, and I don’t think I saw a requirement for a permit either, in a way I don’t think I should pay taxes because I don’t actually make any more, I think profits being over a certain amount then yeah if people are making thousands they should have to pay taxes, but someone like me only makes back the cost of the table.
    Just curious as to your thoughts?
    Say I spend 200$ on a table and 100$ on printings and come the convention I make 200$, I’m still roughly in the red, so would it make sense to pay taxes on that $200? I don’t see how but I’m open to your opinion.

    • Sabakon’s Exhbitors FAQ says:

      What about taxes?
      All exhibitors will be provided with a one-time sales tax return that must be filled out and returned to the exhibitor information booth at the end of the convention.

      I don’t know how actively Nevada polices out-of-state vendors, but you can be sure that if you’re signed up to sell at Sabakon, the state of Nevada knows you’re there.

      And here’s the thing: I am not going to advise you to break the law. Whether you have a moral right to not pay taxes doesn’t matter: you have a legal requirement to do so, and you can get in deep trouble for it. One of my friends from out of state who came to a Texas con a few years back forgot to send in her tax forms after the show and got slapped with an $1800 fine…even though she didn’t sell anything! (Because of reasons, I ended up selling her books for her and filing the taxes myself.)

      After she phoned them up and explained what happened, that she didn’t sell anything and didn’t realize she had to file a form declaring that, they agreed to waive the fine if she filed the form, but keep this in mind when you decide what you’re going to do.

      Nevada’s tax rate varies according to the area you’re in, and Las Vegas has, if Dr. Internet is correct, an 8.1% sales tax rate right now. If you sell $200 worth of prints, is the $16.20 you get to keep worth having the state come down on you like a ton of bricks?

      But! There is hope! Keep your receipts for the $200 you spend on a table and the $100 you spend on printing and the $$$ you spend on a hotel room and on your meals and any transportation (bus, taxi, etc) you have, and the receipts for the money you spent on art supplies. You might be able to take those expenses off your taxes at the end of the year and you might reduce your federal tax debt by more than $16.20…and if you don’t normally make enough money to pay federal taxes, your refund may be larger than that $16.20.


      edit: The friend this happened to reminds me that not only did she get a fine, she got summoned to appear in court. In Texas. She lives in California. So yes: file your forms!

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