I recently joined a wonderful little community here on dA for artists who take commission work:
. <shameless plug> There are artists of all mediums and techniques there, so do check it out if there's anything you want to have done! </shameless plug>
As I've looked through the profiles of the other community members (and in various other places where people list prices for their wares/talents), I've noticed something that makes me sad and honestly a little worried about the future of selling art: a lot of artists seriously undersell themselves
It certainly is hard (especially in this economy) to set prices for your work that are affordable for customers, and not too high to turn them away. I also understand wanting to start a little lower on your prices to get your name out there. But starting your commission prices at $1? Or maxing out at $5-10? Too low, folks. Way too low.
First off, on a $1 commission, you're literally making just a few pennies by the time PayPal fees are taken out (because let's face it - unless the person commissioning you lives close enough to hand you a buck in cash, or they're willing to pay almost a dollar for a one-dollar money order to mail you - which with the cost of the stamp, costs even more than the commission! - odds are that's how you're getting paid). The PayPal fees always hurt a little, but especially on low dollar amounts. I know - I sold stuff on eBay for many years.
But way beyond that... Really, is that all you think your work is worth? If all artists price their work that low, how will people ever come to value art that is handcrafted/hand-drawn/hand-painted/etc? If people come to expect that they can get a drawing for a dollar, or a blanket for $30, will they ever buy from those of us who price our work more appropriately? Will they ever buy from you
again if you raise your prices?
I've heard the argument that, "Well, this is a hobby of mine, I'd be doing it anyway, I just want to make enough to pay for my materials." I can almost understand that one - almost. But I think a lot of people who take that route are barely breaking even, if at all. Say you're offering a small drawing for a dollar. If you're a traditional artist, you still had to buy paper, pencils, and erasers, and a scanner so you can digitally show the piece to the customer. If you're a digital artist, you had to buy the computer and the drawing software. You have to pay for your internet access to post the piece on dA or at the least e-mail it to the buyer. It takes a lot of one-dollar commissions to cover all that. Or you might be offering a blanket for $30. It's nothing to pay $30 for yarn for a blanket for an adult. Add in the cost of crochet hooks or knitting needles, the pattern (if you bought one), other notions... you might be going in the hole now. And isn't the time you put into your creation worth something?
Ah, getting something for your time. There are two arguments I've heard here. One is: "Oh, but it doesn't take me long! I can do this in an hour!" Alright, then. If you worked an hour at most any job in the U.S. that wasn't expected to be supplemented by tips, you'd make $6.55. Does it still seem reasonable to sell your hour's worth of work for just a buck?
Of course, the louder argument is: "There's no way I can ever get reasonable reimbursement for my time." This, I completely agree with. I'll give an example from my own experience. One of my first commissions was a large afghan - big enough to cover a full-size bed. The yarn for it cost me about $50. Normally I go with a commission price of 3 to 5 times the cost of the yarn, depending on the pattern. This pattern did work up fairly quickly, and wasn't too difficult for me, so I charged 3 times the cost of the yarn for $150 total. I kept a rough track of how long it took me to complete the afghan - I clocked in at about 45 hours total working time. So that $100 profit I made on the commission came out to $2.22 an hour. I'm not complaining about that at all - I was happy to get that much, I had fun making the afghan, and I know odds aren't high that someone would pay me $295 (+ $50 for the yarn!) for an afghan at minimum federal wage.
Few, if any of us, will ever get rich off our commission work. They don't call us starving artists for nothing! But just because we can't get a working wage doesn't mean we have to cut ourselves so low that we're in the red! There can be a middle ground, and I would urge all artists to find it. We do ourselves no service if we don't value our own work enough to ask a reasonable price for it, and we hurt our fellow artists as well.