digital collage by Little Shiva - selfie with ten euros

OK, so I’ve been offering custom digital collage for the ridiculously low price of $25 or 25€ because I like to keep it simple. I can’t stand currency conversion and decimals: just round up. But what’s with the low numbers? Do I suck at pricing?

Conventional wisdom says that high prices convey value, and low prices convey cheapness or lack of value. In the end, pricing comes down to what the customer is willing to pay. Finding the sweet spot takes a big helping of trial and error with a side of intuition.

I never tried to work professionally in the corporate world, and was lucky enough to meet people I could work for through my everyday life in NYC. When Frank London and Tine Kindermann came to my tiny Chelsea apartment in the  early 90’s to discuss me designing and illustrating the CD package for Jews With Horns by then-up-and-coming band The Klezmatics, they were offering $500. Around the same time, Sue Mingus paid me $2000 per CD to design and illustrate CD packaging for The Mingus Big Band, and the United Nations Fund for Population Awareness paid me $10,000 to design and illustrate their 1994 World Population Day campaign. Wow, those were the days!

These days, designers, illustrators and all kinds of creatives are competing with other creatives in a global digital economy. There are lots of free or cheap creative tools available for people who like to do things themselves, and AI is becoming a serious contender as well. Selling creative work has become more challenging than ever.

Right now there’s a big gap between what I feel my work is worth (not only in my imagination, but what I’ve actually gotten paid for it in the past) and what I’m finding people are willing to pay for it today. It feels like being at the bottom of a slide. While I’m quietly working behind the scenes on finding new playgrounds, I’m trying to make the most of being at the bottom of this particular slide by offering something I can easily make that people might actually buy.

I try to put myself in the customer’s shoes: would I pay $25 for a small piece of custom artwork? Definitely, if I had the spare change. But with everyone being squeezed from all directions, there doesn’t seem to be much change to spare. I don’t mind offering custom artwork at such a low price point, as long as I can keep it simple and get it done fast.

So when someone contacts me for one of these $25 or 25€ commissions, I make sure to explain a few caveats before we start. Fist, the digital collage will consist of only a few elements from photos the person provides. I might source one or two items from stock photo accounts, but nothing too time-consuming. Most importantly, I explain that once they give me the initial photos and brief, they only get one round of revisions for the base price. If they want more, I add $5 or 5€ for each round: that’s in keeping with the base price, and it tends to limit the amount of nitpicking.

Downtime is the time to keep skills sharp, research new opportunities, put together new pitches and reach out to new potential clients. I’ve been doing all that. My goal is to find a business niche where my work will sell for prices I can actually live on, and that takes time. Projects are slowly coming to fruition, but while I still have some downtime, I’m offering custom digital pet portraits at prices sweet as candy.

I’ll be off to new playgrounds eventually, so come on and get you some affordable art while the gettin’s good!

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