Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pricing handmade books

I have been struggling with pricing ever since I started selling books. I started by selling on Ebay so I was able to see how much people were willing to pay for my books by using the auction system where the buyers were setting the prices. I did that for over a year before I joined Etsy, so the auctions helped me get started with my Etsy pricing. And then when I thought I had it all set, the Canadian dollar shot up and become near par with the US dollar so I needed to adjust pricing again.

Otherwise, the main factors are the number of pages and the book's dimensions. So price increases as the size and number of pages increase. Because I think the paper is the most significant cost element for me. Some bindings require significantly more effort and time too, so that can also be a factor. But I try to be consistent at any rate. So if there are 2 books in my Etsy shop that look very similar in size and style then they are the same price even though some other factors might not jive. But I want it to be predictable for the buyers.

Recently another Etsy seller with handmade books asked me about pricing and it was hard to compare since her books were mostly hardcover books (check out her shop here: I actually feel that fully casebound hardcover books should cost more than my leather journals. A hardcover book just has so much more time and effort in the cover with all the measuring, cutting, pasting, and drying time.

Actually when I first started trying to sell books on Ebay, they were all very traditional case bound hardcover books but nobody bought them. I watched the auctions for a while to see what people were buying and it was pretty obvious that leather books were rather popular. So I decided to try leather....and the leather sells. Since I've started selling on Etsy (Mar 9/07) I hadn't sold anything that wasn't leather until last week. But my books aren't very artsy either; I think they look good but they are usually plain, unembellished, etc. Artsy books that are well made should be higher priced too. Mine may have interesting or unusual bindings or whatever but they are not artsy.

So the hardcover case bound books and well-made artsy books should cost more, but I don't think most people are willing to pay what they are worth. First of all, I have found that when people buy a handmade book, they want it to look handmade. My traditional hardcover case bound books did not look handmade at all, and I even had some people question them thinking they had to be commercially manufactured! I think that makes it harder to get a good price for that type of book because the buyers think it looks the same as a book they can buy at W*lmart. So I try to keep my books looking handmade but still well made, of course. And I'm guessing that artsy books and artist's books typically don't fetch their real worth, as is the case with a lot of art.


BookGirl said...

Rhonda, you make some excellent points about what the market wants (and it sounds like you did all the right things to put yourself in a position to find out). The typical buyer doesn't have a clue about what making a book involves. As a result, bookmakers have to find a balance between putting in enough time to create a book we can be proud of, but not so much that if the book were priced based on the actual time and effort, it would be priced beyond the market. Predictability, as you mention, is crucial. That type of consistency on your part also builds trust on the part of repeat buyers.

I think, too, that there's a real cultural yearning for the handmade object, at a time when technology reigns and most of what we own is mass produced. So I think you're right that the more handmade an item appears, the higher the price can set, (within reason, of course).

Thanks for a thoughtful post.


Rhonda said...

I agree, Clara.
For journals in particular, I've found that people who use a lot of journals will seek out good quality handmade books to suit their needs because they can't get anything suitable from the mass-produced selection of books.
So it is comforting to know that the experts (people who use journals) are noticing the difference and appreciate the handmade books.

Linda said...

Excellent points, Rhonda and Clara.

I've had this discussion lately with a number of folks in trying to determine pricing, and I think you are both absolutely correct.

Respect is a huge thing for me -- I know someone here who does gorgeous work that she practically gives away. Her time may not be worth anything, but mine sure is.


Rhonda said...

I totally agree linda. I need to consider my time when I price my books - i don't give myself a very substantial hourly wage, but it is necessary nonetheless.

Actually, if I can't sell a book for what it is worth, then I would rather keep it.

Koukonei said...

I've been searching all over the web looking for advice on how to price artist books. I'm an art student, finishing up my BFA in Los Angeles. I've been making various types of books, altered, hardcover, various stitches. All the books have something in them, text, image, paint, etc. I'm at a loss on how to price my work b/c I used to be a painter (I did sell a painting this year and I had never done that before). I know the price of (student) artwork depends on exhibition experience (I have none) and length of practice. Your post was very helpful in how to begin to consider a price. All my materials have been bought, and some books obviously took longer to make than others. All my work are single editions, and I have done a few series (but obviously each book is somewhat different). Would it be unfair to price all my work separately? Or should I stick to a price range? My books will be displayed during my BFA Thesis exhibit, I've designed a reading room so visitors will be encouraged to touch and look inside the books. I want my books to be considered as fine art, but as Clara pointed out, the audience won't know how long it took to make the work. My blog has photos of my books and I've listed the size and materials. If you or anyone have any suggestions on how to go about pricing, that'd be so helpful. Thanks and I love your work on your etsy site.


Molly said...

These books look so good! I just barely started looking into making leather journals or books instead of traditional ones - where do you purchase leather from? I live in a little town and the only I could find was at a craft store but it was $10 for a piece barely big enough to make an index-card sized book

Lucy said...

Wow - I've been looking around on how to price some of my books and maybe now, I'll try to use an auction site.

Today, I've also been looking for leather to buy in my area, and it's a bit scarce at the moment... :( Any ideas??

Anonymous said...

I found this post really inciteful. I have an etsy store selling my books (or at least trying to). I have reduced the price considerably that I really can't go much further down. I'm asking mush less than they are worth so I don't know what else to do. My store is