What IS it about pricing in the stationery industry?! Yeesh.
Something about this topic makes for some really heated arguments. Some people are adamant about not sharing any pricing with anyone except paying clients, while others freely give out information on their pricing structure and sometimes help newbie stationers price their projects.
So…who’s right here?
(answer: no one, really. but hopefully you can make your own judgement call soon.)
Let me break down the debate for you in a two part blog post.
My latest potential client’s response chimed over my phone at 7am. I didn’t see it until 9am (because I’m a night owl and anything before 9am is evil to me), but when I did, I kinda regretted it:
Wow, $15 per invitation? Don’t you think that’s a little expensive for 40 pieces? How can you even price things that high?
My immediate reaction in situations like this is to Defend Myself At All Costs, but I took a breath before I responded, reminding her of the pricing we spoke about in our phone consultation and explaining again why some printing styles are more expensive than others.
And the stationery for this wedding was certainly expensive, even with the small guest count. $15 per invitation does sound expensive when you’re only ordering 40 pieces for a small wedding.
BUT, $15 per invitation is not expensive when you request 1 color letterpress + blind debossing, full calligraphy, and a venue illustration. And that price doesn’t include the vintage postage and pointed pen envelope addressing. [edit: for clarification, the $15 per invite is just for the invite itself. That definitely does NOT include the envelope, other pieces in the suite, or my design time (which I bill separately as a lump sum). $15 per invitation for 40 invitations is pretty low for letterpress, but this also wasn’t a completely custom piece and I was able to use a plate from a previously design.]
Relativity, right folks?
I bring this example up for two reasons: one, because there are a lot of problems in the stationery world in regards to pricing. Two, because clients are uneducated about the level of service and quality of work they can expect from stationers and calligraphers like myself and my colleagues.
THE STATIONERY PRICING TABOO
With classes on every virtual corner, more calligraphers/letterers/etc. join the workforce every day.
That’s great for our work, because the less people are scared of calligraphers and their pricing, the more they’ll be inclined to hire us.
What’s bad for our industry are the calligraphers/letterers/etc. who don’t charge an industry standard rate because “they’re just starting out”, “they’re doing a project for a friend”, or worse, “they’re not a professional.”
News flash: if you’re exchanging goods for money, goods for goods, or goods for services, you’re recognized as a professional in business.
Undercharging for any reason hurts the industry in ways that you may not realize:
- It encourages those with less practice time under their belt to continue charging low prices because of the response they get to their lower pricing.
- Inaccurate pricing misleads industry pricing as a whole, leading clients to wonder why Jane, who provides the same service as Susan, charges 3 times as much.
- Potential clients ghost professionals with accurate pricing because they “saw it cheaper somewhere else”, or they don’t understand the value when someone else provides it for less.
- Lower prices drive the value of calligraphy down, down, down. Those who have practiced and perfected their skill, who use calligraphy as their sole income, find themselves losing clients to those who don’t value their skills enough to charge comparable pricing for them.
I’m not suggesting that all calligraphers or stationers charge the same price for all services across the board, but I do think there should be an industry-standard price floor. And anyone that has perused Etsy for any length of time can understand how frustrating it is to see someone offering pointed pen addressing for $.50 an envelope.
STATIONERY IS NOT A PRODUCT-BASED INDUSTRY
I might blow your mind a bit with this one if you haven’t thought of it this way, so take a moment to let it sink in:
Calligraphy and stationery are service-based, not product-based, industries.
Sure, they often are physical products in the end, but the level of intimacy created between client and stationer/calligrapher makes this more of a service-based industry than a product-based one. The client/stationer-calligrapher relationship is underestimated and underrated, but frankly, right up there with the relationship between client and wedding planner.
If you’re still not sold, think about it:
As a calligrapher, how many experiences have with clients that started with a “Hi, I’d like to commission some calligraphy on envelopes for my wedding!” and ended ten minutes later with the client leaving, saying, “Thanks, I’ll pick them up next week!”? (um, I’ve never had an experience like this…)
And to the stationers out there: how many times has a client walked in with a perfect sketch of EXACTLY what they want, the colors they’d like, and a perfectly comparable paper choice?
I can tell you how many times I’ve experienced either of those things: exactly N-O-N-E. (If you’ve had a client interaction like that, tell me where you’re finding your clients because I need more of them in my life.)
Why don’t more of these interactions happen?
- Because calligraphy and stationery aren’t things that people order on a consistent basis. People probably buy cars more often than they commission stationery and especially calligraphy.
- Because most clients don’t understand the intricacies of paper, the way ink interacts with it, and how we solve those little problems that we run into.
- Clients see something pretty on Pinterest or Instagram and assume that these things can be produced on a massive scale for the price of a Minted invitation.
If any one of these clients come to you to commission work, you have to educate them, and if you’ve been to any kind of paid-learning institution, you know that knowledge. ain’t. cheap.
You have to have extensive knowledge of your industry (or know where to start looking to waste as little time as possible), which means that you have to spend hours upon HOURS of research (read: possible billable time being used up but lessons learned). Sometimes, you have to try something only to fail (read: money down the drain but lesson learned).
But why do the ready-made design places (*cough* you-know-who *cough*) charge so little? They have years of knowledge, so many designs, foil and letterpress options, etc..
The reason why is this: there’s no interaction.
The only human interaction you get from those websites is when you have a problem, and that’s the very LAST instance that you want someone talking to a human being at your company for the first time.
At least…that’s the way most of our stationery and calligraphy businesses work, am I right? Maybe I would feel differently if I owned a company that made over $1 billion in revenue last year.
THAT’S ALL REALLY GREAT, HOLLY. SO HOW DO I PRICE MY WORK?
I’ll go over all of that information in the next blog post! Check out some of my older posts here.
In the meantime, what’s your biggest struggle with pricing your work and being competitive in the stationery industry?