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The Cost of Selling Prints on Etsy

Since the complete loss of this year’s art show and convention season, with the exception of a few squeezed in before March, all of my sales this year have been online. And nearly all of those sales have been through Etsy.

I’ve been an Etsy user since the early days in 2009, when the platform was still fairly new. Back then I had a little shop where I sold vintage bits and baubles; mostly jewelry and accessories that I’d find in thrift stores or garage sales for dirt cheap, clean up, and then sell for a small profit. I wasn’t even making enough money to consider it a side hustle. I just enjoyed it.

These days, Etsy is my main connection to the folks who normally would have visited my booth at a convention, street festival, or art show. I direct much of the traffic to my Etsy store through social media, though some people come across my shop while browsing the seemingly endless sea of wares that Etsy has to offer. And that is one of the strengths of the platform. There are items for every taste out there, and someone could stumble across your shop fairly easily, if they are browsing for things that share a commonality.

Now, I also sell my prints on various print on demand platforms, such as Redbubble, but I don’t tend to advertise those shops. In fact, if someone wanted to purchase a print from me, I would honestly tell them not to buy from those other sites, and redirect them to my Etsy shop instead. This is because a customer could buy an 8×10 inch print from a print on demand store, and they would pay a fair price for it, but I would only receive a dollar or two in profit from that sale. Meanwhile, in my Etsy shop, I can sell them the same print for a similar price, and the majority of that money will go back into my pockets.

However, there are still costs involved in selling this way, and that’s what I’m going to break down in this post. For my example, I’m going to be focusing on a simple 8×10 inch paper print, since that is what I currently offer in my shop. So, lets start from the beginning.

Creating Your Prints

There are two ways you can go about creating prints to sell in your shop. One obviously is printing them at home. If you have a high quality printer, it is possible to print anything from inexpensive poster prints to museum quality giclee prints at home. The other option is to pay for a printing service. This option is good for artists who don’t own a high quality printer, or have the funds on hand to purchase one. It has a lower up front cost, and it saves you time, but the overall cost of the prints will be higher in the long run. I currently rely on a printing service for my prints.

The price of printing tends to go down with the quantity of prints that you order. From my current printer, a single 8×10 inch print on my usual satin card stock would run me around $14 to print. That seems like a lot, and it is. But, the price goes down exponentially as I increase the quantity of prints in my order. I tend to order about 30 prints at a time. My service allows me to use as many different images as I want to in my print order, so I can spread those 30 prints out among lots of images. The going rate for 30 prints is just under $29. Add shipping on top of that (I always choose the cheapest option), and the total for 30 prints comes to about $37. That’s roughly $1.24 per print. I consider that to be a great price for the quality of the prints that I receive.

So, now that we have our prints, it’s time to list them on Etsy!

Listing Your Prints

Etsy does not charge a monthly fee to have a shop, but it does charge you per listing.

You will be charged a listing fee of $0.20 USD for each item that you list for sale on Etsy.com or Etsy’s mobile apps. Etsy.com listings expire after four months. If you list multiple quantities of the same item, the initial listing fee will be $0.20, and the listing will be automatically renewed at $0.20 after each of the items sells.

Etsy’s Fees & Payments Policy as of August 28, 2020

So, you can list your print for four months for only $0.20. This fee comes out of your monthly Etsy balance, so there’s no need to pay up front for your listings. And, when you make sales in your Etsy shop, those fees come out of the money paid to you by the customer. However, as stated above, you do have to pay the listing fee each time an item sells, even if it is the same listing. Also, if your item goes more than four months without selling, you will have to renew the listing and pay the $0.20 fee again. So, unless your store receives a lot of traffic, be prepared to pay that listing fee several times for that item.

Etsy Fees, Ads & Marketing

Etsy currently offers two types of marketing: Etsy Ads and Off-Site Ads.

Etsy Ads allows you to set a daily budget for advertising your choice of listings in Etsy’s search results. The minimum budget you can set is $1 a day, which, like the listing fee, is subtracted from your Etsy balance. At that rate, you will be paying $30 a month to advertise that listing. And, if you a high-volume store, it would make sense to take that hit.

Etsy Ads makes your items more prominent in Etsy search, on category pages – even on other listing pages. You’re in control of which listings you promote and how much you spend.

Etsy Ads as of August 28, 2020

The other type of advertising that Etsy offers is Off-Site Ads, a recent addition to the platform that has stirred up a lot of controversy among sellers.

Etsy works with sites like Google and Facebook to promote your listings on their pages. We send them all listing inventory information on Etsy, including the listings’ descriptions, photos, titles, and more. The site’s advertising algorithm uses those details to match a user’s search or profile info to your listing ad. They make sure to show the most relevant items for every user profile and/or search query. 

Etsy Help Center as of August 28, 2020

While this seems like a good thing on the surface, it comes with a few caveats. One of which is that when an item sells through an off-site ad, Etsy takes a whopping 15% of your sale as an advertising fee. If your shop brings in more than $10,000 a year, they drop the fee to 12%, which is only marginally better. The other issue, and arguably the more glaring of the two, is that shops that make over $10,000 a year are required to participate in the program for the lifetime of their shop. This imposes a permanent 12% fee on top of the 3.5% that Etsy already charges as a selling fee.

If your shop makes less than $10,000 a year, then you are allowed to opt out of the off-site ads program. But the program leaves a lot of long-running shops with a large blow to their finances that they never asked for, and that many sellers believe they won’t benefit from in the long run. It’s not been a popular decision among the Etsy community, and has caused some sellers to leave the platform entirely.

For my part, I take part in neither of these marketing programs. I try my best to drive my own traffic through social media, and I don’t want to give these folks any more money than I absolutely have to. So, when I make a sale, 3.5% of that sale goes to Etsy. I feel that this fee should be lowered or abolished altogether, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Shipping Your Prints

Once you’ve made a sale, it’s time to pack up your print and ship it out.

Etsy prioritizes listings that offer free shipping for the customer. Shipping can be costly, so the only real way to get around this is to simply add the cost of shipping into the price of your print. And while there are other ways to pay for your postage, Etsy does offer this service. It costs me $1.40 to send out an 8×10 inch print via USPS.

I package each print individually in a clear plastic sleeve, along with a piece of rigid mat board. This keeps the print from being bent or warped during shipping. They then go into a 9×12 inch catalog envelope. The sleeve and backing board I order in packs of 100 each from Clear Bags. Together, this adds a cost of $0.38 to the print, and I would honestly never sell a print without them. They are a must for selling prints, whether online or at a show. The envelope itself comes to an additional cost of $0.26.

There are other small costs I will not be adding to this total: the cost of ink and paper used to print my shipping label, the cost of clear packing tape to adhere my label, and the potential cost of a drive to the post office. These costs are really too small to calculate on an individual order base, but they are something to consider in the overall budget of your business.

Total Profit

Let’s take a look at all of our costs to see how much we’ve made off of selling the print. I sell my prints for $12 each.

  • Creating the Print: $1.24
  • Etsy Listing Fee: $0.20
  • Etsy Selling Fee: $0.42
  • Shipping Cost: $1.40
  • Shipping Materials: $0.64

That brings us to a total cost of $4 (technically, $3.99, but we’re rounding). So, out of a $12 print sale, I make almost exactly $8 in profit.

If I sold 40 prints a week, I’d be making less than my state’s minimum wage.

So, while it’s a good thing I’m not depending on print sales alone to pay the bills, this is not a terrible profit margin to be making on a print. When selling artwork and merchandise, it’s recommended to try and charge three times the cost of what it took to make the item in question. And, if we were looking at manufacturing costs alone, selling an item that costs $1.24 to make for $12 sounds like an excellent deal for the artist. But you have to look beyond just those two numbers, and see the bigger picture.

Could I charge more for my prints? Yes. And I have. And they have sat in my shop for months, sometimes years, without a single sale. Prints are a fickle animal. If a piece of artwork speaks to someone, it’s likely they will buy it regardless of the price. But not all customers will make such a strong connection to your work. They may simply come across it and say, “Hey, that’s neat.” But if there’s a large price tag attached to it, it might not be neat enough for them to think it’s worth buying. As your artwork improves and demand grows for it, you can get away with charging more money for prints.

I hope some of you out there have found this information helpful. In the future, I’ll probably write at greater length about things like print on demand, or printing services and the like.

For now, I’ll see you later.

Don’t forget to be kind.

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