up up creative’s Name-Your-Price Experiment

It’s quite possible that I’m still just a little emotional from Yay New York, and I’m still thinking a lot about how we collectively have the power to change things—the wedding industry most definitely included. I’m still thinking a lot about the way our conversations shape things and really matter.

So putting together today’s sponsored post, and watching Up Up Creative‘s video (Watch it. Do it.), I got a little teary. Here is what’s happening. Julie, of Up Up Creative, a super talented wedding invitation designer, has decided to do an experiment for the month of September (starting right now). For a whole month, she’s letting you name your price when you order her wedding invitations (and custom design is included).

It’s really simple. You go to this link. You place your order. You name your price. And that’s it.

This experiment isn’t designed so everyone can screw Julie over and get super cheap wedding invitations at less than what it costs her to make them (because that is not how we roll here at APW). The experiment is designed to jump start a conversation about value. It’s designed to jump start a conversation of what we want the wedding industry to be. To me, it’s also about jump starting a conversation about community. Because if one of us can pay less for Julie’s art, and one of us can pay more for Julie’s art, how can we use this conversation about value to make sure everyone has access to beauty?

Julie’s video about the project (which you should really watch, whether or not you’re in the market for wedding invitations, because it is awesome), says this:

It’s about getting a dialogue going about value.

The value of handmade.

The value of supporting an independent business.

The value of good design.

The value of working one on one with someone.

Think before you name your price.

And please be fair.

Amazing, no? So before you order your invitations (and think seriously about your price), or send this link to everyone you know getting married, I’m going to let Julie talk a little bit about why she started this project:

The best way I’ve come up with to describe this project to people who look at me like I’m crazy is to say that I had the business equivalent of that sudden, aching need to cut off all your hair or dye it fire engine red. Something felt too staid and formal, perhaps.

But it’s more than that, really. It’s that there’s a conversation I want to have, and this seems like the honest-to-god best way to get the conversation going.

Entrepreneurs and artists and people like me, we spend a LOT of time talking and thinking about prices and money and value. What value does our art have? What value to what audience? How do we put a dollar amount on that? How do we look customers in the eyes and ask them to pay us to do something we’d probably do for free if we didn’t have, you know, bills to pay and kids to clothe and mortgages howling at us like wild dogs.

But I want to talk about it. I want to talk about value. I want to trust that my work really does have value, even without a price tag attached to it.

And also, I want to make you think. I want you to think about how to make the most of your wedding budget—to make it speak for you on the subject of value.

Because in a weird way, I really believe in the wedding industry. As much as even I complain about its wastefulness, about the exorbitant costs and the silly things we’ve been led to believe we *need* to have and do, I really love the wedding industry for the way that it brings together regular everyday people with the artists, makers, and doers in their communities. When besides a wedding, after all, would most of us hire a calligrapher, or a chef, or a musician? And what purchasing decisions do we really make with such thought? Who, for example, makes an inspiration board of toothpastes and razors? Who interviews the guys at each cell phone kiosk in the mall selling smart phones for $99?

There are ways to be mindless about wedding planning, and there are ways to be thoughtful. My experiment is about being thoughtful. It’s about establishing a relationship and starting a dialog.

Which is why I didn’t decide 100% to do it until I had talked to Meg. If anyone knows about getting the conversation going—getting people talking about even the toughest, most awkward things—it’s APW. And Team Practical? They know how to jump in. They know how to converse. They know how to create relationships.

And I’d like you to talk to me this month, and hopefully beyond this month.

Potential Questions

Q: Can I order now even if I’m not ready with my wording yet?

A: Yes.

Q: What’s the catch?

A: There is no catch. You name your price, I fill your order. I would really appreciate that you not take advantage of me and make me lose money on this, but I’m going to honor all purchases this month no matter what.

Q: Are there any extra fees built in?

A: When you check out you’ll name your price and paypal will add $15 for shipping and—if you are shipping to a New York State address only—8% NYS sales tax. Otherwise, there are no extra hidden fees. Your own-price invitations will come with the same things regular invitations come with: envelopes (including 5% extra envelopes), an extra invitation for framing or scrapbooking, digital proofs (PDF, via email), and up to two rounds of changes to the proof. Additional rounds of changes, which are pretty much never EVER necessary, will incur the same additional fees as always: $40 per round.

Q: When will I receive my order?

A: I’m going to do my best to stick to my usual order turn-around times, and in fact I’ve enlisted extra help to accommodate the possible onslaught, but since I have no idea what kind of volume is going to come in this month, there may be some delays—I will let you know right away at the time of ordering what kind of timing we’re looking at. Obviously the earlier you order the sooner your stuff will arrive so it’s in your interest to order as soon as you’re ready.

Q: Can I still order a completely custom design from you during this month-long experiment?

A: Sure thing! You can name your own price for the design and for the printing. It might be best for us to talk before you name your price just so we can both get a good idea of what the process will be like.

Q: What will happen in October?

A: I have no idea! It depends a bit on how September goes. I’d love love love to continue this as a pricing model but I need to assess the experiment and see whether it worked for you, worked for me, etc. I’d really love your feedback on this whole thing, by the way—good feedback, bad, even ugly.

Q: Can I decide to pay nothing for my invitations? To get them for free?

A: You know, I suppose you technically *can* do this, though at checkout $15 for shipping will be added, but I hope that you won’t. These are real tangible goods you’ll be getting, and real hours of my time. There are actual costs associated with wedding invitations, which I hope you’ll take into consideration when you name your price. I’ll honor low prices, of course, since I’m committing to going all-in for the duration of this experiment, but I do hope you’ll remember that there’s a person at the other end of this transaction.

Q: Is this for real?

A: Yeah. It is. I’m a real graphic designer with a real invitation business. My invitations have been featured in BRIDES magazine and all around the web. You can read customer testimonials here on my website or on theknot.com and many other major wedding-industry sites (Project Wedding, Wedding Wire, theweddingchannel.com, etc.).

Q: What if I want to order more than one set of invitations?

A: It would be easiest if you would process two separate “name your price” orders to help me stay organized and sane. I’d appreciate it.

Q: What if I want to order other items (like calendars, posters, greeting cards, etc.)?

A: Unfortunately, anything in my regular web shop at upupcreative.com will have to be processed separately from your “name your price” order(s).

And now. Let’s talk about this.What do you think about this experiment? What do you think about the idea of value, and art, and allowing people to do what they love without them ripping you off or you ripping them off? What conversation does this spark in you?

Now let’s do this thing. You can only change the world one step at a time, but this seems like a good place to start today. So go order your wedding invitations from Up Up Creative already, and then let’s talk. And also, if you’re not in the market for wedding invitations, but you want to support Julie while she works on this excellent project, may I suggest her other work? Like her gift wrap? (Hint: I want).

Now spread the word….

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  • She is so bold and brave! I think this is a fantastic idea! She is really putting herself out there in a very trusting and faith filled way. I want to buy stuff from her just because she is bold and a visionary!

  • oh meg! i am so so SO (times infinity) excited about this. thanks for the awesome post and for supporting my craziness.

  • Sophia

    I’m amazed and a wee bit nervous for Julie and wish that I had some reason to need invitations (I’m married) or friends to forward this to.
    I’d love to see an update to hear about how this experiment went!

    • Yes update us when it’s over PLEASE!!

  • You have to update us with how this goes! I’d be really interested to hear the result. I really hope it works out for her and no-one takes advantage. I guess time will tell. But good on her for taking the chance and trusting in people.

  • I’m so intrigued by the social experiment aspect of this. I hope we will get some update on how it goes in the future.

  • This is great. I posted about it on facebook. I really hope this goes well for you!

  • I wish there was a way for clients to know what price covers your cost of operations… but I guess that’s the point of the experiment! Hope September goes swimmingly :)

    • Mallory

      I kind of thought about this too. I’m sure it varies by project, but I honestly have NO idea how much high quality paper and ink cost and might be a bit wary to participate in this for fear of unintentionally underpaying. Especially for someone like me who really hasn’t been shopping around for paper products I don’t even really have anything to compare it to.

      The idea is really cool though, I love the concept of creating a conversation about value. Can’t wait to hear how it turns out!

    • Caitlyn

      I feel the same way. I think this is really cool, but I really have no idea how much materials cost and how many man hours it takes to put everything together. I totally get it though. When I used to make jewelry to sell at craft fairs I would lament that I could never make anything really cool like I wanted because I would have to price the item at an amount that most people wouldn’t spend, so I always stuck to safer designs/price ranges.

      And I go through this myself, I may see something that I really love and believe is priced fairly but that I just cannot afford, so I don’t buy it. I think in some ways this will turn out to be about economic feasibility as much, if not more, than a good understanding about value.

      I’ve been looking at invitations on a site offering similar products, and I would truthfully base my named price on the figures I see there should I order from Julie just to be safe because I’m mostly ignorant about invitation costs…and I can’t decide if that would undermine the experiment or not.

      • For this month, I really want you to pay what you can. If every single person paid $50, that would be great. If everyone paid $100, I’d be thrilled. And the people who pay more, then yay! I asked everyone to be fair and to consider my time and expenses, but that’s really more directed at anyone (probably not APW-ers) who might have been thinking “ooh! free!”

        I guess to be honest I really don’t expect to make money on the experiment. That’s not what I’m doing it for. If I break even I’ll feel great about it because it got this conversation going and all you guys talking and all. If I lose a bit of money I’ll still feel great (although I probably won’t continue past this month because, well, duh! I can’t afford to keep losing money!).

    • Liz

      I haven’t checked with her, but I’m sure Julie would be willing to give you a ballpark figure if you ask. :)

  • What a great experiment. When I was reading this — and looking at the video — the barter system came to mind, or a kind of flexible payment system. (What can you afford to pay? Well, I can only afford to pay this much . . . but the next time you need a mechanic, I’m your woman.) Not that that kind of exchange is what’s happening here, but the idea of being flexible with what you need and what you can offer in exchange for what you need and what you can provide for others in turn.

    I’d love to hear how this works out — how September is different from previous months, etc.

  • Wow, very intrigued by this. I’d love to hear what happens at the end of the month!

    Beautiful graphic design + social experiments, two of my favorite things! Best of luck, I hope this works out better than you ever could have hoped. :D

    (Also, dang, I am diiiiigging that alphabet color wheel.)

    • Annie – your blog is amazing! My husband is a storyboard artist and can I just say he spends HOURS trying to get to those gestural, expressive drawings you have and even after your illustrations are polished they look candid and natural and… and… yeah I think I have an internet crush on you.

  • i will definitely send along an update at the end of the month. i’m curious to see what happens, too! (and nervous? of course! but in that way you get nervous before you get married, eh?)

  • Granola

    I’m so excited about this and think it’s really great. Good luck Julie! I don’t have a date or a venue yet, but this makes me want to just so I can buy some of your awesome invitations.

    • i do hope that this will last beyond september, but in case it doesn’t you could always order now and we could do them later.

  • Julie, when you talk about the problem of looking someone in the face and naming a price for something you would do for free – that really struck a chord with me. I don’t have any sort of business, but have knit things on request a couple of times (e.g. I love that hat! Can you make me one?) and generally find I charge way less than the buyer thinks I should be asking (for that hat, the woman wound up paying me $30 more than I asked for, which blew my mind.) I find it so hard to actually sit and think of what the cost might be, especially for something I enjoy like knitting, which I can work on while watching tv or a movie in the evening.

    Does anyone else have a similar problem? What have you done to do a better job of estimating the value of your work?

    I do look forward to seeing how your experiment turns out, and I hope you get some wonderful surprises from people who value the effort and time that goes in to your invitations!

    • Julie and you are expressing what so many artists, crafters and creatives feel. I have always been a crafter. I look at things and wonder how I can make them myself and I love trying it all. A few years ago my friends began getting married which led to wedding-related craftiness. I’ve made hair pieces, shoe clips, seating charts, centerpieces, programs, etc. for quite a few brides. Then I co-worker asked if I could make hair clips for her toddler. Each time they would try to give me money… sometimes I would take it and sometimes I wouldn’t… and I heard over and over again that I should start a shop. So, two months ago I did, on Etsy.

      It’s been challenging to price things in my shop. Part of me feels like I am over-charging because I know I can make them and wonder why others wouldn’t do the same. Sometimes I feel like I undercharge when I think about the time I put into a piece versus how much it would need to cost if it was my primary source of income. It’s all weird to think about… I almost feel like I’m assigning a dollar value to part of myself, the part that is creative and unique. How in the WORLD do you begin to do that?!?!?

    • Another Leah

      My guy is also a knitter and crocheter, and he has the same issue. Usually, if someone asks for something specific, he just asks them to cover the cost of the yarn and/or the pattern. He could definitely make money off of the patterns he’s come up with on his own (he has an AWESOME Mr. T!), but he just does it for fun.
      So I totally understand where you are coming from!

  • huh, this is fascinating — and those designs are all gorgeous, by the way. I’m long past wedding planning, but I remember carefully going back and forth between the individual cost per invitation (less than a Hallmark card!), and the total cost, which seemed like a lot of money. When I thought about it as value per item, I understood why the whole thing cost what it did. Good luck with your experiment, Julie! I hope you are pleasantly surprised :)

  • April

    LOVE this idea. And I believe it will work in surprisingly awesome ways.

    Julie’s endeavor with the invitations reminds me of when I was a senior in high school, and my Future Business Leaders of America group was raising money for a Young Entrepreneurs conference. We did what all young, enterprising kids do when they need cash for a school-related trip: We had a car wash. But: our teacher told us it would be a “customer-names-the-price car wash”. Many of us were dumb-founded. Was teacher nuts??? We’d end up washing cars for free! She told us “People will fund what they value.”

    Guess what? We didn’t wash any cars for free. Yeah, their were a few people that gave us $5 or less for their cars, but my school mates and I were in shock at the number of $20s and even a couple of $50s (!!!!) that those generous folks paid to a bunch of sweaty kids in t-shirts and shorts scrubbing down an endless line of cars, as our teacher chatted up the people who were waiting about our scholastic endeavors and business dreams.

    I’m hoping with all my heart this is a wildly successful experiment for Julie! And I believe it can work. When you make money personal, when you put it back on someone to really and truly think about what they are purchasing and why, and what value they attach to that item, and how their choice has a ripple effect – I think it can yield a much more positive experience for both the business owner and the consumer.

    Best wishes, Julie! :-) Excited to hear how this went for you!

  • Kate

    Love this! I’m not in the market for invitations quiiiiite yet, but I did buy a greeting card to show my support. Interested to see how it turns out.

    • Speaking of greeting cards can Julie make you an offer to make “Please be my non-bridesmaid” cards?

  • This is pretty amazing. The designs are beautiful (saw a card that I have had favorited on etsy forever!), the video is completely charming, and the dialogue about value is incredibly important. The way Julie writes about the idea feels like a little revolution – exciting and inspiring and honest. I hope this works out well, and please, please, please keep us updated.

  • This is an incredible idea and I am really eager to hear how it works out Julie, your designs are amazing and I wish I had a reason to place an order (wedding was over a year ago!). I will forward this to friends now though. Best of luck and I can’t wait to hear how September went. Know that you have a huge cheering section behind you if/when things get hectic!

  • Love, love, LOVE the invitations & the experiment! I vote for an update too. Count me in to spread the word to the Brides I know. Best wishes, Julie~

  • Lauren

    Wow, wow, wow! Julie you are so brave! I wish I were getting married, so that I could support this revolutionary, mind-boggling experiment, but I will do my best to pass it along. I wish you the very best, and I hope something HUGE comes out of this (I have a sneaking suspicion it will…).

    Good luck!!

  • Nina

    Julie – An idea: it would be really helpful if you could share somewhere on the website how much these jobs cost you to produce – so that folks who are naming their price can take into account how much this will likely cost you in “parts” and how much time in “labor”. If I were to participate in this (racking my brains now to think if I need invitations to anything!), I would really really really want to cover your expenses, and then use the flexibility to determine how much I would like to pay you for your time and creativity… but I have absolutely no idea how much your expenses will likely run! If you could share such information (or ballpark it), I think that would really help everyone…

    • i’ll work on something like this. good idea.

  • I am really fascinated by this. I think that this is such an interesting idea, and great conversation starter. I applaud you Julie (and Meg for being a confirming sounding board to do it). I have had in small ways conversations, with other wedding planners and other freelancers, about value: Perceived value and real. Supporting someone you believe in, but staying within a budget. I often find it hard to price myself (I just want to say, “Oh, I will do that, even though it should be double the price” etc.) because I enjoy what I do. But life is life, and business is business, and being true to yourself in that is a hard balance. I can’t wait to hear how this goes.

    My wish is that you are drowning (in reasonably priced) orders this month, and though I don’t need wedding invites, I do need business stationary… makes me want to see how I can make a design less invite-y.

    • we could always work on something custom, kari… that’s an option this month, too.

  • Auburn

    I’m not engaged yet (although I will be in the next month or two it looks like…uh oh, do I sound like one of “those” women? anyway…), but you can bet I’m bookmarking Julie’s page for when I DO need invitations, if for no other reason than I can’t think of a company more deserving of my dollars, whether at the price I set or the one Julie sets.


    This might sound a little crazy, but do you have somewhere that people can, um…donate to the experiment? I don’t need invitations to anything, and I don’t even think you ship to where I am, but I think this experiment is amazing and I really want it to work out for you. Like, not even in a “so you don’t go broke” way. Just, I want to support what you’re doing. In a “for the sake of the world” kind of way.

    • the thought had actually crossed my mind of setting up a donate button, the purpose of which would be to sort of “fund” people who can’t afford to pay much, sort of like a scholarship. bot exactly sure how the logistics would work on that, though…

      perhaps that shall be the next experiment?? lovely idea.

      • ANDREA

        mmhmm, very cool Julie! I would also be interested in donating directly to the idea — meaning like, after your experiment you could put together something about what you learned or even a “how to” if other independent businesses wanted to try something similar. I could then donate for your time in putting that kind of thing together?

  • I salute your ingenuity and courage. Your designs are fabulous.

    I designed and fabricated my own wedding invitations. Paper, wax (for wax seals), and postage alone cost $4 per invite. I would do it all over again.

    I will definitely be buying some greeting cards.

  • Auburn

    Also, I’m willing to bet the farm that no one asks you do invites for free.

    And for those asking for ballpark costs, Julie lists invites on her website at around $3 (and up) per invitation so perhaps that is a good starting point for price naming purposes (although I see she tried to be sneaky/loyal to the cause and delete detailed pricing information)?

    • loyal, not sneaky. : ) but yeah, i did get rid of all the pricing info.

    • But I think that, unfortunately, had this post/that video not been so thoughtful and well written and thought-provoking, there might be someone who sees this as a cheap deal and tries to get away with what they can. I truly do hope that no one tries to cheat the system like this (in a greed-based, not need-based way), but if they do, I hope they will be filled with guilt for seeing past the brilliance that is this idea.

      Interestingly, if I were in the market for invitations, I would feel the need to pay Julie even more because of this system because she sees what it is all about, whereas normally I’d be like, “I have to pay WHAT?!” Because this post made me think long and hard about the work, the time, the energy, and the love that goes into each invite; normally, I just think about my dwindling bank account…

      Food for thought, for sure. Thanks!

  • North

    I love this idea. Love it. But… I can’t get over the fact that I can’t afford to pay Julie (or any other designer) something fair. I just can’t. I believe in its value and for that reason I can’t buy it.

    • meg

      Or maybe you can, because that’s part of the point of the experiment. You pay what you can afford, and someone else pays for what THEY can afford, and it all evens out.

      Or maybe you bid her $X, plus a review on three websites, and cookies. Or something. Playing with the idea that value is more than money.

      • North

        Maybe? Honestly I think I’d be more comfortable with the idea of bidding that not during September — i.e., during a month I felt certain she’d be able to say no if what I could offer in barter or cash didn’t meet her needs.

        Like I said, I *love* the idea, and when I think about it abstractly I love the idea of someone who can’t afford custom design or fancy invitations getting them while other people pay more. At the same time I feel conflicted about being the person paying less, for a lot of reasons. First, custom design and fancy invitations are luxuries, so it’s not like I neeeeed them. I just like pretty things and want to have pretty things related to me in my life. Second, I use plenty of money on other things that are not strictly necessary to my survival, like fancy local organic food and saving for future life stuff. Getting something for less than seems ‘right’ for the provider feels like I’m saying that my desire for luxuries — good design, organic plums, whatever — is more important than the needs or luxuries she would spend her money on.

        I know that’s not what Julie’s saying. I just can’t get the idea out of my head. Here’s a question, though, for people who sell and make things. What’s useful to offer in barter or trade? What do you value? Obviously this varies from person to person and time to time, but I am really interested in knowing what good things to offer are.

        • I would guess, though I’d hope she’ll correct me if I’m wrong, that Julie is aware of all those variables and different priorities, but that part of this experiment might be research for her on finding out who different potential clients are and what their different price points are, and that would be part of the value to her for setting up this system.

          As far as what’s useful to barter, different goods and services that could be traded would depend on the individuals. But I think things that would be universally appreciated by vendors would be reviews, either on general review sites or your own blog or facebook or your Wedding Graduate posts, and referring vendors you love to other people as much as you can!

    • I feel the exact same way. My budget for 100 invitations is $80. That’s for cardstock, envelopes, and stamps. Because the invitations are plain black on off-white paper, I can print them for free at my church.

      I just can’t concientiously spend my invitation budget here, knowing that the invitations sell for $3.10 each (I think that’s what it said on her website.) If the paper wasn’t so nice, or if I could get a PDF of the invitation and print them myself, I would probably do it. But I would be taking serious advantage… and my ethics won’t approve. BUT I will definitely tell other people about this!!

    • North, you’re awesome for thinking so, but Meg’s right: this month, that’s part of the experiment.

      Sometimes in entrepreneur-type articles and courses and such, people talk about how you should set your prices for the customer you WANT to have. Like if you want high end customers, then you set your prices high. But in a way I’m using this experiment as a way to do it the other way around. I’m saying, okay. I want customers who get totally psyched about a model like this, so let THEM tell me how much they can pay. It’s going to be really REALLY valuable to me even if what I learn at the end of the month is that the people I want to be my customers are way under paying for what I do. It will help me sit down and say, “HOW CAN I CHANGE MY OWN APPROACH AND STRUCTURE TO ATTRACT THESE PEOPLE WITHOUT LOSING MONEY?”

      So paying what you can really REALLY is helpful to me this month, even if it’s not a lot.

  • This reminded me of this:


    Last I checked his experiment was going quite well.

  • Marchelle

    This is really fantastic stuff. I’m so disappointed that I have NOTHING in my life I need to get some fabulous invitations for, else I’d definitely participate. I hope this works out stonkingly well.

  • I love this idea. My fiance and I are wedding vendors (we’re Chris & Lauren from Christopher Morris Photography – APW elves as well!) and we’re always talking and worrying about whether we’re fairly pricing our work. We have been told that we’re overpriced and hearing that is heartbreaking because we want so much to be fair in our pricing (and if you could know the hours we spend thinking about our prices) but there is a lot of time and money that we put into making those wedding photos (X hours of work on the day of, X hours of work in post production, gas, equipment, etc…it adds up!) and not pricing ourselves fairly leads to us feeling used and (sometimes) frustrated. And that’s not fair to us.

    but, its also not fair to expect that a couple would know what is “fair” in terms of price. Like Julie said, when else do you hire vendors like this? Couples have no education on how much wedding items “should” cost in real terms. Their knowledge is based upon what others paid, what other people charge, and what their budget can afford. But really, what something “should” cost should be based upon what goes into making it. Like what Julie said – your not just buying the tangible item…you’re also purchasing the time, skills and talent of a person who cares about the result and your happiness.

    Julie is totally onto something here. We need to do a better job of explaining to people what goes into the work we produce and hopefully that will lead to more people understanding costs (and being able to call BS when they see it! Because – let’s be real, there are some vendors like that out there…though not on APW!). That change can and should start with us vendors.

    I also love the idea of barter (we had totally done that with great success) and other ways to make sure that everyone in the end is happy. I always say it’d be so nice to be able to go back to a world where the barter system reigned supreme. Restricting the word “value” to just dollars and cents is too rigid.

    • these are awesome points and i am totally going to think about this and reply in depth tomorrow.

      • Lauren,

        Before this experiment, or rather this experiment aside, I practice what I call resentment-free pricing. I charge enough for my work and time and all so that I don’t resent my client but I provide enough value and service that they don’t resent me. It’s like you said — when you accept too little for your work you don’t feel good about it.

        What’s awesome about this experiment, to me, is that any participation is making me feel awesome. I’ll feel awesome when someone low-balls me and I’ll feel awesome when someone pays me a strange amount (like $109.74 or something) because it’s what they can afford.

        As I said in reply to another comment, when I put that stuff in the video about fairness, I was thinking more about the possible people who might try to take advantage and get stuff for free and all. I wasn’t thinking about necessarily getting a “fair wage” from this or anything.

        But you’re completely right — it’s not fair of me to expect that people know what fair is. I do need to do a better job of helping people understand that. We all do! I have a detailed spreadsheet I use to figure out pricing. It includes my costs, things like the 3% I have to pay to process credit card payments, etc. Maybe I should just share that for a start? Show people what really goes into the decisions?


        • I love your articulation of resentment-free pricing, for you and the customer. That is brilliant and such a lovely way of looking at it.

  • I ordinarily skim through vendor posts quickly, since I am well beyond my own wedding, but I read this one entirely. Awesome idea, I can’t wait to hear how it pans out, and I am already thinking about doing a similar experiment with my wedding stage management business. So cool!

  • Tina

    This is fascinating, and I certainly hope it works out for the best. We have a restaurant where I live that was recently in the news for having a day where people pay what they can. Another non-profit restaurant in Denver has this as their model all the time. For some, it’s the first decent meal they’ve had in weeks and they can only offer 50 cents or a dollar (or nothing at all). While others pay way more than they may otherwise because they know their money is covering the cost of someone else getting a hot meal. I’ll be very interested to see how this applies to art and design. Best of luck!!

    • Do you mind sharing the names of these places? I’ve been looking all over the internet for other people doing similar things and I’d love to read more about these places.

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  • Jarah

    I’d really like to see Julie’s experiment succeed and I think that part of the issue we should factor in is economic disparity. The costs of the wedding industry are prohibitive and inflexible, but consider their impact upon a couple making 50K per year vs. a couple making 200K per year. In Jewish tradition, there’s something called a “gemach,” which is a communal bridal charity of sorts sustained by a Jewish community so that low-income brides can hold a respectable wedding by borrowing a dress, decor, etc. at very little or no cost. But to sustain it, you need people who have more money to feel a sense of obligation toward those who have less. If we are mindful of economic disparity when naming a price (along with understanding more about the costs of supplies, as others have mentioned), then I think we’d be better positioned to support Julie’s vision without damaging her livelihood.

    P.S. I am agonizing about being caught in a wedding industry trap that will literally force us to double the cost of our wedding unless we can get the heck out of there, find another venue and basically start from scratch for our Nov. 12 wedding. Hence this post at 2:11AM.

    • You sound like you need a hug and a deep breath.

      My sophomore year in college, when I thought the sky was going to collapse on me, my brother said to me “Whatever happens, it is going to be ok. You must know that. The alternative is improbable.”

      I love the idea of the “gemach.”

    • awesome points and i love the idea of the “gemach.” i’ve been looking for info on various “models” of this sort and I’m eager to read up a bit more on this idea.

      as for your wedding, it definitely will work out. i like to remind my brides and grooms that the only things you really need are the bride, the groom, the officiant, and your family and friends. and someplace — ANYplace – to put it all.

      if you want help brainstorming ways to get this figured out, I’d love to help. you can email me at julie@upupcreative.com

      • Jarah

        That is SO kind of you, Julie!

  • Sarah

    I think this is a great experiment, but what really struck me about this post is the idea of “when else will I hire a . . .”. I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to work with small businesses to buy some awesome, unique things for my wedding, but so sorry that I can’t imagine when I’ll do it again. For now, I’m just being really liberal with dishing out recommendations!

    • referrals are awesome and a really *really* good way to help your favorite vendors. seriously. you’re doing good!

      • JEM

        My fiance is a DJ and YES, so true!

  • I wish I could be planning a wedding so I could take part in this wonderful experiment! I hope it goes amazingly for you, Julie, and kudos for really putting yourself out there. <3

  • Jess

    WOW! The next on my to-do list is wedding invitations! What gorgeous work!!! But my budget is only like $200 for everything. Isn’t that like totally ripping the poor girl off? I mean, everything is done by hand!

  • Love the idea behind this experiment! In my personal experience, if someone let’s me name my price or offers something for a ridiculously low price, I always offer a greater amount than I would have been willing to pay for a similar service elsewhere. The value of the object itself may be equal when compared to another, but the fact that the vendor is putting themselves out there like that makes me want to be more generous because it’s supporting a good business.

    I’m curious to see her results because I think part of her value as a vendor would be her personal attention and customer service, not just the (well designed) invitation itself. I hope this goes amazing for you and I love the idea in one of the comments above where the more well off folks help those with a lower income.

  • Julie! I love the idea. I also love your work. I was totally sold on your invites for my April 2011 wedding, fair prices and all. I was going to get the type III invite. Unfortunately my now husband is super traditional and not very opinionated when it comes to weddings, so when he didn’t agree with the style I felt obligated to change my plan. I also really appreciated how you charge per piece, how you are eco-friendly and how you actually make the stationery. For someone sending out 30 invites, it was maddening to only have the option of 25 or 50 pieces from most stationery stores. You work is beautiful! Maybe we can work together on a Now were married Christmas Card? Hope your experiment goes well. I will continue to spread the word of how awesome you are!

  • I think this idea is interesting, but I’m unsure how effective it will be. I do believe it will garner conversation from APW readers, but I don’t understand how logical or practical it is beyond this blog space.

    In my life, I have done many things, from flipping burgers to photographing weddings. I have been on the end of accepting someone else’s wage, having them determine the value of my life (I mean that literally. I once prevented an armed robbery when I was a pizza delivery driver. The pizza company had a very large amount posted on a bulletin board as a reward for information leading to the arrest of burglars, but they never paid me that amount. All told, with what they paid me, they valued my life and my coworkers lives at $50 each before tax.) I have been assigned a wage, asked to name a wage. I have run my own business and sold tangible items at craft fairs and less tangible items like wedding photography, web design, and nanny services. I have researched and experienced the differences in wage and price in different parts of the U.S.

    The things that I’ve noticed most in all my life of working are these: 1. Price varies due to location. I live in NEOhio, one of the poorest places in the nation with an unemployment rate that is always higher than the rest of the nation. The cost of living is cheap. There are more working poor people here than anywhere else in the nation. What it would cost to throw a wedding here is far less than many other places, especially big cities. 2. People really have no idea what is reasonable. Whether I’m running a roller coaster and having to explain the mechanics of it to a potential rider and how they really are not stepping onto a death trap or whether I’m making my own prices for my items at a craft show, my wage as an experienced nanny, or my prices for wedding photography, people, most often, really have no idea what is going on. They can’t see beyond me taking pictures on their wedding day. They don’t understand that they have to pay for my time researching the event (location, etc.), working on the day, and all of the editing that goes on after the day. People think that when I work as a nanny, I deserve to work during their child’s nap time, because they fail to realize that I deserve a break. They think that I have the best, easiest job. They see me as a child’s friend and playmate. So they don’t understand why it’s not ok for them to expect me to clean the house when their child is sleeping.

    I have noticed these disparities in all the jobs I’ve had and in all the places I’ve lived…

    So I wonder, how is this experiment enlightening us on perceived value? Several of the commenters have already expressed that they have no idea what invitations SHOULD cost, so how can they know if they are low balling you or not? A few of them have even admitted that they feel they have so little money that they can’t, in good conscience, pay you even close to what you’re worth. Certainly those readers aren’t learning anything about value.

    Why should it be up to your customers to try to figure this out? This isn’t like donating to Santa outside the grocery store at Christmas. This is a business with which few people are familiar. The average person doesn’t understand the cost of supplies, the hidden costs of equipment and labor, the costs of delivery…so how can they make an educated decision about the value of your work as shown by what they pay? How are they learning anything?

    I’m hoping we get a serious break down of every order, every price, and all of the costs associated with that. Otherwise, I see this experiment as being practically applicable to no one, except maybe the vendor who already knows the costs associated with invitations and the worth of herself.

    But I wonder if a better illustration of worth would be several blog posts from several different types of vendors in many locations talking about their pricing and why they price that way…explicitly outlining just what you’re paying for and how prices are determined in order to make a profit and to make a living.

    • this is a really interesting comment and it’s definitely gotten me thinking. i think i see the value for all of us being in reading comments like yours and having the conversation and such. it’s been really *really* amazing to me to see all the conversation going on around this. vendors i know are talking about it and asking hard questions, customers are talking about it.

      it is perhaps a bit navel-gazing? i hadn’t thought of it that way but perhaps it is. i did, after all, used to be an academic. : )

  • Josephine

    I just thought I’d add, in case anyone is on the fence, that the design Julie is currently doing for me is simply wonderful. In a “squee! That’s so much better than it looked in my head OMGAMAZING!” kind of way.
    (I was slightly excited when I got the proofs today… can you tell?)

  • Gina

    Julie’s recent blog entry “Floored” has me feeling the same way! Sorry Julie – but I feel really strongly about this. You came up with a project – no one twisted your arm – and I firmly believe you should stand by your own rules.

    I doubt many people are surprised that someone put in a very low offer – why is it we could all see it coming, but you could not? Nevertheless, your decision to go back on the “name your price – any price but free” rules is disappointing. Whatever happened to “even if someone lowballs me, I’ll still feel awesome”? Sounds to me like you felt you got slapped in the face. Reality bites, and all that….but that’s not the fault of the person who took you up on your offer.

    You can delude yourself all you want that this is some grand social experiment, initiating a complex discussion of perceived value…….however, your mid-project rule change has rendered this particular experiment useless. I can’t help thinking that this was thought up as a clever way to drive visitors to your site and maybe get some business – nothing more. Now that you’ve encountered the worst-case scenario, you’re looking for an out and that response runs so contrary to everything you said about this project beforehand that it’s impossible to have any respect for you. You either meant that you were OK with losing money this month, or you didn’t. Which is it?

    • Liz

      Gina, this comment isn’t contributing to the conversation. If you disagree with Julie’s idea, that’s fine. But to bounce over here from her personal blog in order to call her “deluded” in front of a larger audience is out of line.

      As if it mattered, Julie has NOT whined about OR expressed surprise at low offers. In the instance at hand, she wondered if perhaps she bit off more than she could chew as it was lower than she anticipated. Not the same as “looking for an out.”

      Regardless, I’ll need to ask you to keep further comments in line with the APW comment policy. Disagreement is welcomed, name-calling and badgering is not.

    • I replied to Gina on my own blog, but unfortunately she had posted with a fake email address so I’m not sure she got my response.

      Here’s what she’s referring to, though: I did have one order come in that paid $100 for what would normally retail for more than $1700 and while I really wanted to do it it was just too much of a financial hardship for me. So instead, in the spirit of the experiment and after much discussion with fellow vendors even here on APW, I tried to enter into a discussion with the customer so that we could come up with something that would be financially possible for me. Something mutually satisfying.

      And no, I don’t think it’s a grand social experiment. I think it’s a small one. I think it IS initiating a complex, difficult, and awkward discussion about value, and this one unfortunate situation – to my mind, anyway – is as important a part of the discussion and the experiment.

      Can this kind of name-your-price model work for weddings? Well, I’m finding that it can’t work properly without limitations, guidelines, etc. But are people talking? Yes. Are we learning things? Yeah. Could it still end up awesome? Yes. Could it totally flop and could I end up wishing I’d never done it? Yes to that, also.

      As far as money loss. Yes, I’m prepared to lose money on this. But let’s not pretend that this is play money we’re talking about. Perhaps I was being too optimistic and perhaps I was thinking of it that way but I won’t apologize for knowing my limits. I won’t apologize for not hurting my family because of my desire to be a bit crazy and try something cool and, sure, experimental and unpredictable. I can’t apologize for not being able to spend my family’s savings on someone else’s wedding. Offering $100 for invitations, response cards, map cards, thank you notes, save the dates, and more for a 200-guest event and expecting the person on the other end of the transaction to just pick up the rest of the tab was beyond what I even imagined would happen, and it was beyond what I was able to accommodate out of my own budget. I can’t really apologize for that.

      I can only apologize for not putting the correct parameters in place and allowing this unfortunate situation to arise.

      I do thank you for adding to the discussion.

      • Also, I’d be interested to know what you guys think. I had this one situation come up that I couldn’t do, and so I changed a bit of the wording on the experiment as follows:

        Q: Can I decide to pay nothing for my invitations? To get them for free?
        A: As Louise of The Thirty-Something Bride said in her post about the experiment, this is name your price and free isn’t a price. These are real tangible goods you’ll be getting, and real hours of my time. There are actual costs associated with wedding invitations, which I hope you’ll take into consideration when you name your price. I do hope you’ll remember that there’s a person at the other end of this transaction. So far in more than 50 inquiries and transactions I’ve had to tell just one person that her price was not possible. If that happens, I reserve the right to start a dialog with you about how we can make this a mutually satisfying interaction or to process a full refund for you if that’s what you’d prefer.

        Do you think I should have ended the experiment instead? Should I end it now? How would YOU deal with this?

  • This is why, at the end of the prices on my site, I put a note that I work within budgets. I invite anyone to contact me to discuss what I can do for their budget.

    I don’t need to offer to give away my services (which I did aplenty when building my portfolio) in order to see what people might be willing to pay. I already set my prices at super reasonable and then offer to work within budgets. I think that’s enough.

    I think this experiment was a little inane, and I’m surprised you were surprised someone would offer so little for something that cost so much. If they have no idea why you charge exactly what you charge, then how can they know they were offering too little? I think if we’re going to continue this conversation, it would be best to give detailed outlines of what vendors charge and why. I think that sort of information would be more helpful to those who are not vendors and who don’t have an understanding of costs and creating prices.

  • Don’t know if anyone is still reading the comments on this, but as September wraps up I wanted to say THANK YOU for having this conversation. Also, I’d love it if any of you would like to give me a bit of feedback. I have a survey here: http://bit.ly/rgwuUP and it’s completely anonymous — basically just a Google Docs survey.

    Julie (of Up Up Creative)