Does retail pricing work for art?

Peggi Habets asks:

I recently read an article in Art Calendar magazine that said artists should price like retailers, ie, a painting should be priced at $490 (or $470) instead of $500, $990 instead of $1000 and so on. Then I read a newspaper article about a study that showed people bought significantly more at the lower prices, even though they were only $1 less in some cases. The study said that because people read from left to right, they see the lower number and subconsciously make a decision about the price. I always thought that kind of pricing made the artwork seem low-quality or low-cost, and that a client would subconsciously register those thoughts about the artwork. I was curious as to your opinion.

Oh, boy, do I love questions about pricing (not!). I just happen to be in the middle of reading a very tedious, but excellent, book on the subject:

Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art by Olav Velthuis. While its focus is primarily on avant-garde galleries in New York and Amsterdam, he does stress over and over again the various ways in which the art market tries to distance itself from being related to any kind of commerce. In other words, high-end dealers do everything they can (on the face of things) to appear commercial and stress the “higher purpose” of art. To that end, prices are ALWAYS rounded off. You might have a $1250, but you would never have a $1249 or even $1240.

I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s the way this part of the market functions. I know it doesn’t completely answer the question, but I do think you have to price for your market.

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2 comments to Does retail pricing work for art?

  • There seem to be 2 schools of thought on the matter of pricing. There are some around here who don’t even want to show prices. They seem to feel that art and money don’t go together. So there’s quite a bit of distance from no prices at all, to gimmicky prices like $499. I personally believe that if you want to sell, you need to show the price. Buying art is often an impulse thing; if the buyer has to inquire about the price, he probably won’t and you’ll lose the sale. I do not however bring the price down by $1, or $10, just to trick the buyer into thinking the price is lower, since I am never fooled by such tactics when I shop, and I believe my viewers are just as smart and will also not be fooled. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has had success with this tactic.

  • I’m not sure if that is directly in line with what your concern is, but I have an alternative suggestion for this. I’m a commercial illustrator, and when I’m not sure how high a customer’s budget is, I sometimes make them 2 offers, maybe even 3. One being “budget”, the other one “premium deluxe service”. I list all services independently within those offers so that they see the value and time it takes to create the services. I’ve had it happen before that a customer took the budget offer, saying that they can’t afford the “premium deluxe” one. What he didn’t know is that the “budget” price was already not quite my absolute minimum price, but a “normal” one for me. I’m not saying that I tricked him into paying too much, but that I had some control in making him pick the price that was good for me too. I hope that makes sense =)