Deep Thought Thursday: Art Pricing

Breur
Should pricing be regional?
How transparent should your pricing be?

This is why I ask. . . .
I received this email some time ago from Robert G. Breur, who addressed it to me and to Clint Watson of FineArtStudioOnline.com. Mr. Breur wrote:

A couple of months ago ONE of you suggested that we artists should make an inventory of our work for OURSELVES. As I recall, it was mostly to set in our minds just how much work we had on hand to sell and to fix there a general over all picture of what the uniformity of it was such as for prices etc. Okay, I took this advice and made this sort of use of it. As Clint suggested, I also went and added all these prices to my web site.

Then last weekend, I went to visit a few new galleries and as part of my introducing myself, I provided a copy of it to two of the most likely gallery owners. The response was positive from both of them and the primary gallery owner even thanked me saying it was very helpful.  This is where I wondering if this is likely to be something I one day regret making a practice of. First of all, my prices being open to all in my web site make it impossible for me to price higher in a gallery in a wealthy area than one in a lower priced real estate town.  I’m in both already! Secondly, I have been thinking that I am being too open handed with these NEW to ME gallery owners who will surely rank me among other art providers in worth and use to them as sources for their products.

Perhaps as I write this I am thinking that I must simply TRUST my gallery owners if I am ever to build a working relationship with them but IS THERE A WAY TO DO THIS and a way NOT to?

Image: Clay torsos (c) Robert G. Breur

If you’d like to read my response, click on “Continue Reading.”

Bob,

In my opinion, there is too much secrecy in the art world. In fact,
there are whispers about some sort of regulation [new link] since the art world is
infamously unregulated and shady deals abound. So, I’m all for being up
front and transparent with your prices.

I try to teach artists that there should be only one price for your
work–regardless of where you sell it. I understand the temptation to
price it differently for different locales, but can you imagine if one
of your collectors purchased it at a higher price and then later saw
that they could have bought it less expensively? They’d be furious–and
rightly so. Having consistent pricing is a key component of developing
trust. Which brings me to . . .

Yes, you should trust, but that trust and respect has to be mutual and
the details should be outlined in writing at the beginning of every
professional relationship. Read this article I wrote for Art Business News and see if it sheds any light on the subject.

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12 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: Art Pricing

  • yes…there is a rule that states a price list must be easily accessible to anyone at a gallery show in order to prevent price changes based on what kind of client is asking…this ‘in gallery’ rule could be extended easily to include other galleries showing the same artist’s work…yes, yes & yes…(I will look up the source citation when I can remember where it is)…thank you again ArtBizBlog for a clear answer…

  • I was recently advised to figure out the absolute minimum price I would be willing to accept for a piece of art, then double it, and make that the set price. Since the gallery commission is often 50%, this assures that you never sell a piece of work and resent it later, feeling like you didn’t get what it is worth.

  • In this “Information Age”, I would say transparency has a new imperative.

  • I generally price based on an average 50% commission too. Showing work in a new gallery (not strictly a gallery but a mixed-product space) the owner was quite eager to mark up because of his location and possible clientelle. I tried to point out to him that I have my work in another gallery also in central London and my prices were retail prices, consistent across the board. He said that’s fine but you can make them higher in different places. I’m hoping I got through to him but felt very uncomfortable about it. While I would love my pricing to go up, and it does slowly, I just can’t recover from a single hike where nothing may sell anyway. I tried to be diplomatic, firm and explain the reasoning behind it. I’d love any more advice on how to keep this from becoming a conflict of interests.

  • Tina- I sold art door to door for a company that worked like this…They set a number that they had to get for each piece…I had to use that as a minimum, then I was free to add whatever I wanted to get my commission…That way I was bargaining on my own salary…We did vey well & everyone was quite happy…Based on that model , you can set prices that you need to be paid for your work, then give each gallery the freedom to mark-up if they see fit…or mark-down…that way they have the freedom to negotiate on their own salary, while not manipulating yours to create an excessive pricepoint…This method requires a firm minimum price list given to each gallery, & a lack of greed…you will sell alot this way & galleries like the freedom…this makes the artist closer to a standard wholesaler , as most wholesalers work this way, with only a recommended retail price which can be marked up or down without changing the wholesale payment…

  • Sari: I’m curious as to this “rule” you mention. Perhaps it pertains to Canada? I don’t believe we have such a regulation here in the U.S. Jeanne: Yes, build that commission in! Tina: You don’t say how much the increase is that he wanted. I suspect that makes a difference. Sari again: If I am understanding what you wrote, I must disagree strongly with this model. This model you mention means that the artist has no idea what the work actually sells for. It gives control of pricing over to someone else. While the artist may be happy with the price they got, the other person could get 100% more and the artist would never be the wiser. I have to discourage any artist participating in such a relationship. By the way, I know of art consultants who do this and I am adamantly opposed to this. I want artists to be in charge of their pricing–not someone else.

  • All other wholesalers sell their product directly to retailers who are free to mark the product up from the wholesale price that they paid…Manufacturers of computers cannot control the ultimate retail price unless they also sell directly to the public, as an example…The reason for the consignment nature of art is usually because a gallery does not have the money to pony up a wholesale price for an entire collection…This is changing…Some galleries will now buy works outright for a wholesale price, then resell them …For the artist , this means money in hand immediately…It also means that art will be treated like craft, like clothing, like almost any other retail commodity on the planet…This is in contrast to the current situation where the artist gives an entire collection for free to a gallery with no promise of payment…If the work is not sold it must be reclaimed again with no payment…any investment in framing, shipping, packaging, artist website, statements, coaching etcetera must be swallowed by the artist, again with no payment for their troubles…If the trend continues with artists showing their works in more traditional retail stores or boutiques, inevitably the buying outright model will prevail…this may also curtail the ridiculously high prices we see on works that are questionable…Like any wholesale product, if you wholesale for say $200 dollars & someone is reselling that for $200,000 then the reseller is probably a criminal…If the purchaser is honest however they should resell at a standard resell retail which is 100% markup…I don’t see why an artist should be in charge of the sales aspect of a gallery, in the same way the salespeople should stay out of artistic decisions…I do understand your point though… The credential came from a CARFAC book on contracts which was published in 2004…stands for Canadian Artist’s Representation Federation Artistes Canadians , which is a union of sorts which protects artist’s copyrights & will litigate on their behalf…They pioneered the fee artists enjoy today which is paid if showing in a museum or other non-commercial setting…Artists around the world benefit from their work, not just Canadians… Sari p.s. if a retailer is asking a price for something they are forced to put a price tag or similar on the product…I don’t think it would be hard to find out actual selling prices , especially if someone is unscrupulous…

  • Sari – I have one HUGE objection to this approach. Well, two actually I guess. One is that it simply isn’t the standard – my galleries all expect my prices to be the same at every other gallery and online. They will drop me if they’re not because that means someone somewhere is undercutting another venue. On the same note, I personally know an artist who had collectors buy three prints (original printmaking) at an art fair. The artist had put the price higher than usual in a co-operative gallery because the art fair was quite expensive. When the collectors came to the gallery with the view of buying more from this artist and saw they had overpaid they were furious – and promptly returned all the pieces they had purchased. Having different RETAIL prices in the art world, as far as I’m aware, is operating on very rocky ground. It’s not the gallery or agent that suffers – it’s the artist.

  • By the way, this gallery has suggested I use my gallery price as my artist price. I will get that amount (let’s say £80), the girl organising the exhibition with get £20, and then the gallery will get the rest after marking it up to double my artist price (so retail = £200, meaning the gallery is earning £200). This gives me essentially an artist price of 40% of retail, far below any of my other current galleries or any other galleries for artists at my level. If the work were on wholesale and the gallery wanted to buy outright that would be GREAT. But galleries in the UK don’t do that that I’ve ever heard.

  • Ooops, sorry, gallery would be earning £100.

  • I have to agree with Alyson–& I have known artists who have had their work marked up higher than their retail. If you are dealing with a gallery across country, it’s hard to know what they’re doing. Personally, if they are able to seel my work at a higher price, then I want a percentage of that! I think that the artist should control pricing UNLESS the gallery is giving you a stipend and really acting as a partner in your business. Then you (hopefully) are working together. Christine

  • This is an excellent topic. The “public” aka potential patrons often feel that they can get a better deal if they buy directly from the artist. An artist in a professional relationship with a gallery will 1) not sell less than retail and 2) refer the patron to the gallery to purchase. Sure an artist would love to get the full price without having to give half to the gallery. The gallery, however, often does the business of administration and marketing that the artist does not have the time or desire to do. Additionally, galleries representing the same body of work from an artist should have the same prices. This requires the artist to be in discussion with his/her different galleries and perhaps the galleries in touch with each other. Different regions have different economies; e-commerce consumers have no problem purchasing outside of the area to get a better deal. We all want the best product for the best price, thus consistency is key. Some galleries and high-end retail are moving toward buying art wholesale and reselling. These establishments would be smart to honor the suggested retail price – thus building trusting relationships with artists and patrons. Finally, prices should be easily accessible to the public – physically and electronically. I wish more galleries would put prices on their sites. Remember the value of what you do and be proud of it!