Friday, March 27, 2009

Guidance on pricing art

I've been hearing about an entry form for an exhibition - which will remain anonymous - which states the following
When pricing your work do please bear in mind the current financial climate – our visitor survey last year showed that many more would have bought works from the Exhibition but thought it over priced!
The reality is that the previous year's exhibition did not generate many sales.

Surgery Tree
pencil in Moleskine

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The contract signed by the artist when submitting work also indicates that they agree that the organisers of the exhibition have the option to change the price if they think it's wrong.
(name of organisers) reserves the right to revise the sale price of your work and will inform you of any changes.
My personal view is that in the current recession, now is not a good time to be "precious" about pricing!

For me the benefits of any agreement like this are that
  • the organisers of this particular exhibition are working with the artist to make a sale more likely.
  • Plus any gallery and/or organisers which provide advice which helps generate sales and commission are more likely to still be doing business and holding exhibitions this time next year.
On the other hand:
  • I think I'd want a say if my price was to be revised.
  • Plus I can see that people who price high because they really don't want to part with a piece might end up being very disappointed (ie with a sale for a lot less than they asked!).
It's an interesting strategy. I know that when dealing with people who know their particular marketplace very well I'm very happy to be guided on pricing - and I always ask for advice! I also know that when entering some juried exhibitions I sometimes feel completely in the dark about how to pitch a price and would very much welcome a steer from the organisers.

It's also particularly difficult at the moment. Art is still selling but both volumes of sales and prices are changing across the piece.

What do you think?
  • Is this a sensible strategy by the organisers?
  • Will it deter some artists from entering work?
  • Could they possibly improve it?
Note: I'm deliberately not naming the organisation involved as I think that is completely incidental to the strategy they're employing. If you recognise the agreement, please do likewise when commenting.
_____________

PS
Don't forget there are just a few days left to respond to the March Making A Mark Poll "How do you price your art? What's your preferred approach to pricing?" See the right hand column to participate.

21 comments:

Judith said...

I think it is quite a good idea to have an option that the artist CAN sign if they wish to do so, that the exhibition organizers can change the price, but that they can also give a lowest price that they would agree to. ("I would like to charge XXX but am prepared to charge anything up from ZZZ if the organizers think it would be more likely to sell at that price...")

Andi said...

I would want to know before the show opened. When I was working with my current gallery I tried to get a feel for the pricing of my work and basically left some wiggle room for negotiation. I know that a venue's organizers should have a better feel for what their market would bear. OTOH there is always the "Keep your pricing consistent" adage; maybe send smaller/lower priced work to begin with would be the best option.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

This particular exhibition is actually a competitive juried entry so people will actually want to enter work to impress rather than to "test the water" as it were.

Joanne Licsko said...

I could always accept that my painting didn't sell if I set my own price, but I would always be wondering how the outcome would have been different if the organizers set the price.

Amie Roman said...

The suggestion of letting your pricing be a moving target is definitely not recommended in the business article by C. Sharp in April's Artist Magazine, "Surviving Tough Economic Times". Number 2 on the list is "Don't lower your prices". Their argument would be if you want to present a work that is more economical, make a smaller (or less elaborate, or basically whatever you'd charge less for) piece to submit (Number 4 on the list). Which helpfully goes in pretty much the exact opposite direction of what you'd want to do for a prestigious event in which you're trying to impress people with your skills and creativity as an artist.

Just goes to show that there are always many opinions & options out there, and as ever, we've got to decide what works best for our own practice. This is an intriguing provision which I've not heard of in a juried event.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Amie - the thing that's begun to occur to me is that classic good advice for normal economic downturns may not in fact be the right thing to do this time around

The one thing we know is that this "mess" is at least as bad as the big crash and that there is not going to be either a simple or quick exit from the current predicament.

Given that the people running the country are still in the dark about what to do for the best, I'm beginning to think that the emphasis should be on sharing information about different approaches. That way we can all learn about what sort of tactics are being used and then decide whether we can or should employ them - or how we might be able to improve on them.

Fee Dickson said...

Hmm. Not sure how I would feel about allowing someone else to set the price on work. Unlikely this would happen..but what's to stop the organsers dropping the price on an artwork they wanted to buy?

Consultation on price is a good thing. But really, if the organisers are going to the extremes of changing the price themselves, what's to stop them giving a courtesy call to the artist to make sure they are in agreement?

Interesting topic thoug, you have a good blog here.

Michelle (artscapes) said...

I would be VERY concerned that a price might fall below what I already sell at and thereby devalue my work and alienate current collectors. I think I would avoid an exhibition that looks upon all of its entrants as amateurs - whether that is true or not.

I understand that there is a lot over priced work out there but this is not a strategy I am comfortable with. There are better and less fascist ways of handling pricing between a vendor and an exhibitor. So I am not closed to the discussion of price, so long as my say is final. I am not unreasonable - I can't afford to be any more than anyone else. There are just so many factors including the geographic reach of an artist that can affect price.

That said, I am already priced lower than average, but I am also 'emerging', so I like to think that I am not out to lunch! LOL!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Hmm - maybe a bit more background would be in order...

It's a national and prestigious exhibition.

It may well be that amateur artists enter but obviously they need to present and price like professionals.

It also may well be the case that some of the entrants are not familiar (due to location and/or experience) with the sorts of prices set for artwork in such a show - and may just have "over-egged" it in the past.

The issue arose because somebody actually asked me what I thought might be a reasonable price.

Margaret Ryall said...

My thoughts on this topic follow along the lines of what Amie included in her post. I've read numerous books on the business of art, I've served on art advocacy boards and talked to gallery owners about setting prices for your work. They all say the same thing: set your prices and stick with them. The market looks for consistency in pricing from an artist.

I may be in a different circumstance from most because I live in a small city on an island. Lowering prices would be noticed and people who have collected my work would be royally fed up. I plan to address the downturn in the economy by not raising my prices this year (as I've done in the last several as my work gains more recognition in the market place) and by working smaller and hanging grid installations that are still true to my interests but are manageable in price if someone wants to purchase one or several.

As for allowing someone else to decide on the price of a work to get a sale - never. In the contract I have with my gallery rep. I allow 5-10 % leeway if they want to offer an incentive to a buyer who has purchased my work before.

People who provide venues for art sales are first and foremost business people and out for a profit. They do not mind putting you, the artist in a position where you feel you should take less for your work to get a sale.
My question would be: Is the venue taking less commission because of the poor economy? Are we in this together? Why is it that artists, who usually exist at the poverty line are the ones thinking about giving up more of their meager salaries? I wonder if musicians are thinking about charging less for performances or if movies will cost less this year? Somehow I doubt it.

I plan to spend time in the next several months giving thought to my marketing options and looking for opportunities that will expand my exhibition opportunities to build my professional profile, which in turn affects the prices I will ask for my work in future. I'm also considering expanding my "product" by creating more affordable objects that would exist outside of my fine art portfolio. Apart from that, I'm looking at teaching opportunities that will supplement my income. I may not sell as many works this year but as the market becomes more stable, I will not be behind it.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

In this instance - a prestigious juried national art competition - the venue doesn't have a say. As with most such events, the venue will have been hired.

The document making these statements belongs to the people organising the competition.

Naturally, they won't be wanting to run a competition which runs at a loss. It's reasonable for them to assume some income from the commission from sales. However that's just not possible if potential customers are telling them - as they did re last year's show - that the work is over-priced.

Tina Mammoser said...

That's AWFUL!

Firstly, no one at the exhibition can know if the pricing is in line with the artist's body of work and retail prices elsewhere. What might be "too expensive" at their show could easily be the going (and selling) price elsewhere. Good business practice is for the artist to keep control of their pricing. I don't mind wiggle-room but would not accept a juried exhibition to use that approach - only galleries where I have a relationship with my reps and can discuss such price negotiations and the circumstances when I'd accept discounts.

Secondly, as an artist who has not yet felt an effect from the economy, I find the first statement to be scaremongering and over-generalisation. If their visitor polls say that about pricing their first reaction should be to re-adjust their marketing to draw in the *right* visitors to meet their target if sales are a primary goal of the exhibition. Putting the onus on the artists is irresponsible and unprofessional.

Adam Cope said...

I'd be really annoyed to discover this rather unusual & somewhat contentious policy tucked away deep in the small print. It would need to be upfront & completely transparent.

Do many punters know that most competions take a commission as well? That should be made transparent to the punters along with the pricing policy.

Should the cudous of art patronage via sponsorhip of competitions go to competitions that exercise heavy commisssions & price policies?

On the other hand, maybe there's the thorny question of leisure artists/semi-professionals who don't pay tax/health insurance & maybe have lower prices, entering competitions with no doubt very fine work but hoping to gain cudous from hanging alongside professional artists who pay tax & health insurance & who have reputations/cudous/higher prices.

Maybe hence the reason why many exhibiting professional bodies are mostly invitational ie members first (but like the RA, UK do a brisk business in entry fees for the remaining places)?

It's not only 'buyer beware' but 'entrant beware'...

Joanne said...

Recently I withdrew an entry in an exhibition at a golf course because of a similar issue.

As a watercolorist, my paintings are matted and framed when hung, and I present my work in perfect condition. When I was asked to sign a contract before showing my painting, I was stopped in my tracks by this clause: "Seller may discount price up to 10% for damage of frame or as a discretionary discount without Artist's approval."

When I read that phrase, it indicated to me that if the painting was damaged by the seller, they would discount the price without having to contact me- and I would receive less commission. In addition, if the painting did not sell, I would receive back a damaged painting!

I approached the organizer of the show and asked if we could work out something to the effect that if the Seller damaged my frame, they would reimburse me replacement costs if the painting did not sell, and if it did sell at the reduced price, I would still receive my percentage of the original asking price. The organizer told me that this contract was an "industry standard" and there was no negotiating the contract, so I quietly withdrew my piece.

I was very disappointed.

rbfineart said...

I think you have to keep your prices fairly level across the board. I do work with those that sell my work and allow them some wiggle room on prices, but usually I set the retail, and let them know how much they can come down. And I keep that percentage even as well.

I think keeping standard prices across the board has become far more important in the internet age, because it is very easy for a client to find information on an artist online, and as a result find out their prices. If you are pricing work in one area at a substantially lower price point than in another, they will be able to find this out. It can cause problems for those that represent you - why should the client spend money with one representative if they can go online and find your work in a different area with a different representative for less money? It's the same logic that applies to the practice of not underselling your gallery reps when you sell out of your studio.

I also believe that if this exhibition had a problem with pricing the last year, then they should have just put a ceiling on prices of entered works. Tell the entrants that any works submitted and accepted cannot be priced above a certain level. Let the entrants know that this is the price range that most works sold in previous years. That way the artist can pick to submit works that fit that criteria. Competitive Exhibitions like this will often limit media used, sizes... so why not a price limit as well? That way nothing feels underhanded or behind someone's back.

tracywall said...

My goodness; interesting scenario.

You're right, on the one hand organizers are very interested in sales at the exhibition. That is good.

On the other hand, allowing exhibit organizers to negotiate price offers way too many variables. If this was in big, bold, front-and-center print on the application, would entrants have put original price at + 5% or 10%?

I think it's reasonable to ask the artist if they may be willing to negotiate on price, as well as putting a ceiling on the prices of works submitted for application.

But having someone else place a value on your work? Hard for me to swallow. What food for thought!!

Cathyann said...

This has been an awakening discussion for me. I began selling my work modestly 10 years ago, while I was still teaching full time. I have retired to pursue this full time and have had many good opportunities come my way. Few sales at the moment, but am not alone. I am "emerging". I am fairly certain that my prices reflect quality and I price by size. It has always puzzled me about how to set them but after some research, I began to sell when I finally decided where I fit in. Then this recession began.

That being said, I agree with Katherine's first statements, wanting to be involved in the adjustment. And I would want to see a reflection of what percentage in reduction would occur as part of the contract. That would have to be stated, prior to entry.
It is understood by me, at least in this case, that the organizers will in fact take a reduced cut if the prices are reduced. So everyone is affected. And you still sell your work, hopefully. At this time of distress, isn't it a crap shoot anyway?
I am also in Margaret's camp. Working smaller with more volume, retaining quality as well as affordability, in order to maintain and increase a customer base is wise. Augmenting meager sales with other professional venues until the situation improves will allow artists to maintain visibility and dignity as professionals.

Paula Pertile said...

I have no problem with the exhibition people 'suggesting' prices not go over a certain amount, citing past sales as a guideline.

Beyond that, the competitors should be free to do whatever they want, price-wise. They've been given the facts; they can price conservatively or just go for it.

And most definitely the exhibition should NOT be able to adjust a price on their own. I'd be steamed if they did that to me!

Tina Mammoser said...

The idea of a suggested price range is actually rather a good one, stating what range most sales from past years fall into. We used to do this at a gallery I worked for - to help the artists know our clientelle as much as anything.

That way entrants could make their own decision. They might feel the potential prestige of being accepted was more important than selling.

Jennifer Young said...

As Tina and others have mentioned, I think artists always welcome "guidelines". If the organizers know what price points are likely to sell the best, an artist can act accordingly, to submit work in sizes/mediums that fall into that range. It's another thing altogether to leave pricing to the discretion of the organizer. That, to me, leaves far too much open to interpretation. One man's "necessary price reduction" could be another man's "giving away the farm."

It's been mentioned a couple of times that the exhibition is a national and prestigious one. But, at the risk of sounding "precious" ;-), an artist also has a certain hard-earned reputation to uphold, yes? And a certain commitment to collectors and galleries? There are always exceptions, but unless the artist is wholesaling their work outright and the work appears on the secondary market (not the case in this instance) I can't seem to get away from the feeling that even in these hard times, artists need to have a certain amount of consistency in their pricing, and to have control of prices set.

It's not an impossible thought to think that the exhibition organizers may simply be feeling the same economic nervousness that we all are. I mean, were there really an overwhelming number of complaints about prices, or was it one or two squeaky wheels that caught the right ear at the right time? Who's to know? It's within the realm of possibility to imagine that, like many other retail outlets, there's a bit of a knee-jerk solution to lack of sales--lower prices! (I guess that WOULD be a lot easier than considering other changes, like more aggressive or creative promotion, for example.)

I certainly don't have the answers, but in times like these, where there are very real and epidemic cashflow issues, it does make me wonder if there even IS a magic price point that can satisfy both the buyer and sellers, before reaching that point of diminishing returns. Could be that there's not much spending on "luxury" items because we're all still rather stunned and confused about where things are heading. SHOULD art prices fluctuate wildly in weird times, the same way as the financial markets? I'm not so sure that's the answer.

Adam Cope said...

Jenifer Young : "Could be that there's not much spending on "luxury" items because we're all still rather stunned and confused about where things are heading. SHOULD art prices fluctuate wildly in weird times, the same way as the financial markets?"

Interestingly,last night on french telly, the director of MHLV (moet hennssey louis vuitton) said that his Louis Vuitton luxury items were never ever on sale nor reduced in price but that they had introduced some wallets at small price (80 euros i think, ah hem luxury indeed) ie small units but at relatively comparable prices. Sales in one store down by 6 percent...



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