6 Art Pricing Mistakes to Avoid

Published Aug. 16th 2011


All of the artists I know make the very best art they can, and take great pride in their work. In many cases, the process of making art is often as valuable to us as the finished piece – if not more.

Then, to support ourselves, we must try to market our finished art to people who will value our work enough for them to buy it.

The trick is that in order to sell, we need to bridge the gap between the value we put on our art, and the amount that someone else is willing to pay. And however you decide to bridge that gap is your pricing strategy.

Pricing is one of the hardest aspects of marketing. While there are many factors that go into pricing, there are no hard and fast rules that artists can use, nor are there any absolute benchmarks.

There are, however, some common mistakes to avoid:

1. Don’t confuse price with value

Value is what you put into your work. You create value by infusing each piece of art with your accumulated experience, training and passion.

Value is subjective, however, and depends on perception. You market your art to create the impression that your art is valuable. The audience decides if you and your art are valuable to them.

Because of that, value is disconnected from cost. Knowing your costs helps you plan your production and manage your cash flow. But the harsh reality is the viewer really does not understand your costs, or care.

Price is what people pay for your art, and it may be far less or far more than the value you, or the buyer, places on it. As Warren Buffett said “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

The price that people pay for your work is shorthand for how much they want your work in comparison to the other purchases they make with their disposable income.

An audience may value your work, but the fact that they do not buy it doesn’t necessarily reflect their feelings about it. . . it just might mean that right now they need the money more for other things.

2. Don’t disconnect supply from demand

Price is often about supply and demand. The price of everything – not just art – is ultimately determined by what “the market will bear” i.e., what people are willing to pay for what you have to offer.

When there is more supply than demand, price becomes more important. If there are lots of other artists creating art of a quality similar to yours, it becomes a “commodity.” Why pay more for something of YOURS, when the same type of art is widely available elsewhere at a lower price?

When there is more demand than supply, the value of that demand raises the price that people are willing to pay. If your distinctive work is in demand and there are only a limited number of pieces, it becomes more “collectible” and buyers justify paying a higher price because it is unique and scarce.

3. Don’t set random prices

When you buy supplies for your art business, you expect to see a price list that seems fair. You probably shop around to make sure that you are not overpaying and that you are getting the quality you expect for the money you are paying. In other words, you have decided the value of your purchase relative to your need and what the market tells you.

You may even note whether shipping is included, and if you get any bonuses for large purchases. You deem the price to be fair if it meets all of your criteria.

Your own menu of prices should be able to stand these same tests. Whatever method you use to price your work should take into the audience and art market for your work into account, and be consistent across the board.

4. Don’t raise prices without proven demand

It can be tempting to raise your prices because you need more money or because the gallery suggested it so they could imply greater value and make more on sales. If the audience for that show does not concur, however, you may have just priced yourself out of their market.

If you are selling 1/3 to 1/2 of the work you create each year, you are probably safe to raise your prices by 10 – 15%. If you want to keep your current cash flow steady, then keep your prices stable on the current body of work and offer the next work for higher prices.

5. Don’t lower prices without a reason

If you aren’t selling as much work as you would like, or need cash flow, you may be tempted to lower your prices. But be careful. . . if the audience for your art knows that they can buy your art for less if they wait long enough, why would they ever pay full price?

They may also think that the work was overpriced to begin with, or that business isn’t going so well. And, if a collector has already purchased a piece from the same body of work, and then sees the lower price, they may feel that they overpaid and may not buy from you again.

The truth is, you may not be selling because of the economy, or because you’re just not reaching the right people. If you lower your prices rather than changing your overall marketing approach, you may not get any more sales, and yet you will find it harder to raise prices in the future.

6. Don’t have different prices in different places

Fluctuating prices put doubt in viewers’ minds, and doubt kills sales. They may think that the pricing is done on a whim, or they may feel that they don’t know enough about art pricing and therefore feel stupid.

If a collector buys your work at a gallery and then sees it for less on your web site, they will feel ripped off. Not only will you lose their allegiance, they may complain about this to others.

For those of you exhibiting your work online and offline, make sure that your prices are consistent. Once you fix a price with a gallery, honor the scope of the agreement to the letter. If the gallery allows you to show the same work on your website, make sure to pass on any commission for sales initiated by the gallery. If you breach the trust you have with them, it may cost you your reputation down the road.

At the end of the day, when someone asks “How much?” you must be ready with an answer that you can express with confidence. This is why understanding your pricing is an important part of being a professional artist.

So do your homework before you commit to a pricing strategy, and avoid the mistakes listed above. Remember that value is what you offer, but the market and your audience determines the price people will pay.

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