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Pricing for Artists
How to Price and Sell Lower Priced Art
Q: You often encourage artists to lower their prices in order to increase sales and become more competitive. My prices are comparable to those of other artists in my area and they always have been. Do you mean they should be even lower? How much art is for sale in these really low price ranges?
A: Regarding your first question, how you decide to set your selling prices is entirely up to you. Lower priced works of art, no matter what they are, tend to sell faster and in greater numbers than higher priced pieces. Adjusting your art prices in any direction impacts your sales; the greater a downward adjustment, the more you generally sell-- a suggestion I regularly make to artists who want to increase sales and get more of their artworks out into the public. You can still offer higher priced works of art alongside the lower ones; you don't have to drop prices on everything. Lowering your prices is only a suggestion though. Do whatever feels comfortable.
Keep in mind that for most artists, an important part of what they do is selling their art, and better yet, selling plenty of it, and by so doing establishing good solid consistent track records of making sales on a regular basis. Think about it. What sounds better? That you sold ten pieces last month? Or one? Or none? If you tell someone you're selling ten pieces of art per month, they don't care you how much you're selling them for; they're just plain impressed that so many people are buying. Who knows? They might even decide to buy a piece themselves. Keep in mind also that gallery owners love hardly anything more than artists who sell well.
And another thing-- if demand for your art is modest, it makes no sense to price it to the max, to make buying harder for anyone who wants to own it, to make them hesitant or unsure about whether they want to write out the check or hand over the credit card. There's hardly any upside to that. The affordable approach is far more logical. Nothing is better for your reputation than to have satisfied buyers delighted with the prices they pay singing your praises to anyone who asks them about your art. When you get to the point where you can't make art fast enough to keep up with the demand-- that's the time to start raising prices, not when things are slow or you're trying to increase sales.
Keep in mind also that people who are considering buying their first piece of your art generally prefer to begin with more affordable lower priced work. They would rather start slowly, and follow your art and career to see how things develop. As they become bigger and bigger fans, that's the point when they begin to consider more expensive pieces.
The trick to lowering prices, if you decide to lower them, or in providing lower priced alternatives to your more expensive art is not to denigrate the lower priced pieces in the process, or in other words, make buyers feel like they're not getting your best efforts if they choose to pay less. No matter what people buy from you or how little they pay for it, they should always feel like they are getting quality examples created with just as much care and attention as your more expensive pieces. Lower priced pieces may be smaller, less detailed or whatever else you have to compromise on in order to produce them, but one thing that they should not be is inferior in quality.
Too many artists deliberately sabotage their lower priced works, either verbally or in other ways like in how or where they display them, as if to say to buyers, "Since you don't want to pay full fare, you can sit in the bleachers." This is not a good practice. The best way to cultivate repeat buyers is to respect their choices, their budgets and their reasons for buying whatever works of your art that they can afford buy. You never know when a buyer who starts small might someday go on to become one of your biggest collectors. Allowing for that possibility is just plain good sense.
In answer to your second question about the availability of reasonably priced art in the marketplace, there's an incredible amount of art for sale out there that can be purchased for under $1000 per piece, and often for well under that amount. All you have to do is go online and look. If you can't find any, look harder. It's everywhere; believe it. One truth that the Internet has revealed to all of us is that there's much more art out there, many more competent artists, and many more affordable artworks available for sale than any of us would ever have imagined pre-Internet.
If you're offering your art for sale online, seriously consider having a good selection of reasonably priced works alongside your more expensive examples. Most artists as well as people who run gallery and artist websites will tell you (assuming they feel like talking) that most online sales are typically in lower price ranges, especially to first-time buyers. Higher priced works do sell, although mainly if they're by better-known artists with significant accomplishments, resumes and followings. The good news is that as people have become increasingly comfortable buying online, higher priced sales are happening with greater and greater frequency. For those who are still getting used to the idea of buying online or who are inquiring about your art for the first time, help them out by giving them the option of not having to risk too much money.
You also mention in your email that your prices are competitive with those of other artists in your area. Do you mean all other artists in your area or just those artists you know, those artists who you choose to compare yourself with, or those artists you think make art as good as yours? If you're selling online, do you mean all other artists who sell online or just those you selectively follow or who you think make art that compares favorably to yours? What you may not be taking into account is that buyers don't generally restrict the types of artists they buy from. They buy all kinds of art by all kinds of artists. In other words, you have to keep the big picture in mind, especially in terms of what's available online, and continually compare your prices not only with a select group of artists you choose to follow or compare yourself with, but to all artists and all available art.
The more art selling situations you can be competitive in, the more art you're going to sell. The more art you sell, the more people will be able to hang it in their collections where other people will see it. The more people who see it, the greater the chances that some of those people will like what they see, start following you, and hopefully one day buy from you as well. And onward and upward you go. The strange-but-true truth is that lowering your prices may ultimately turn out to be a surprisingly effective strategy for raising them.
(art by Ai Weiwei)