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Questions and Answers for Artists

How to Price Your Art, Part II



This is Part II of my two-part series where I answer pricing questions from artists, including how art prices are set, how to price their art, how to justify their prices, and plenty more. You'll find the link to Part I is at the end of this article.

Q: People say I should price my art to sell. Won't that make it too cheap?
A: I can never understand when artists ask this question, especially if they aren't selling regularly or have little or no sales history to speak of. Too cheap for what? If your art sells, that means it's too cheap? Or that there's a specific price at which your art suddenly stops being too cheap? Most people buy art not because it's "too cheap," but because they like it, it resonates with them, and they believe they're getting good value for their money. Raising your prices for no other reason than you think they're too cheap is a very poor strategy, especially if people start hesitating to buy. You want to sell art, so price affordably and attractively for now. If good things start happening on a regular basis and you're pretty sure they'll keep happening, then think about raising them.

Q: Someone told me that if I price my art too low, people won't take me seriously. Do you agree?
A: How seriously people take an artist has nothing to do with how they price their art. They consider factors like quality, experience, accomplishments, how their careers are progressing, how dedicated and committed they are to being artists, how hard they work, how much art they produce, how active they are in getting their art out in front of the public, and so on. People who judge art based solely on how much it costs generally know little or nothing about how art is valued. So don't bother worrying about them. As for people who think your prices are too low, ask which pieces they'd like to buy since you're apparently giving such great deals, and see who puts their money where their mouths are.

Q: The higher I price my art, the more valuable and important people will think it is, right?
A: Similar to the above answer, knowledgeable buyers and collectors base value on factors other than price. The idea that a work of art magically becomes "better" if it's priced higher than it is if it's priced lower makes zero sense. It's the exact same art no matter how you price it.

Q: I'm really attached to certain pieces of my art for sentimental reasons. Should I price them a lot higher than similar looking art I'm not that attached to?
A: Don't price them at all. Art prices are based on facts, not feelings. Just because you feel strongly about a certain work of art does not mean that everyone else feels exactly the same way. Pricing some works of your art much higher than other similar looking works only confuses people. And when people get confused they generally walk the other way. Keep your favorites for your own personal collection and enjoy them in private; dangling them in front of people at really high prices or not-for-sale won't win you any fans.

Q: What about bargainers? What if someone wants to pay less than I'm asking?
A: This is always a judgment call but price flexibility is key to selling art. If someone is playing games with you simply to see how little you're willing to sell for, then you might want to send them on their way. But in most cases, when someone wants to pay less, ask what they'll offer. That way, they're committed to buy if you accept. Depending on the circumstances, giving 10-20% off is reasonable. Going beyond that is entirely up to you. Keep in mind that if someone they truly loves the work and makes you a reasonable offer, then selling is usually the best way to go. They'll always remember you for it... and may even come back for more later.

Q: My sales are down. Should I lower my prices? If I do, won't people who paid higher prices get mad at me?
A: First of all, people getting mad at artists over prices rarely happens. Secondly, if someone comes back at you with questions about how much they paid versus how much your art costs now, be honest about why you lowered your prices. Make clear that it is in the buyer's best interest for you to survive as an artist, and that if you keep prices high, you might possibly have to stop making art due to lack of sales. If you want, offer them a smaller work at no charge to show that you're fair, that you value them as a client, and want to keep them coming back for more.

Q: Would lowering my prices reduce people's confidence in my work?
A: People who make judgments based solely on how high or low a price is are a complete waste of time, and not the kinds of people you want to do business with. As mentioned above, your art is still the same art regardless of how you price it.

Q: I like to raise my prices every year. Is that a good idea?
A: Raising prices arbitrarily for no reason other than the passage of time is not generally a good way to go, especially if higher prices start cutting into your sales. If someone asks why your prices are higher, you want to be able to give them good reasons based on facts about your accomplishments and career, not simply because it was time to raise them.

Q: I've been asked to show some work at a gallery in a really expensive part of town. Should I raise my prices because people who shop there have plenty of money?
A: No. Never price based on how rich you think someone is. A person's economic status has nothing to do how you price your art. If necessary, talk things over with the gallery owner and decide on a pricing structure that makes sense. Beware if they want to raise your prices substantially higher than they are now. Raising them too high to fast risks pricing your current fan base out of the market, and can be very detrimental to your career in the long run.

Q: Other artists tell me my prices are too low and that I should raise them. Should I?
A: The more you raise prices, the closer your prices get to theirs. The smaller the difference between your prices and their prices, the less affordable your art becomes in comparison to theirs. The less affordable your art becomes in comparison to theirs, the more affordable their art becomes in comparison to yours. So I'll throw the question right back at you. Should you?

Q: In addition to my originals, I want to sell signed limited edition prints of them at more affordable prices. How should I price the prints compared to the originals?
A: Selling limited edition prints makes more sense if you have a good solid fan base, your originals regularly sell at higher prices than most people can afford, and indications are that significantly more people would buy your work if only they could afford it. If this is the case, publishing a limited edition print and pricing it at 2 to 4 times cost of printing would be reasonable for starters. If you don't have a large following, don't sell regularly, and your prices are relatively affordable, you might actually end up competing against yourself and selling fewer originals by offering lower priced prints.

Q: What's a good edition size for publishing prints of my originals? Does edition size affect price?
A: Edition size depends on the size of your fan base. More fans means you can go higher; not so many fans means you should start low. Even if you have a large following though, smaller sizes make more sense than larger ones when you first start publishing. For one thing, you want to test the market in terms of demand. For another, the smaller the edition size, the more exclusivity there is in ownership. Smaller editions also have a greater chance of selling out than larger ones. As for pricing, justifying higher prices is easier if the edition size is small than if it is large. For most artists, an edition size of 10 to 25 makes sense at the start. If your following is large and you feel confident that prints will sell, you might want to go as high as 100, but even then, less is generally better unless you really know your market.

Q: How do you price an embellished print, with a good amount of original work?
A: This depends on the amount of time you spend embellishing it. The more time you spend, the higher the price. Pricing the embellished version at any more than two or maybe three times what the unembellished version sells for is about as far as you should go. But start slow, maybe price at 1 1/2 times what the unembellished version sells for and see how they sell.

Q: If I refuse to sell any of my art, would that raise or lower its value?
A: Refusing to sell your art has absolutely no relationship to what it may or may not be worth. Art values are based on how much buyers are willing to pay sellers. The only way you can find out what your art is worth is to price it, offer it for sale, and see what happens.

Q: Should my prices be different at galleries than they are when buying directly from me?
A: No. Offering the same work of art at different prices depending on where it's for sale or who's selling it will only compromise your career. A moving-target price structure will not instill any sense of confidence in anyone thinking about buying or showing your art. If you show at galleries and sell direct, you'll have to discuss prices with all concerned in order to come up with consistent pricing that everyone can agree on.

Q: I want to keep all of my originals and only sell limited edition giclee prints of them. How should I price the prints?
A: The overwhelming majority of people who buy art would rather own originals than reproduction prints of originals. In other words, the overwhelming majority of people who buy art will not be interested in an artist who refuses to sell originals and will only sell prints. So based on that fact, you decide what to do. As stated above, price your prints at 2 to 4 times cost.

Q: How should I price prints of my originals? The originals take a long time to create.
A: The price of a print has nothing to do with how long an original takes to create. Once again, price them at 2 to 4 times cost for starters and see what happens. If an edition sells out in a relatively short period of time, you can think about raising your prices.

Q: How do materials factor into pricing? What if I use expensive materials like 23k gold leafing?
A: Materials definitely factor into pricing. Make sure that after all's said and done, you're making enough of a profit to support yourself as an artist. If costs of materials make your art too expensive for most people to afford, you might have to figure out how to reduce costs in that regard. Your goal is to sell art, and you want to do everything in your power to facilitate that outcome.

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Read Part I of this series here: Questions and Answers for Artists About How to Price Their Art

For more detailed information, tips, pointers and recommendations on how to price your art, read Everything Any Artist Needs to Know About How to Price Their Art.

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Want to make sure your prices make sense before going public? I price art for artists all the time. For a mere $75, I'll review of your art and background information, consult with you for a half-hour by phone or Skype or WhatsApp, make price recommendations for both current and future work, and tell you how to explain your prices to interested buyers who want to know more. You are welcome to call 415.931.7875 or email alan@artbusiness.com either to make an appointment or with any other questions you have about my services.

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(art by Sarah Williams)

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