Be Smart About Art

Do you argue yourself out of increasing the price of art?

written by: Susan Mumford July 26, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 3590 views

Do you argue yourself out of increasing the price of art?

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I frequently speak with artists and gallerists who know it’s time to increase prices, but are worried about making the change. Here are some real-life stories with take-away points to help you objectively think about the matter.

A London-based printmaker was successfully selling limited edition prints on his website. Pieces were in limited editions of 100, sized 8 x 10 inches, signed and numbered. Selling online was working well for him, but he wasn’t making much profit. Why? They were selling for the grand sum of… £20 each.

He was determined to not increase prices, as he was convinced that people would stop buying, so I asked him a couple of simple questions:

If you were shopping on the internet and found a t-shirt you liked for £20, would you buy it?” His answer was an immediate, “yes”.

Then I asked: “If you found a slightly different t-shirt that you like even more for £25, would you still buy it?” Once more, the answer was a quick, “yes”.

Thinking about the prices of things that he would buy himself allowed him to consider his own situation in an objective manner. He raised his prices to £25 without any hesitation. This doesn’t seem to be a big change, but in the long run, an edition of 100 prints at the new price stood to make an additional £500 profit. Relatively speaking, this would make a noticeable difference in profitability.

Here’s another example: A watercolourist doubled her asking prices at an open studio event. Initially listed at £150 each, she increased them to £300. Though quietly worried about the increase, she had recognised that she was skillful and wasn’t being taken seriously, and wanted to take action.

The result was astonishing: she went from having zero sales to selling a handful of pieces. Why? People started to take her seriously as a professional artist! It was a clear demonstration of the relationship between financial and perceived value. This ‘testing’ phase of new prices resulted in making a healthy profit on art sales, for the first time ever. Better yet, her confidence had been boosted which resulted in starting to push her career forward in a number of ways.

So how do you know when to review prices? Sometimes it’s obvious. For instance, if pieces are selling like hotcakes they’re likely under-priced. People commenting on how cheap works are is another good indicator, as is almost making a number of sales that never quite seem to get there.

My recommendation for any seller of art, be it an artist, gallerist, consultant or advisor, is to conduct an annual price review. Set this to take place at a time that makes sense in your calendar, as you’ll need to determine changes, get confirmation from professional partners, and implement the changes in your stocklist, website, online marketplaces, etc.

Don’t let your internal dialogue prevent you from taking profitable steps forward. 

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