Myths and Misconceptions of the Art World | Myth #4 – Lower Art Prices = More Sales

I am the first to admit that art pricing is one of the greatest mysteries of the art business. Valuing art is more akin to alchemy than it is to hard science. Artists who are new to the art market will often ask me how much their art is worth. I can only shrug my shoulders and say “it depends.”

The value of art is largely arbitrary. There are no objective elements that would allow a gallery owner or an artist to develop a universally optimal price for a particular piece of artwork. There are many variables that come into play with pricing. Ultimately, the right value for a piece of artwork is a price at which the artwork will sell quickly and provide a profit to the artist and art gallery.

Many artists who are in the early stages of selling their work operate under the misconception that selling artwork is analogous to selling other products. In most businesses, offering buyers a lower price provides a competitive advantage and increases sales.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard artists say “People tell me my prices are too low, but I’m afraid to raise them because it will scare away buyers.” These artists are often not selling much of their work even at the low prices, and so they are afraid that if they increase their prices they will experience even fewer sales.

The Art Market is Different from Other Markets

In classic economic theory this thinking would make sense – increasing the price would decrease the demand for the art, and thus slow down the rate of sales. Logic tells us that a lower price will make the art accessible to a wider range of buyers, and that those buyers will view your pricing in comparison to other artists. If your price is lower than the competition, the thinking goes, consumers will buy your work.

In my experience, this kind of logic simply doesn’t apply to the art market. A lower price would increase demand if you were selling a widget that was identical to your competitors’ widgets, but you aren’t. You are creating artwork that is unique and different from what any other artist is creating.

You are also selling in a market where a low price isn’t the primary motivating factor for a purchase. The purchase of artwork is completely discretionary. In order to afford art, a buyer has to have some disposable income available to purchase what most would consider a luxury item. Luxury buyers typically don’t want to feel that they are buying the cheapest option available. This explains why people will buy a Rolls Royce, when a Hyundai would get them to their destination, and it also explains why art buyers will spend many thousands of dollars on a piece of artwork.

Low Prices Can Hamper Your Sales

Ironically, in the art world, a lower price
can actually hamper your sales!  Most
art buyers judge the quality of artwork by its price, not it’s price by the
quality. It’s too difficult to look at a work of art and decide what it should
be worth. If you put an irrationally low price on a piece of artwork, you are
signalling to the buyer that there must be something wrong with it.

Of course, you might ask “low price compared to what?” That is the perfect question to ask. Buyers will judge your price relative to the other artwork in the context in which they are viewing it. For this reason, I suggest that artists price their work in the midrange of the markets in which they show, or in which they want to show.

Your work should neither be the highest or lowest price work in any given market where you are trying to sell. Because art markets can vary dramatically, this means that once you set your pricing, it may preclude you from showing your work in some art markets or venues. For example, many artists who are showing through galleries in well-established art markets can no longer show their work in small art festivals, or in their hometown if they live in an area that doesn’t have a strong market.

This also means that you shouldn’t randomly inflate your pricing to an extreme level after reading this post. I can imagine you grabbing a marker to add zeros to your price tags while saying “The author of this blogpost promises me my sales will increase if I raise my prices!” While low prices can impede sales, high prices that are out of line with the market can do the same.

If you are struggling with pricing, I would suggest that the best approach is to do some market research in the geographic areas where you feel you would have the best possibility of selling your work. Typically these would be areas that would attract buyers who are interested in your subject matter and where there are a good number of art galleries or art shows/festivals. Research how other artists in that market are pricing their work, and then price your work accordingly – in the midrange.

An Example | We Raised Prices and Sales Increased!

In closing, allow me to illustrate the topsy-turvy nature of pricing in the art market with an example from my gallery. Several years ago we began representing a new artist. It often takes a while for sales to kick into gear with a new artist, but this particular artist’s work began selling right away. In fact, within a couple of weeks, we completely sold out of the initial shipment of art that the artist had sent.

The second shipment of work likewise sold very quickly. It was very gratifying for both us and the artist to see such a strong response from our collectors, but it also posed a challenge. We couldn’t keep his artwork in the gallery for more than a few weeks, which meant that no matter how hard the artist was working, most of our collectors never had the chance to see it, let alone buy a piece. (I know, this is a “problem” we would all like to have!)

It seemed clear that a price increase was necessary. The artist was reluctant to raise prices for fear that we would mess up the mojo that was driving sales, and that sales would surely grind to a halt. I persisted, and eventually we agreed to bump prices up by about ten percent.

Did sales slow down by the same ten percent? Not at all; in fact the tempo of sales increased! Over the course of the last 18 months, we’ve raised prices by about 50% from where they were initially. We still can’t keep the work in the gallery.

This example is certainly a bit of an outlier, but every artist should be working to find venues where the demand outpaces the ability to create. When you find that market, don’t be afraid to raise your prices.

Do You Struggle With Pricing?

Have you found it difficult to set pricing on your artwork? Do you agree that a low price doesn’t necessarily drive increased sales? Do people tell you your pricing is too low?

Share your experiences with pricing in the comments below.

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StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

23 Comments

  1. There are markets within the local market itself. This can vary from the type of art sold, to the price range within the market. Certain individuals only have so much they can spend, and there are others who feel that if something is too low, then it is not worth anything. To give you an idea…A fellow galleriest friend of mine had a good number of sculptures by a particular artist which were priced around $2,000. These were sort of unusual pieces and had a funky, whimsical look about them. They sat there for months with simply no sales. He decided to hike the prices up to $5,000. and every one of them sold very quickly. His logic was that if they did not sell in either price range, than he was going to discontinue them, so why not see if the price hike would instill customer confidence. These were rather funky looking sculptures so the price hike gave the consumer the confidence that this particular work was worth the asking price. This is however a very risky move. Should they not have sold, then the artist would not have been able to lower the prices back down without it being noticed. Raising the prices also requires that the artist raise the prices on his or her works in other geographic locals as well to protect the artist’s and the gallery’s reputation. Do your research when setting your prices. Other factors go into setting prices, such as the demand for a particular artist’s work, their resume, and their reputation within the market. You can’t simply say to yourself: “Well…This artist over here is selling his or her work for “X” amount, and mine are just as good, so I will set my prices equal to his.” It takes time. Look at comparable works, however also find out as much information of your competition’s history. Also do not take it personally should your work not be received well in one gallery. I may simply be that it is not the gallery setting, or the locale for your work. You have to constantly be looking and studying the market.

  2. Hi Jason,

    I direct sell primarily to the tourist and local market, and find the opposite to be true. I wasn’t selling much at higher prices, but when I lowered my prices my sales increased significantly. I find producing high quality art and lower prices allows more people the ability to buy, hence increased sales for me.

  3. This is a brilliant post and something many artists need to take to heart.

    I live in a country, retirement and tourist area and the market is flooded with craft shows and artists on pensions who price their work to cover costs, or even less to clear out their under-bed storage. I am a classically trained artist that returned to my roots after a career in business, so initially I fell into the standard marketing traps that Jason has mentioned. I priced my work low to develop a market. Back then my techniques were rusty and I was painting upwards of 250 small works a year to hone my skills. I sold work, but nowhere near as fast as I thought it should sell at those prices. I was in the mass market with hundreds of other art crafters in the area and I was exhausted.

    Over the years I have worked tirelessly on niche marketing and understanding the luxury market. There is a mass of opinion out there to wade through, but Jasons is the most accurate I’ve found. I can add two things, that in order to sell your work you must find a way to create VALUE, regardless of price. Size matters: It takes as much time, if not more, to create a miniature as it does a large painting, but a buyer is more willing to pay that price for an impressive size. BE UNIQUE; most selling artists are talented, but if two similar paintings are on offer, the buyer will go for the more unique style, technique or color combination even if it is more expensive.

    Lastly, make sure you value your own uniqueness, don’t be afraid to ask a price that makes a statement, gives your work stature and you a decent income. For some genre such as landscape or portrait you must be technically talented, but for most modern styles of art, knowledge comes secondary to things like wow factor, curiosity and even quality materials. It has taken me 50 years to figure this all out, I hope you benefit from my hard won learning.

      1. Use of quality materials and good workmanship is important for sure, and justifies charging a fair price, even more so with 3-D pieces. I like to know that my pieces are going to last for hopefully long after I am dead, and I believe it sends positive unspoken messages to prospective buyers such as:

        “I am proud of what I create and it deserves quality presentation”
        “I have a sufficient budget to spend on buying the good materials, because people liked my art and bought it”

        Often people know if something is quality, even if they don’t know what exactly why. Kind of like looking at what someone’s back yard looks like compared to what you see from the road, or what their teeth look like. Or, I had a friend who make costumes, and she always looks at how the insides of the pockets are stitched.

        1. I agree wholeheartedly with you, Jason, as well as with the two comments just above. For me, I figured out a base price per square inch and go from there. I add $$ if the piece has been juried into a major show, etc. I’ve always had a slightly apologetic feeling about the higher priced ones—objectively, ridiculous; I know how long it’s taken me, that they are “worth” it, all that, but the diffidence is still there. How do I get over that, Jason?

    1. I agree. I would add one point. I think it is very important to be producing high quality work before an artist seriously enters the marketplace. Flooding the market with student level work at low prices may bring in some funds but it will most likely come back to haunt you. Better to be creating a body of work that you are proud of and then begin marketing that work asking a decent price from the start.

      Kathleen

  4. Hi Jason,
    For my work, sculptural jewelry, it has been the market that it’s in that determines the price and quantity of sales. A pair of earrings that wouldn’t sell for $35 at a hometown crafts fair on the square sold for $240 at a Sedona gallery. They too kept raising my prices until it seemed to reach the perfect point.

    Now that I’m concentrating on developing my painting I’m starting all over to find that perfect price point for the market. I haven’t taken them to galleries or an art fair yet, but hoping to be at the Denver Art Fair in May. I’ll have various price points and sizes and see what happens. I’ll research the artists being represented and make my determinations from there. Does that sound reasonable to you?

    Thanks for sharing the ‘good stuff’!
    Valerie

  5. It is important to consider that there are markets within markets. This may vary from the type of art, to the price range. One person (for example) may be more limited in what they may be able to afford. To give you an example…A gallerist friend of mine represents a sculptor who creates sculptures which are of a whimsical and funky nature. These were priced at $2,000. each. He had quite a few of these which simply were not selling. He made the conscious decision along with the artist, to either return the works, or increase the price substantially to $5,000. He increased the price, and each one sold. For some reason it instilled in the public that these were worth the asking price, and that the nature of these works was legitimate. This was a risky move, in that if they had not sold, it would be extremely difficult for the artist to lower the price back down without the public noticing. It is also important to bear in mind that when you increase the price in one geographical market, the artist needs to increase his or her prices in other markets to match these. As a gallery owner I advice you to work with the gallery owner in finding a realistic price. Do your homework and look at comparable works in the area. Keep in mind that other factors go into pricing. Don’t look at another artist’s work and simply say to yourself: “He or she is selling his or her work for “X” amount, and mine is just as good, so I will price my work according to his.” Look at their resume, how long they have been selling, their demand, etc. You should always bee looking and evaluating your pricing. The gallery is naturally in business to make money, and should naturally want the best price possible, however it is a skillful process to find that price which is realistic and fair, and which will move your work into collector’s homes.

    1. Such a great response, Ray. I couldn’t agree more about doing your research and working with the gallery owner in setting a price. Of course, when you work with multiple galleries, you must make sure all the prices are consistent, so often this takes some renegotiating when one gallery owner wants to change a price and another doesn’t. I do the marketing and promotion for my husband’s art and spend a great deal of time following artists who do similar work to his, paying attention to the awards they have won, the galleries they are in, the exhibitions they’ve done, and finally after all that is considered, where their prices are relative to ours. It’s a daily challenge to try to price things correctly, and Jason is absolutely right in saying that it “depends”.

  6. I am a digital artist, relatively new at the medium and trying to sell art. I struggle with the digital vs. traditional art argument internally which is so counterproductive but…
    I actually found a price I was comfortable with for a single size of art. I based this off an established digital artist payment format.
    For my shows I print up only 18 x 24 framed prints and charge $80. I haven’t been able to figure out a price for other sizes. My only thought on this is to set a grand total for each design. I also set up a rule to limit reproductions to 15. If I sold all the 18×24 framed prints that would be $1200 for all 15. This doesn’t take into account the possibility that I will sell smaller sizes, pillows or mugs…. etc. Cheaper reproductions are included in the limited production so that total balance will likely be smaller. Any advice on how to figure out a better way?

  7. The most helpful article and advice with examples that I have ever read about pricing your art. You answered all of my questions plus gave me encouragement to step into a gallery and meet with the gallery owner.

  8. This post is especially timely and useful, and so are the comments.

    I have definitely had this mindset of “The things that I sell are smaller, lower-priced works, so I need to offer more of those.” My work mainly sells to other artists and new collectors. The larger works I offer (the largest being about 30″ x 30″ right now), I can’t seem to move, and those range in price from $1200 to $3000 (with the $3000 work being much more intricate than the other similarly-scaled, lower-priced pieces). Many people have commented on the larger works, to the effect of, “Oh if only I could afford that…”

    It’s tricky for sure. I actually envision these larger works as being at home in corporate settings (though maybe not, due to my use of pink and the works possibly coming across as more feminine), but I’m not sure how to get them in front of those eyes, or even the eyes of private collectors willing to spend what I’m asking. I had one art consultant make an attempt on my behalf- she had no takers, though quite frankly, I wasn’t sure that my work fit with her usual range of offerings to begin with.

    All this to say: thank you for writing about this. It is definitely something I am (and I’m sure others are) grappling with.

    1. Nikki,
      I just peeked on your website and love your work and your colors! I agree with you that your subject matter and style would be fabulous in a corporate setting but I also agree with you that your heavy use of pink narrows down your niche audience to a more feminine one. A couple of ideas with regards to the corporate audience:
      1. Market your current work / current color palette to a feminine corporate audience such as clothing boutiques, women centers, etc.
      2. Create another body of work in another color palette without the pink, or at least with the pink toned down, to broaden your niche audience.

      1. Beverly, thanks so much for taking the time to look and to offer some concrete suggestions. Your ideas make perfect sense, and I will definitely add them to my list of works-to-be-made. Currently, I’m working on building my inventory of Garden works, so we’ll see where that takes me. Thank you for making me feel like part of the community here 🙂

  9. I understand the need for comparatives when pricing… but how does one evaluate one’s art when it is unlike anything anyone else is doing and there really are no comparatives?

    I am a portrait sculptor. My work is high relief and produced in cold-cast bronze. It is not a bust, and is designed to hang directly on the wall. I have made frames and stands for it as well. Everyone admires the work enthusiastically, and then walks away. I understand the subject of the piece is what moves collectors, and mine are typically of famous individuals (eg Winston Churchill, Malala Yousefzai, Nikola Tesla, Stan Lee…) although I do have some fun pieces of nobody in particular.

    How do I determine whether my price is right? I am represented by several galleries but the work is not moving… although when I do make a sale, price is never an issue.

    1. This is crazy, but I just had drinks with a sculptor in my area, (Baltimore, MD) Nicole Fall, whose work in bronze is very different from any other I have seen as well. You might want to check out her website and contact her about how she sets her prices. I would imagine that it’s been a challenge for her as well, but she might have some value insights having been an art educator for years as well as an artist herself. I’d love to know if you do reach out to her and how it turns out. My personal email is kirstenheld71@gmail.com.

  10. I’m struggling with that issue right now. I have folks tell me my prices are too low but it seems like folks who really love my work do a double take when they see my prices. I don’t believe a lot of folks know what goes into producing a piece of artwork. It’s also years of training and practice. And then there are folks who think they should be able to ask you to help with doing “freebies.” They get mad when you want to charge them. I get tired of apologizing for my prices. I’ve worked a hard to learn my craft and I should be able to make a living at it. Yet I’m not sure what that looks like!

  11. Hi Jason, very good article. I am a new artist in the field. I had my first solo show in September at a local gallery and when the show was over, some of my pieces were placed in a different gallery in a bigger city. I was curious about this one sentence in your article, ” Ultimately, the right value for a piece of artwork is a price at which the artwork will sell quickly and provide a profit to the artist and art gallery.” I wonder as a gallery owner, what are your thoughts on how “quick” is “quickly”?…a few weeks, a month, a couple months? How long should a piece of art sit in a gallery/shop waiting to be sold, before changes in price, location, etc. should take place?

  12. Jason,
    Great topic. Pricing is always hard to do. I too, live in a Retirement area. Art festivals and sidewalk Art shows here are misleading. This area is flooded with low priced Art of all kinds from paintings, sculpture, jewelry, wearable art, prints. mugs and cards. Retiree Artists are often willing to sell their work at very low prices just to sell. This makes it difficult for professional Artists to compete. In my experience, retirees aren’t inclined to buy appropriately priced Art because they’re generally on a fixed income.
    Marketing in larger cities where people have disposable income is the answer. Pricing is easier to do when clients are willing to pay for quality, professional work.

  13. I have been creating house portraits in the UK for twenty five years and pricing has always been a challenge. Usually I deal with clients direct when I first started I sold commissions for £75 a piece and were told they were to cheap. It was suggested I should double the price. With the next client that said yes I’m interested i didn’t have the courage so I charged £120 and he asked for two pictures. When I delivered them I asked him a question – I am new to the business and what sort of figure had you budgeted for? He told me that he would have happily paid up to £200 each.

    A few months later I was introduced to a chairman of a bank and was commissioned to create the largest artwork to date and charged him £300 for it and asked him the same question and he replied up to £1,000.

    For many years I charged between £200 to £600 a piece and did well up until 2008 and then sales collapsed. I went back to being a bus driver and did sold work occasionally. After 2014 I held my debut exhibition and started selling work a bit more regularly and even had a few bus drivers give me commissions for around £1000 piece.

    But I found it hard to generally get regularly commissions. Then we moved to the Lake District an area rich in tourists and retired people and we opened a small studio gallery. We invited our local MP to open the gallery unfortunately he wasn’t able to due to commitments. Just before christmas last year he visited the gallery and commissioned a portrait of his mother’s home and issued a press release. He also mentioned that he thought the price was low.

    I found that the average price for commissions was around £300 locally. We had some visitors from London who brought several paintings at £500 a piece but the locals tell me they are two expensive.

    A couple of months ago I was asking my mentor what to do about pricing and she pointed out that you could buy a handbag from a charity shop for a couple of pounds or you could buy a Louis Vuitton handbag for a couple of thousands, they both do the same but one has a perceived value as a luxury status symbol. Art is a luxury item treat it the same way.

    After being invited to share my experiences on local radio I was contacted by a client who visited the gallery and told me he liked my artwork but it was to small. Could I create a statement piece for him. Based on what my mentor explained to me when he asked the price for the artwork my heart dropped and weakly suggested £2,500 without a frame. He happily wrote out the cheque with a big smile on his face and is now looking at another two or three pictures that are even larger and definitely more expensive.

    Since then I found a couple more clients and they are happy to pay twice as much as the previous client. There are people out their that want to pay good money for perceived art.

    How much courage do you have?

    1. It definitely takes courage to raise your prices. I do a lot of custom pet portraits, and I know that I need to charge a lot more. I was painting furiously to get them done for Christmas, and I was exhausted. Doing some research right now, and I figure it’s a good time to change my price structure for the New Year and new decade. It’s makes me nervous, but here goes.

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