Negotiating and Discounting to Sell Your Art

The title of this post might make you shudder. Many artists bristle at the concept that an artist or gallery might discount the retail price of a piece of art in order to make a sale. I’ve written on this subject before, and the discussion always generates passionate discussion. I recently had a lively discussion with an artist on the subject which got me thinking about the topic again. This artist made some great arguments against discounting and put me through the paces. In the end of the discussion, I’m not sure that either of us was swayed fully to the other’s side, but we both had something to think about.

While I don’t have a recording of the discussion, I would like to try and reproduce some of it here as best I recollect it. Just know that I’m paraphrasing and probably even dramatizing and fictionalizing some of the discussion (of course my answers are going to be better after I’ve had time to think more about it and write them down). I’ve also added some questions that I’ve heard from other artists. To be fair to my interlocutor, I encourage you to help his arguments in the comments below.

 

Artist: Discounting or negotiation of any kind devalues my artwork. I’ve set a fair price for the work – a price that is competitive and reasonable. If I discount, I’m undercutting the value of my artwork.

Many buyers, especially seasoned collectors, come to the market with an expectation that there is room to negotiate

Me: I understand what you’re saying and I agree that discounting undermines the stated retail value of all artwork. If a potential buyer believes that there is room to negotiate, the retail price has been undermined. The problem is that Pandora’s box has already been opened when it comes to discounts. Many buyers, especially seasoned collectors, come to the market with an expectation that there is room to negotiate. The “devaluation” has already occurred in a sense, and the broad art market has already adjusted for it by padding the price to allow room for negotiation.

Artist: So it’s all based on a falsehood. If we all just stopped offering discounts and brought our prices down a bit, we wouldn’t have to negotiate any more.

Me: I’m not sure that’s actually the case. It’s human nature to want to get the best deal possible. Negotiation goes back, I’m sure, to the very dawn of commerce. Even if we lowered our prices, I’m confident the next buyer would still ask for a better price. More importantly, I believe that removing negotiation from the market would actually decrease sales across the art market. Buyers don’t negotiate because they need to, they negotiate because they enjoy the process and it makes them feel they’re special, and they’ve worked to get a good deal.

The other problem with what your saying is that you would have to get every artist and gallery to agree to stop negotiating. As soon as one seller makes a deal with a buyer, they have a competitive advantage. From a practical standpoint, discounting isn’t going anywhere.

Artist: But I don’t negotiate the price I pay for groceries, why should I discount my art?

Me: Actually, we get “discounts” on groceries, and everything else we buy all the time. I’ll grant you that we aren’t haggling over the price we pay for fruit like buyers used to in the open street markets, but food and clothing retailers base almost all of their marketing efforts around sales. Their sales are a form of negotiation where they’ve gone ahead and taken the discount upfront. Look what happened to JC Penny when they tried to stop offering sale prices and go to an “everyday low price” strategy – it was disastrous for their business.

Artist: I feel like people are trying to take advantage of my financial situation by insisting on a discount. Art buyers have plenty of money, they don’t need to drive down my price when I need the sale to eat.

Me: I would encourage you not to take it personally any more than you take a rainstorm personally. As I said before, it’s the market that encourages negotiation. I’ve negotiated thousands of deals over the 20 years that I’ve been in the business and I’ve never felt the buyer was trying to do me or my business injury by negotiating. Remember, the worst that can happen is that you aren’t able to come to terms with the buyer and the sale doesn’t happen – exactly the same result if there hadn’t been any negotiation in the first place.

Artist: I think customers will buy even if I don’t give them a discount. If they don’t buy the piece, I’ll sell it to someone else.

Me: I believe you’re losing business and hampering your success. You may be right that some customers will buy a piece even if you don’t agree to negotiate – but you’re going to see other clients walk out the door. I had a buyer who told me a competitor of mine refused to negotiate with him. Not only did he walk , he said he would never go back to the gallery. I sold him two major pieces that day and have since sold him several more. Oh, and the gallery that refused to negotiate? Out of business.

Obviously this is anecdotal and I’m sure you can point to cases where you didn’t negotiate and made a sale. But the question is, is it worth losing sales, even if it’s only a few, by ardently refusing to negotiate? You argue that you will sell the piece to someone else, but you’ve still lost a sale – had you negotiated and sold the piece to the first client, the second client may have bought another piece and you would have two sales instead of one.

Artist: I have a friend whose work is in such demand that she can’t keep up with sales and she doesn’t have to negotiate at all.

Me: The art market is driven by supply and demand just like any other market. As supply decreases and demand increases, the value of the product increases. It sounds like your friend has increased the value of her work to eat up any slack between any possible discount and the retail price she’s asking. The fact that she’s not able to keep up with sales, however, doesn’t indicate she doesn’t have to deal with negotiation anymore, but rather that her work is now under-priced.

Of course, that’s her decision to make – she may feel that she’s willing to give up revenue to no longer need to negotiate. Make no mistake though, she is missing out on potential income, just as surely as you are if you refuse to negotiate.

Artist: If I discount my work, I’m betraying past buyers who have paid full price for my work.

Me: I disagree. Let’s face it, the value of any work of art is mostly arbitrary. A client is willing to buy a piece of artwork because she feels it is worth whatever she is paying. If she paid full price, it’s because she felt it was worth it. Some buyers feel uncomfortable negotiating and are willing to pay full retail to avoid the necessity of “haggling”. Paying full price may also make them feel more successful (“I could negotiate if I wanted to, but I’m successful enough that I don’t have to”). In other words, she getting something of value to her in return for not negotiating.

HandshakeA caveat though: there are limits to what constitutes a reasonable discount. If you are giving some clients 50% discounts, you may very well alienate past buyers.

Artist: I’m not currently represented by a gallery, but wouldn’t I undercut them if I sell my work at any discount?

Me: You certainly want to nurture your gallery relationships. Undercutting the gallery will completely undermine trust. First, if a client saw your work in a gallery first, you should refer that client back to the gallery for any sales. Second, you can still negotiate with your direct buyers as long as you give your galleries the same latitude to negotiate that you give yourself.

Negotiation is a skill, and once you master it, you will see your sales increase substantially

Artist: I don’t care what you say, I hate negotiating!

Me: That may just be because you’ve never learned how much fun it can be, and how to do it properly. Negotiation is a skill, and once you master it, you will see your sales increase substantially. When you successfully negotiate a sale, everyone wins.

 

Our discussion went on to other topics from here. If you are a reluctant negotiator, however, I hope I’ve given you something to think about.

I would be remiss if I convinced you to think more favorably about negotiation and then didn’t give you some guidelines for better negotiation. I devote an entire chapter of my book How to Sell Art to negotiating. Below is an excerpt I think you will find helpful the next time you find yourself in a negotiation with a potential buyer.

 

When Pricing Your Artwork, Build in Room to Negotiate

With the knowledge that negotiation is likely to occur, it makes sound sense to account for it when setting prices. In my first book, “Starving” to Successful, I devote an entire chapter to the mechanics of determining the pricing of one’s work. While it is not my purpose to cover the details for price setting here, I do encourage the artist and the gallerist to build in some room to negotiate when pricing art. The breadth of each negotiation will vary, but if one allows a 20% margin for negotiation, she will have sufficient flexibility for virtually every scenario.

An artist selling her work directly to collectors at shows and through her studio, while also showing in galleries, needs to make sure she is pricing her work consistently. Her galleries need to have the same latitude to negotiate with customers that she adopts when making direct sales. The 20% margin must therefore be the standard application across the board.

Get the Client to Make an Offer

When a client approaches me inquiring whether the price of a particular piece is negotiable, I reply that the artist does give me a little bit of room to move if it will help a client who loves the piece to acquire it. I then state the retail price on the piece, and ask what the client has in mind. It is my strong preference to have the client put a number on the table before I start fishing for an alternate price.

What if the customer makes a ridiculously low offer? I don’t let it phase me, and I take no offense. After all, the initial offer is not the end of the negotiation process; it is just the beginning.

Not every client will be willing to put a specific offer on the table – “I just want your very best price,” is a common declaration. I don’t push hard to get a number, but if I can get the customer to make an offer, I have found it makes the rest of the negotiation progress more smoothly.

I have also discovered that the typical collector will not low-ball me with a ludicrous offer. By requesting that he make an offer, I am putting him ever so gently on the spot. While he wants a great bargain on the art, he neither wants to embarrass himself, nor to offend me. Occasionally, the first offer from the customer entails the need for a smaller discount than I would have proffered.

Confirm the Offer and Commit the Customer

As soon as the client has given me a number, I echo the offer. Then I get a firm commitment that if I find a way to make the offer work, the transaction will be completed today.

“You are offering $4,500 – if I can make that number work, will you purchase the sculpture today?”

Requiring the client to commit in the here-and-now eliminates the opportunity to introduce other obstacles that might compromise the purchase. I don’t want to begin intense negotiations if he still needs to measure a space, or to decide if he likes the sculpture enough to secure it – I will negotiate only if he is ready to purchase at the mutually acceptable price.

Write Up a Counter-Offer

Now that the client has committed to purchase the piece, I ask for a moment. I make my way back to my desk, where I enter a state of intense calculation. I am going to admit it: I put on a bit of a show here. Even though I usually know what my counter-offer is going to be as soon as the client has made her offer, I never (NEVER!) accept nor counter an offer straightway.

I sit at my desk and calculate. I pull up my inventory database and confirm the retail price. I pull out a notepad and jot down figures. I run the numbers on my calculator. I calculate, I contemplate, all the while scratching numbers on my notepad (more about what I write on the pad to come). I furrow my brow and mutter under my breath.

Why all the fuss? There is a method in my madness: I want the client to know I am working hard for him – and I am.

At the conclusion of all the calculation and contemplation, I finally reach the moment of triumph – the moment wherein I have figured out how to make my clients the proud owners of a new work of art, at an incredible value.

During this three-minute exercise in “crunching the numbers”, my anxious patrons have either been making their way around the gallery, or waiting before the piece of art for my answer. They can’t help but make furtive glances in my direction, and take notice of the intensity in my application. There are moments when they think I will surely come back with bad news, perhaps even chase them out of the gallery for making such a preposterous offer.

Now, at the triumphal moment, an exultant smile has taken over my face. It becomes clear that everything is going to be okay. I rise from my chair, and stride briskly to where they stand to deliver the happy news.

On my notepad, I have written the following:

$5,000.00 Retail                                                                                      $4700 All-inclusive

        +$180.00 Delivery/Shipping

$5,180.00

          +$82.50 Sales Tax

$5,262.50 Total

I have purposefully made the left column to appear complex and expensive, in sharp contrast to the beautiful simplicity of the right column. I use my notepad to illustrate the counter-offer.

“I think I have come up with something that will work for you,” I say. “Let me show you what I was able to do.”

When I extend the pad for their examination, I initially cover my counter-offer with my right thumb. I proceed to explain, step-by-step, the retail price and any additional charges. I conclude by underlining the retail price.

“The retail on this piece is $5,000. I estimate the crating and delivery would be about $180, which brings us to $5,180. Because we’re shipping out of state, there is no state sales tax; however, there is an $82.50 charge to satisfy the city tax. That brings the total to five thousand, two hundred sixty-two dollars, and fifty cents.”

I want that last number to be long, complex, and expensive. I give the full version instead of shortening it to fifty-two, sixty-two, and fifty cents ($5,262.50).

“It is my pleasure to offer the piece to you at $4,700 (and I say it forty-seven hundred, not four thousand, seven hundred) all-inclusive. I will cover the tax and the delivery.”

I skip a couple of beats while they look at the pad, and then I move to close.

“May I write that up for you?”

Many times, the couple in this position sees and acknowledges everything that I am doing for them, nods, and accepts the deal at $4,700. We move to the desk to write up the sale (see Chapter 7 | Go for the Close).

There are, however, many instances when the clients look at the counter offer, and then make a counter-counter offer. In this example, it might be $4,500.

“$4,500?” I restate. “And you would have me include the shipping and tax?”

Upon confirmation from the clients that I understand their counter offer correctly, I pause for another moment, and then extend my hand to shake theirs and say, “It would be my pleasure. Congratulations – the piece is yours.”

Notice that I did not say anything about the couple’s original offer during the negotiation. The initial offer may have been $4,500, but remember, I was using that offer to ascertain where the client stood, and to make sure I did not offer a  deeper discount than was sought or expected. The original offer may have had some impact on the size of the discount, but had it been absurdly low, it would in no way have dictated my response.

Never Apologize When Presenting the Counter-Offer

I remember very early in my sales career hearing a colleague return to a customer who had made an offer and say something to the effect:

“I’m sorry, but it looks like the best I can do is . . .”

Think about this response for a minute. What he was saying to his customer translated as: “Prepare yourself to be disappointed and to not buy.” Even then, with very little training or experience, I knew that this was not the message I wanted to convey in my own transactions.

I understand the inclination to say something like what I overheard, especially in the situation where my number differs radically from the offer. My approach, though, is to simply pretend the low offer does not exist – it was never made. I return to the customer, proud to share the great value I have secured for them.

“I think I’ve come up with something that is going to work for you. Let me show you what I have done.”

Now, instead of priming the customer for disappointment, I have secured his readiness to hear the great news I have in hand. I show him my notepad, covering my counter-offer with my thumb. I  emphasize the expensive retail price first, and then finish on a high note when I uncover the magic number in the right column.

Make Someone Else the Bad Guy

This advice won’t work for the artist. After all, when it comes to her work, the buck stops with her. For gallerists (or artists’ spouses), moving the decision making process away from oneself can be an excellent way to conduct a negotiation.

“I need to make a quick phone call and check with the artist – can you give me just a moment?”

I love saying this to the customer. As soon as I say the words, two things happen. First, I make the buyer an ally in the negotiation process. (Guess who just became the bad guy?) Second, he suddenly realizes he is transacting business not only with the gallery owner, but is also negotiating with the artist herself. This knowledge can maximize the client’s offer.

If You Cannot Agree, Get Out Gracefully

In spite of your best efforts, you will occasionally experience negotiations that hold no possibility for successful resolution or positive outcome. A customer might be unwilling or unable to pay enough to make the transaction profitable for you. When this is the case, maintain your cool, and be gracious in declining his offer. Make the attempt to leave the door open should he have a change of heart upon further reflection.

“Thank you for your offer. Unfortunately I am unable to accept it at this time. My offer of $4,500 remains open to you if you change your mind, so long as the piece is still available.”

Notice I do not offer a reason why I cannot accept the offer (more on that to come), nor do I tell the customer to take a hike. I remain professional, yet make it clear that I have gone as low as I can go. Perhaps the customer will step back to confer with a companion, or to give my offer further consideration, before agreeing to accept the terms. But even if he decides to walk away, he can now do so with the assurance that I have respected him and his offer, and have treated him fairly and squarely.

 

Please Leave a Comment!

How do you feel about negotiating when selling your art? Do you agree/disagree with any of the points made in this post? Please leave a comment below. Please note that we moderate the comments to make sure no spam gets through, so it may take a while for your comment to appear.

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51 Comments

  1. Question: what about new artists and outdoor markets? My artwork ranges anywhere from $80 to $350. If someone approaches me to negotiate on an $80 piece, am I rude to indicate to them that being a new artist, I have little room to negotiate on price at this point?

    1. I know it seems crazy, but sometimes there is more negotiation on low priced work than a high one. My suggestion would be to bump your prices up a bit to allow for the negotiation. If you price a work at $385 and sell it at $350, you’ll be back where you started, but may see an increase in the volume of sales because of your new-found ability to negotiate.

      1. Sounds like a good suggestion…to me. I used to make sales when I did the outdoor art shows in this area, but now only show with the groups I am a member of..and
        no sales thus far..just lots of compliments. Also, the viewers want me to tell them
        how to do the process.. in a quick five minutes or less. I do Silk Paintings and Batik,
        some I make into wall hangings, while most I have framed professionallly. I really
        need to start selling, so my incentive to create more increases.

      2. To me you need two people to sale any thing, “a willing buyer and a willing seller”. We bargain for mostly every thing we buy in life. It’s just the nature of the beast. Art is a little different, because people don’t need it to survive. It’s a want item rather than a necessity. It’s more of a desire based on what you can afford. It’s like buying a luxury car when a small economy will fulfill the same purpose. The luxury car and art is purchased because you can. (it’s a symbol of a buyers’ hard work and success) My rule is that if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to get it, and you as the artist must find a way to sell it without destroying your reputation or integrity. I don’t care how much a thing cost, there is always room to negotiate.

    2. I do a lot of the outdoor markets and I am psyched to negotiate with people who respect my work. I get all types in my booth including, of course, the person who just wants to see how low I am willing to go to get a sale. I happily go down 10% (in fact I typically volunteer 10% off, because I like the person or because they are a kid, or they have a kid or they were a kid blah blah blah. People love discounts) but anything more than that requires multiple purchases or they have to be someone who has purchased something before. I have several themes that sell really well so typically I won’t discount those pieces. When people ask me to go lower I simply explain that due to the length of time they take to create and because they are my best selling work, I don’t discount them because I still have X number of shows to do and no time to make replacements and I know that I can sell them within a couple shows for full price. I then direct them to my bigger pieces (5000 to 10,000 dollar work) and laughingly tell them that I will be more than happy to negotiate on these pieces if they are just looking for a good negotiation experience! I would say I have about an 80% closure rate on those interactions. I get really anxious in negotiations but practice has helped a lot and I have found lots of laughing at myself is really helpful too. We are artists, it can be helpful to play on that. People will ask me for a 17% discount and I will pull out my phone look at them skeptically and say I have no idea how much that is and then make fun of them for knowing math so well. Which buys me time to consider how much attention the piece has gotten, how excited I am about bringing it back home and how much money I have made vs how many shows I still have left to do. I have found it is really helpful during the slow times to mentally inventory my booth and decide which pieces I am willing to lower prices on just to move them. Then I will put a lower price tag on them and wait for someone to offer me a lower price on one that gets a lot of attention and then I can point them to the one I already reduced. Which typically ends with them buying the original one they wanted at a 5 – 10% discount.
      And Jason thanks so much for writing this blog! It helps me to be so much more intentional with my selling!

  2. This post is a first for me, but I feel obliged to tip my hat to both your blog and your book. Purchased the latter after someone directed me to the former. I find both to be interesting and useful resources on the business and marketing component of art, neither of which being strong points for most artists.

  3. This is a favourite discussion between my husband and me. He is on the side of sales, I am against them but let me give you his view and see if you agree. He believes pieces that been in inventory for several years should be discounted. Further, he suggests having a sale price of 10% off on the first piece, 30% on the second, and 50% on the third. That way, you see 3 paintings go out the door (if the client wants the 50% deal). Of course, we would only display those older paintings that are needing a home. Comments?

  4. Excellent article! I’ve known artists like the one you spoke of, and I am happy to entertain offers (once I even reduced the agreed-upon price on inclusion of the buyer’s vintage wheelbarrow in the deal- I love that thing!) We have to think of art as a business and that includes markdowns and, when it comes up, negotiating. I give my galleries permission to negotiate as well, and I don’t undercut their prices.

  5. I have found that offering to negotiate when a client is having difficulty deciding between two, or more, of my works has resulted in selling both. (My works are watercolors in a $465 – $700 range) This happened three times in March. Furthermore, I have closed numerous single sales by the willingness to negotiate. As I tell potential clients, the dollar value of a piece is what the two parties agree on to transfer ownership. This is an advantage of being part of a co-op.

  6. Your discussion is superb, Jason, but I’d like to hear your comments on an aspect that you didn’t cover. Let’s suppose we have an artist who sells through one or more galleries, and also directly, sometimes. Do you recommend a different negotiation strategy for the artist, vs the gallery? I do. The artist, when selling directly, needs to be careful not to undercut the galleries, and is also spending time in the negotiation that is an additional cost of making the sale. On the other hand, the artist making a direct sale can use the personal interaction as a way to “make the buyer feel special”, rather than relying only on price cutting. I can see advantages for an artist to offer less of a discount in a direct sale, than they would allow the gallery to offer. And perhaps to send the buyer to the gallery, if they want a big negotiation on price, since the gallery owner is a professional at selling.

    1. I would argue that the artist should give her artists the same latitude to negotiate that she gives herself. If you give a client a 20% discount, you need to make sure your galleries know that they too can give a 20% discount at their discretion. The problems come if you are giving 30% discounts and only allowing your galleries to give 10%.

  7. Jason,

    I agree with you. I always give my Galleries the ability to negotiate on my behalf. It is far more important to me that my work find a good home than to quibble over a few dollars. If someone likes my work enough to try and find a way to afford it then I am delighted to help them.

    The thing I do HATE however, is walking into a gallery and seeing ‘Sale’ signs and a bunch of ‘sale’ tags with crossed out price/sale price tags ! This to me is very tacky and screams desperation making me want to just leave.

  8. I believe you hurt yourself if your not negotiable. People know that galleries raise the costs and they want to try to get the best deal possible. If you refuse to offer any discount, this might leave the buyer with an unpleasant purchase. I’d rather make them feel as if they got a great deal, so they can come back to buy more and/or tell their friends to buy from me. Maybe if my work was selling at Christie’s I would feel a little different.

  9. I have a different viewpoint due to the fact that my work was originally presented to buyers at wholesale trade shows. I set my price where I want it, the buyer purchases it for their gallery, and thats that. While I do feel its good to allow for a little negotiating room with the gallery owner, this allows me to be happy with my selling price as well as the buyer to ultimately set their selling price by whatever percentage of mark-up they choose.
    I also feel this gives the gallery more of an incentive to actually get the piece sold. I’m sure most gallery owners would be terrified at the thought of having to actually purchase the piece beforehand, but it would take a very special relationship and agreement for me to show my work in a more traditional arrangement (Which I would generally call “consignment”)
    Keep in mind here, that what I consider “wholesale”, or the price I really want for my work, is generally considered half of the retail, but most galleries will price the piece at 2 1/2 to 3 times my asking price, so they usually feel they are getting the percentage of mark-up they are comfortable with.I find the arrangement much cleaner and easier for both parties to deal with.
    While I would love to go a a tangent about how badly some gallery owners have treated me about pricing, I suppose thats a subject for another discussion, but only wish to add that this arrangement helps to weed out buyers like that.

  10. My customer wanted to buy two 10′ x 3′ paintings. He chose one and then could not decide which of two he wanted. I made him an offer, if he would buy all three paintings he liked I would give him a smaller painting for his office free. He jumped at the offer. I was happy to sell three paintings and make $6,000. instead of $4,000. He was happy because he got three paintings he liked and a free painting for his office. I don’t think that the negotiations had anything to do with devaluing my work. I am sorry but if you are offended by clients who want to negotiate a price please send them to my site I want to sell so that I can paint more. And Jason, I need a gallery take another look at my work http://www.kenchurch.com

  11. I’m unsure on one of the variations used in your example. I know you are trying to cover multiple scenarios, but one of them seems to be: [The buyer offers $4500. You explain that full retail is $5262.50, and counter with $4700, all inclusive. That’s roughly an 11% discount. The buyer says $4500 again. You say “OK, and that’s all inclusive, right?”] That is now a 15% discount. This seems strange to me, and I wonder if I’ve understood this possible scenario correctly. It seems like the buyer didn’t move at all with his counter-counter-offer, after hearing your counter-offer. And when you then offer the “all inclusive” interpretation to his price, you are undercutting his offer by another 4%. Or to look at it a different way, you are increasing the discount that you offer by another 40%. In doing so, it seems to me, you are undermining all of your dramatizing the figuring, calculating, and work to get him the best price that you could. Further reducing the price that he offers is making your calculations seem like something of a sham, and it hurts your credibility in general. That’s why I think I may have misunderstood your scenario.

    1. Thanks for the comment Vere – and you have the basics right. The key in this scenario is that the client’s original offer falls within the range of an allowable discount (as agreed previously between me and the artist) so if my first offer is rebuffed, I still have room to make the sale happen. I can tell you that in the vast majority of cases, when I’m within a few hundred dollars or percentage points of the original offer, the client will accept my offer.

      If not, however, I have no problem moving a little deeper. Ultimately it’s all about getting the sale done at a price that the artist, client and gallery are all happy with.

      As far as credibility, I’ve never had a client complain if their offer is accepted or question my credibility.

      The story would have been different if the client had initially offered $3,500. The process would have been basically the same, and my two offers would have been $4,700 and $4,500 still, and we would have had to see if the client could make the leap to get there.

  12. I have experienced the (Discount) first hand. I sold a painting on line and didn’t read the fine print on the galleries website. They discounted my painting by 15%. The good news is it was in US currency and I live in Canada. So I ended up in great shape with the exchange. I remain grateful for any sale of my work. And Jason I think you definitely have the right attitude when it comes to the business side of running a gallery. You can represent me anytime. 🙂 http://www.gordonsellen.com

  13. I just had this situation come up last weekend. Had a family in my studio who had bought two pieces several years ago and were back to look at more. They were interested in three pieces and when I gave them the total price, they asked if that was the best I could do. Having read Jason’s book, I asked what they had in mind/what was doable for them instead of getting anxious and throwing out a price that might have been lower than their counter offer. It worked. Their counter offer was somewhere in the neighborhood of a 15% discount and they offered to pay in cash (saving me transaction fees). I agreed and everyone was happy. I could have gone back and forth, but was more focused on it being a good experience for everyone involved. And I’ve played hardball in the past and lost sales over just a little bit of money. Some of those paintings are still in my studio. Boo. As they were leaving , they asked me to send them photos of my new work on a regular basis. So I’d say this was a huge win.

  14. I really appreciate how many of your topics are things I have thought about, wanted input on, or have not seen elsewhere!

  15. I am an artist who has also purchased original art from other artists. Very shortly after one particular transaction, the artist who I bought from brought the prices down on their work considerably. I will say that it has deterred me from buying more art. That was my last purchase from an artist since.

  16. The galleries I am in have my permission to negotiate up to the amount of the sales tax if it means closing the sale. This gives them the opportunity to tell the customer “We will cover the sales tax” if they are close to a deal.

  17. My Bottom Line is that I add a 20% Buffer to the price for negotiations I allow the gallery to use as much of that as they see fit . As a reduction in price reduces their profit too. Additionally I allow the Gallery to further reduce the price out of their commission if they would like. It has happened once. I too have found that the very wealthy will sometimes not bat an eye at full price and other times love to haggle.

  18. Never thought about the haggling aspect of gallery art sales. I guess my thought now is “will I be required to do this for art sale on a website”?
    And if so, is this a fair representation of the type of negotiation process?

  19. Artists establish what they think is fair market value of their work. The question is when, why, and should you discount?
    I have discounted paintings for people who sincerely wanted the piece but couldn’t afford it at the time. I’m perfectly happy with that because I want my work to find a home with someone who appreciates it. I have more often done payment plans rather than a discount. Ignoring credit cards, the question is not can your customer afford a $x,000 painting … how many people can write a check for that amount, this month? Could they not better handle several payments over two or three months? Work with your client and ask, “Tell me how I can place this piece in your home? What works for you?” They may be more creative than you are.
    Pricing a work is odd. Who asks a surgeon how long did it take you to take out that appendix? College, med school, residency, and experience … years longer than the 45-minute procedure. Likewise, when someone asks me how long did it take me to paint a piece I answer, “A lifetime.”
    Considering time investment, artists are some of the lowest paid professionals there are. It grates on me. I refuse to let anyone diminish what I do and if people don’t know the difference, they can shop discount stores for posters.
    Still, a discount may be prudent if it means a sale or no. I am inclined to do so. However, if I am willing to take a 10% discount I want my gallery to take the same in their commission … thus offering a potential buyer a 20% reduction. Shame on the gallery that cuts your paycheck and will not discount their commission. The discount must be shared equally.
    If you are forced to discount as a matter of course maybe a price adjustment is called for. If you consistently sell at your marked price without having to discount you have priced your work correctly. It may by time to up your prices. Even then, locale is critical.

    1. Thanks, Jackie – I recently joined a gallery that asked how much I’m willing to negotiate, and I have to discuss this with them in the next few days. Your suggestion of splitting the reduction is totally reasonable.

  20. I remember the first time I got a call from the gallery asking to discount one of my pieces. I was so shocked and appalled! Poor collector I refused to discount (it was my first exhibition and I made very little once costs were taken out and it was a huge statement piece) but lucky for me the gallery owner was an excellent sales person and sold the piece at the original price regardless. Admittedly over time I have come to similar conclusions as Jason and I think I was so upset because I was starting out and my prices were much to low. This becomes less of a problem as you become established and your prices increase. I make sure I have a buffer in the price now so I am not completely heart broken if it does go for less. I also speak with/negotiate with the gallery or sales staff before hand about how much is acceptable so they can freely work with the client. I once had someone sell a piece of mine for ridiculously low! Like less than a quarter of the original price. However after I got over the shock I decided to look at it like a promotional exercise. Yes the buyer got the piece for much less than normal but that person (I hope) will love the piece so much they will show it off with pride and recommend others to buy from me. It’s quite funny really how much it used to upset me but now I quite enjoy negotiating.

  21. Discountng can be a bit dangerous when customers expect it. I rarely will budge when negotiating with someone I don’t know since I believe that a collector who is really interested in a piece of art will realize its worth – the originality, inspiration and work that has gone into its creation – and will be willing to pay the price. On the other hand, I gladly offer extras (special frames or prints) and discounts to return customers as a sign of appreciation. Knowing that someone will return to my studio or recommend my work is well worth the forfeit of a few dollars.

  22. Excellent Article! It reminded me that I hadn’t yet ordered your book. I’m looking forward to receiving it, thank you!

  23. As usual, an excellent article. Eventhough when I started to sell my work did not understand the necessity of negogiating, I have come to terms with it as part of the process of selling. It is good to sell before pieces become stale. Sometimes you get really bold offers but instead of upsetting me, I see them as a challenge to get the collector to pay a price closer to the original. The method of doing the math is good. As it is good and helpful your book, I recently bought it and enjoyed reading it. Made me happy to realize I was not that lost and my ideas were not that crazy.

  24. Discounts are a fact of life in the art world. I accept that and it has happened many times. But when galleries call with ridiculous discount offers to make the sale, well I feel like a “whore” giving it away. But I was reminded by another artist that we can always make more work, that part is easy. It is harder to sell it. So up your prices 20% then one won’t feel abused when they ask for those ridiculous discounts. Kind of sad but the reality of the business.

  25. Jason , when you discount the sale – does the originating artist also take that discount or are you reducing your commission ? Or am I asking the right question – should an artist inflate their desired price to the gallery by 20% – so the gallery can offer a discount ?

    1. The commission is paid off the price at which the work sells – so in other words, the gallery and artist are sharing the discount. The artist should definitely take into account the likelihood of discounting when setting the retail price.

      1. “The commission is paid off the price at which the work sells – so in other words, the gallery and artist are sharing the discount.” It’s not quite that simple, is it? In your example, you mention three elements of cost: retail sale price, tax, and delivery/shipping. For your gallery, is “the price at which the work sells” the final price, before tax and shipping?

        If so, what calculations do you use, when you tell a buyer that you will throw in the tax and shipping free? The tax is still owed, and shipping still costs the gallery. The gallery owner appears to be saying that he will absorb all of the cost of the discount, by foregoing reimbursement for the gallery’s tax and shipping expenses. But I’m guessing that the gallery owner takes the “All Inclusive $4700” amount in your example, subtracts the $262.50, and treats the result, $4437.50, as the price that will be split with the artist. Is that how you do it, Jason?

        1. Shipping and tax are included in the discount, so you are correct the commission would be paid from the $4437.50. In other words, the net proceeds of the sale are divided at the commission percentage.

  26. Jason – Great book (I devoured it in an afternoon and will reread it often) and very intriguing blog. Do you think this also applies to online gallery sales or just brick-n-morter galleries? Many thanks

  27. Jason, I have to thank you as you’ve helped me relax and embrace the fun of haggling (from reading previous posts). It is obvious that people like playing the game & the feeling of getting the deal, it has nothing to do with the rich guy trying to scrape the poor artist. Once I realized this, accepted that I can play with up 15% and included that in my prices, selling art is even more fun! Much gratitude for your all your time and work creating this blog.

  28. The attitude conveyed in the article is of condescension to artists and is ingrained in an American culture which emphasizes money over value, and commerce over substance. Your suggestion that the cat is out of the bag does not justify a morally compromised position which continues to undermine culture. Go negotiate with your doctor or priest and tell me how your soul benefits.

  29. I believe in discounts. It has helped make many sales, many negotiated on my own after my gallery closed. Generally 5% to 10%, and 15% if it meant making the sale. I have only given 20% to long-time collectors or people that are purchasing several pieces, but if circumstances called for it, I would consider it. This was the agreement with the gallery as well, and it worked well.

    My response to reading some of the replies above, is that as artists it’s good to decide whether we want to be in the business of art or if we prefer to make our art and have sales once in a while to help cover the cost of making it. Whatever way we approach making art is fine, but the business of direct sales, which is what selling art as a business is, has always had an element of negotiation in it, and a lot of customers expect it.

    Personally, I think that if it makes you feel hinky, try changing your perception of a discount. At first I felt uncomfortable about negotiating, but I learned to look at it as if we both – the customer and I – are trying to figure out how to help them own a piece of my art, in a way that lets both of us feel good about it. They get to feel special because I gave them the discount. I get to give the gift of a discount. Just change it up from feeling like they are taking something from you to you giving them a gift and helping them own the art makes a big difference – you aren’t being taken advantage of. You are giving enough so that they can have your art to enjoy, and in return, they are giving you part of what they’ve earned.

    It doesn’t soil it because negotiations are involved, unless you let it. The best negotiations aren’t like a used car sales transaction at all – the best ones leave both parties satisfied and fulfilled.

  30. Thank you Jason! I have always offered discounts and had so many sales within the recent two years. I agreed with the buyers offers even when I felt those we’re lower than I expected – I just needed the money to support my family.. of course I could have sold many pieces for higher prices, but I needed to sell them anyway..now I am represented by several galleries and allow them to offer discounts..many art buyers are just happy when you give them a discount..another good way is to offer a step by step payment for those who can’t afford to pay the full price..I did it several times and sold many pieces this way

  31. I have recently come to all the same conclusions. I know that my work is priced too low for the quality and I need to create more value by raising my prices. I price by size, but I charge more for commissions because they generally take me many times the amount of time and stress. I’ve not had a problem getting clients to agree, I just state a price and take 50% up front to seal the commitment without going into an explanation about the rider.

    One of the online platforms I work with does very well with discount marketing and often offer free shipping (for which they pay) and discounts (for which the artist pays). They also have a button you can place on your work for the client to make you an offer. I recently had an offer and although it was too low, it was an older piece and I was glad of the sale, so I accepted without negotiating. On reflection I should have come back with a higher counter. It was a great learning experience with a new technique.

    I have also come to the conclusion that as I’m working on breaking into the European market where generally prices are higher, mine look ridiculously low and create suspicion. Luckily I only have a few paintings loaded on this site as a test, so it won’t be a matter of raising prices on many already exhibited pieces.

    The website also has special marketing for exclusive items which is a great way to raise prices without having the work appear somewhere else on the internet for a much lower price point. As I move work over to the new site I will make them exclusive, remove them from any other site, and raise the price considerably, that will give me room to use the discounts and negotiation button without selling my work ridiculously cheap. It should also bring the clients back again as I have started to build a relationship with them.

    Thank you Jason for your illuminating ideas. I often link to your blog from my Facebook group GET YOUR ART OUT THERE, and my blog below.

    Just a suggestion, if anyone is reading this that loves my work, now is a good time to buy before I implement this strategy. Just sayin’ 🙂 http://www.paintamasterpiece.blogspot.com

  32. Hi Jason! Thanks so much for all you’re sharing. I’m wondering what you like to say to a potential collector when they refuse to throw a number out there? What deal do you offer?

  33. I’m late to this discussion, but it reminded me of a couple of things I recently learned from the world of business. The Wharton School of Business conducted a survey of several thousand professionals to see how they get customers to do business with them. Options included: credibility, reputation, experience, the amount of the fee or the state of the economy. What they found was that fees stated with clarity and confidence won customers. In an article “Why Customers Leave and What You Can Do About It” Database Marketing Institute cites discounts did not keep customers long term. What did keep them was the relationship with the customer.
    http://www.dbmarketing.com/articles/Art142.htm

    In my mind what this addresses in the article is that slight discounts help. But what’s more important is the service. Confidence and clarity about the price (not apologizing, holding firm at a certain level) won the day. Delivering and hanging a painting are the services that will keep any customer around!

  34. I want to cite an example of how I handled a “cold-call” request for a discount, and then address how I handle occasional buyers that would like to pay the price, but are simply unable at the time.

    First –
    I’m a “one man band” and I work hard to set prices that are reasonable and affordable without a discount, but still realize a good profit margin at all sales levels, i.e., retail, consignment, and wholesale.

    My largest, and highest priced piece is usually only about $500. Because my work is affordable by most standards, I don’t like giving discounts to first-time buyers on sales of less than that because I don’t want them to expect discounts on every item – regardless of price – every time.

    Recently a prospective buyer approached me via eMail, telling me he had seen my work in a show the previous month. He hoped to entice me with the assurance that he would pay cash if I could give him a “good” discount for two $195 pieces. I explained that my “usual” policy is to only offer discounts on purchases that total more than my highest-priced single item. But, because he was so enthusiastic about my work I basically did the same thing as your example, citing figures (with all the dollar signs, commas, and zeros) of what the total “out-the-door” price would be at full retail. Then I outlined a discount and included sales tax in the price on top of that, which figured out to be a discount of more than 10.5% off the taxed full retail.

    (From here on out, I’ll heed your advice to have clients make their offer first.)

    He came back with a lower offer which, on a per-piece basis, I would normally decline. In my reply I explained that:

    – My work is worth the prices I ask, they are consistent with the current market, and they should actually be higher.

    – Purchases that total more than my highest priced single item receive a discount, the size of which depends upon the amount of the sale. Clients with a consistent purchase history are also given the option of a loyalty discount, or a small additional piece such as a matted print of their choice.

    I received a polite and timely reply in which he agreed to accept my offer.

    When I delivered the work to him personally, we had a lengthy and friendly discussion of my work, and the other art he has collected. In the end we were both happy, and I’m confident I have gained a loyal client for a long time to come.

    Second –
    For a customer who would like to buy but is unable to pay all at once, I offer terms. The reaction to this offer is most often, “You can do that? Yes, that would be great!”

    We then negotiate an affordable (non-refundable) down payment that is large enough to ensure they won’t be inclined to abandon the sale, and then an interest-free payment schedule so they can take possession of their new art as soon as possible.

  35. Hello Jason. I was very interested in your blog on negotiating art sales. I am the artist and I have a friend that has part paid $1200 for a large artwork a year and a half ago. She also loved two others and couldn’t make up her mind which to get. I gave her a lower offer on the large work of $1800 as I needed the money. (Dropped from $2500) Since then I have politely let her know that I was putting up some of the work in fundraising exhibitions and that they may sell. I also offered to deliver the large work that was part paid to her home and that she could pay me back later, but she made it clear she was not keen on me doing that as she wanted to wait for her renovations to be finished. I now have another acquaintance wanting to buy the same large work and willing to pay $5000 for it. I have also just spent money to have it framed as the edges of this oil painting are being knocked around and I want it to be presented well. I am not sure where I stand legally with this situation and would really appreciate some feedback from you, if possible.
    I wondered if it was appropriate to return the $1200 to her so that she wasn’t out of pocket, and I would also have the funds to do that once I sell this artwork. Or am I locked into a financial agreement that I cannot break??
    Yours sincerely Heather Cohen

  36. It’s a whole different story though if it is prints, right?

    I don’t have anything numbered or authenticated as limited (I am a young artist who just goes to a local printer for regular quality prints that I priced first at $8 and recently went up to $12 for some–but often I try $10). In this case, it’s just a regular mass-produce-able print item product and not an original item. In the start, I printed waaaaaay too much of some of my lesser work and regret them laying around. Others are simply not best examples of my work anymore and they take too much space on my tables, so I want to start discounting some of them.

    Eventually, I’d like to get into higher grade prints and more professional small stationary items (not my laminated paper bookmarks I apparently cannot recycle properly if they fail to sell—some of them sell well, others never do…so I got a eco-moral dilemma as I try to go more earth friendly where I gave up my laminator and will look to new means)

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