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 topic 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 JCPenney 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.
A 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:
+$82.50 Sales Tax
I have purposefully made the [retail sales amount] appear complex and expensive, in sharp contrast to the beautiful simplicity of the [final price]. 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.
Very good article Jason…I utilize a lot of the same practices as yourself. It is very much a show, and a skillful game of wits. To those artists who do not accept the fact that discounting is a necessary part of the gallery process…consider for example that when an interior designer selects a piece of art for his or her client they need to make money off of the sale as well. The standard 15% discount to designers allows them to mark it up and make their profit. People negotiate lower prices today on all sorts of things from jewelry, automobiles, real estate, hotel rooms, vacation packages, etc. You may not be doing that, however a good segment of our society does. Pretty much everyone knows they can negotiate in art galleries, so it is pretty much expected. It is just a part of the sales process today, and as a gallery owner, I don’t like it any more than you probably do. Galleries are naturally in the business to make as much money as possible as well. Every piece of art which comes into my gallery is catalogued with the agreed upon pricing with the artist, and next to that price is the agreed upon lowest discount price. I keep this in a code so that should the client see it, they will not understand what it means. This is all in a book which sits on my desk, which I can refer to when the time comes. I make sure that anything which is sold is highlighted in the book with sold written boldly. I want the client to casually observe that. The higher the price tag, the more leverage I have. My gallery does go as high as 20% on certain works, however I never offer the highest discount upfront. My goal is to look out for my artists, and get as much money as possible for us both. I find out early on in the sales process if the work is to be shipped, and where the work will be shipped to. Oftentimes I will call my local shipper and get a quick shipping quote over the phone. If shipping is less than than discounting the retail price I will use that as a bargaining tool. In some situations I offer to cover sales tax as well in lieu of discounting off of the sale price. In certain sales I may offer to deliver the piece and hang it for them. This is noticeable if it is a very large piece. Every customer wants to feel that they are getting something in the sale. Several times a year I even offer to buy the client dinner for two at our nicest restaurant in town with an alcohol allowance of $70.00, only if they agree to complete the transaction that same day, and all sales are final. I know that will run me around $400.00. That is a lot less than discounting a $5,000. painting down 20% and the client thinks that they really got something special because it is immediate, and no other gallery will do that. My artists understand that they assume half of the discount no matter what avenue I take, and as long as it is below the agreed upon discount, they have no problem with how I do it. When pricing your work with the gallery director, allow for discounting, and have the gallery put all of that in writing on your inventory list. You are better off allowing for discounting, than not having your work sell.
I wish all gallery owners were caring for the artists they represent as much as Ray Wiggs and Jason Horejs.
Also just reading Ray’s comment here, and Jason’s always, one can see how diligently they work both on the artists’ behalf and their own.
Thumbs up to you both and Thank You!
I am one artist who hares to have to go through negotiating directly, not necessarily because I think it undercuts the art, but simply because I hate the process.
With that said, I loved this article and it’s content from both sides, artist and gallerist. A
I feel better equiped to take negotiations on and that makes me more relaxed and confident about it!
Thanks a lot!!!!!
In my experience this whole argument seems irrelevant. “Wiggle room” is an industry standard, like tipping in the U.S. I’ve actually never worked with a gallery that didn’t have the maximum limit for negotiation written right into the consignment agreement (at least 10%). Artists should price their work accordingly.
The psychological difference between artist who are financially challenged and buyers who have enough resources to afford artwork is vast. I joke to friends that I can’t afford to buy my own artwork. The wealthier mindset is always looking for a bargain or a price break it is probably how they got to be wealthy. I always build in at least 10% pad for bargaining. My gallerist always offered 10% to collectors who have bought previous works of the artist or if they were buying more than one piece. Some times he would take off more if needed out of his own commission. If you pad 10% and sell at full retail then you have covered the 10% on the next sale. Some artist have chip on their shoulder about discounts which is very off putting to most buyers and especially collectors
So do these same buyers walk into other retail shops expecting to negotiate prices? The system is rigged in favor of the wealthy, so they take advantage when they are given the opportunity. For some reason artists are regarded as expendable, therefore fair game for exploitation. I don’t call this having a “chip” on one’s shoulder, but rather seeing reality for what it is, which means if you want to play the gallery game you have to go along to get along. Yes, pad your prices, and everyone can play the game and get what they want in the end. We do it in the car business, so why should art be any different?
Very good article. I myself am not wired this way and I find this whole process exhausting. Finagling back and forth over money and figures seems like a waste of time. Perhaps that is why I am a better at being an artist than I am at being a business executive.
We agree with your stance – negotiating is part of the business. Your point that you’d have to have industry-wide agreement to end the practice points out the futility of trying to change it. Some people DO try to negotiate everything. Like the artist, others just don’t like it. Isn’t it beautiful that we can all operate the best way for our own situation.
Good advice. Thanks for sharing this piece.
I am both an artist and a collector. As a collector, I love to get a discount, but understand if something is hot off the easel with a lot of ready-to-buy eyeballs on it, I must act fast to acquire it no matter the price. One of my artists offers a 20% discount when you buy two works. I must say that I always buy two and I feel like I got a deal. If I didn’t buy two, I’d feel like I lost money. As an emerging artist, sales are few and far between, but I allow the gallery to negotiate a discount. It doesn’t matter to me what the piece sells for, that it sells is what gets me going.
I agree with everything in this article Jason, right on!
Currently I am not represented by a gallery, but if I were this will definitely be part of the deal.
Not so much the selling and/or marketing process but I Love negotiating. Done many in my lifetime, in many different fields, some small some for very large transactions and successfully I must say. I didn’t read books or did schooling in the subject, did it just organically. Maybe it was in my genes. My father was the king of negotiations. He enjoyed it so much that he would negotiate even with a lemon seller. He’d always get the price he wanted only paying more than what was asked for. For him it was the process that mattered, not the amount paid.
I loved your acting at the desk, the brows, the murmur under your breath.. lol, yes why not!
I agree that a certain percentage for negotiation should always be included in the retail price. Then there is room to negotiate.
I used to be in sales before I retired & became an artist. There are some folks that will never haggle & just buy at the retail price. They will pay the extra 20% you added in for negotiations & so you make a little extra on the sale. But in my experience, many folks will ask for a little off, usually are happy with a10% to 20% discount. It makes them feel like they got a better deal & helps them justify buying the art piece. Then there are the few that will just keep asking for more every time you come back with an offer. They are into low balling you as much as possible and in my opinion trying to take advantage of you & they are the few that are best to let walk away. Its just common sense to me to always add in some “ bargaining” latitude. It all equals out in the end. Some customers may pay a little more & are happy with their purchase. Others may negotiate & pay a little less and are happy with their purchase too. Just never go less in price than what you have allotted negotiations for. The small percentage where you may come out ahead can cover the times your have to reimburse a client for damage occurred in shipping, the extra hours you work for free framing your art, driving on business errands, hours of painting that you end up not calculating into paying yourself & the list goes on. In my business sales experience, I never lose money on a deal,. i may not make a big profit but I am always content with what I get for all my hard work, time spent, experience & talent. Its not devaluing your art, its knowing what needs to be done to sell it.
Adapting and flexibility to give the collector a “reasonable” deal is certainly okay. For years now, if a collector was interested in one of my artworks, but couldn’t afford it, I offered a monthly plan of payments that the collector could afford. This approach was a win for us both.
Thanks, Offering your experience is very generous.
Thanks for the interesting article. I agree that negotiation is expected, and refusing will cause a loss in sales. However, I’m confused by the numbers in your primary example, quoted from your book, Jason. The retail sale price is $5000. On top of this, you tell us that the tax is $82.50, plus $180 in shipping, for a total of $5,262.50. Buyers understand that these kinds of additional costs are a part of the total price. While they might use them as part of the negotiation, just as Jason did, they aren’t bothered that this is part of the total sale.
In the quoted text, the potential buyer offers $4500. It seems like the best choice for the gallery owner in this scenario described is to say, ‘You’ve got a deal.’ Then add in the tax and shipping, for an approximate total of $4755. The buyer gets what he asked for, gets the sense that he ‘got _his_ deal’, and Jason makes more money than in the negotiation that he describes.
This would be quicker, and would earn more, than the described scenario of making a $4700 counter-offer, saying that it will include the tax and shipping. Worse yet, Jason’s counter-offer is met by another counter from the buyer, at $4500 for everything, to which Jason agrees.
It seems to me that the strategy of a $4700 counter-offer from Jason already gives up $55 over simple agreeing to the buyer’s original offer of the $4500 plus tax and shipping. It invites the buyer’s counter-offer of $4500 inclusive, and after Jason accepts that offer, he is down $255 over simply accepting the buyer’s original offer. (Now, maybe the buyer would say that his original offer was intended to be the final total. I think that is unlikely, but it puts Jason in a better position of saying something like, ‘I could split the tax and shipping with you.’ In the worst case, he ends up at $4500 total, which is what he got to by a lengthier route.)
How would you respond to this line of reasoning, Jason?
Great article! Any advise on how to let a potential client know you are willing to negotiate? I’m thinking of art festivals specifically. I tend to have 2 or 3 of my more expensive pieces and people always ask me the price. I tend to say “that retails for…” assuming that is a code for I’ll negotiate. Any other ideas to get the negotiation going?
Nice I like the negotiation category . I’m having to do it with my daughter. She’s my number one client and last time I sold to her she says You didn’t charge enough . Well ok nice I will say the next time what are you prepared to pay ? I will add in sales tax , we are high in Arkansas 9.75 percent . So I see . I ask her what she is prepared to pay ? We’ve been talking about my selling to Interior decorators as she and her sister in law have giant houses . So yes I can see they need time make a mark up to want to use you .
Prices have gone up . My last piece was 48 x 48 went five years ago for $1,0000 and then I sold a smaller piece for 750 it was like 24 x 36 . I wouldn’t sell a 48 x 48 for less than $2,500 now . The 24 x 36 would have to go for $900 minimum . Well for me it’s a cool idea what you do to sell art . Thank you
Great post and discussion, Jason! This quote has been ringing in my ears for decades, “If you don’t pay any attention to money, money won’t pay any attention to you.” As an artist, and therefore business person, I see all of the points made here. What I appreciate most is that you give the art community tangible direction, which has been sorely lacking in the past. It’s a good framework from which to make our own business decisions.
Nice article Jason, thank you!
GREAT article Jason. I’ll be rereading it over and over. Thank you.
If an artist and/or a gallery IS going to discount, this is great advice on how to do it. There is, however another choice. I always wrote my artist/gallery contracts so that they prohibited the galleries that represented my artist(s) from discounting. THEN my conversations with gallery clients were very different. They went something like: “It’s good you asked. You should always ask. Because most artists, and most galleries DO discount their art. We don’t, and I will tell you why. First of all, because we do not have to, but secondly, because our contracts with our artists prohibit us from doing so. We CANNOT discount. Look. What you are really looking for is to be certain that you are paying the very lowest price you can get for this art – right? And I can assure you that is so. You can call every single gallery that represents this artist and you will get the same price information. Isn’t that reassuring? Because the other thing you want is to know that the artist you’re buying has price stability. The minute you purchase this artist, you become a COLLECTOR of this artist – and you do not want those prices to be bouncing around from gallery to gallery because people are “negotiating”. You want to KNOW that the price you paid was REAL. etc. etc.
In over 40 years of gallery ownership, I NEVER lost a sale, using this logic. I actually had one guy CALL another gallery to test me – and he got confirmation on the pricing, and bought from me. It’s a transparent logic. It’s real, and I found that everyone was tired of the negotiating game. They actually did not “enjoy” it. They would rather have solid, verifiable prices. This is my tried and true gallery (and artist) experience, both with an East Coast gallery that had mainly a New York clientele and in Santa Fe with California, TX and CO clients, art in the 5K-80K range. MG
Thanks for your thoughtful reply Michelle. I love the alternate perspective, and it’s interesting to hear what has worked in different markets. Thank you for sharing!
One of my very first jobs out of college was being a jewelry salesman. The business had a display case of high-end diamonds and other precious stones. It was the ‘estate case’. These pieces were presented to show that we do business with a group of estate lawyers. The jewelry is represented by different clients and the price banded to the piece is usually open to offers. Then you would talk up the stones, you could not lie (on that part anyway). So a person would see a price of say, $3000. I would say ‘that is a good price for this piece but we can see if the estate would accept something else. Should I put a bid in for you and find out?’ Well the band had a code of letters on it that told me the price I could sell it at. So the person says, ‘yes, let’s see if they would take $2700 – 10% off’. Well, I knew that we would accept $2500. I would go to the phone and ask to speak to the lawyer so and so. Really I was calling the store boss, telling him the code and then speaking loud enough for the customer to hear say, ‘I have a gentleman here who wanted to buy – for $ 2600’ Usually the customer would try to correct me but I would wave him off. I would continue the ‘haggle’. Walk back to the customer and say, ‘Got it for $ 2600’. Boy was he happer, I was a hero and the business will probably get a referral and repeat business. People want a deal, makes them feel good.
When I first began to sell my art, I was excited and probably asked too low a price just to see it sold. In other words, I discounted the art before the price was set. Overtime, I grew to understand that negotiations can be a part of cultural interaction. I increased the price over my anticipated value in case someone would want to negotiate. In this way, if someone wanted a discount, I could give it to them and I was happy and the buyer was happy. It was definitely a win win. I am a gallery owner now and discussions of discounts with our resident artists lay in the 10% range, but we are careful to present the value of the art. The language of negotiation is important. Use the word “value” instead of price. It indicates that the artist values his/her work and that is translated to the buyer. Selling art is not like selling a car. It is a unique representation of an artist’s creativity. It is rather tricky to convey that concept.
First,…Oh how I wish that there was a gallery that would handle negotiations for murals. People nearly always want to negotiate the price, sometimes to a ridiculous degree. I have thoroughly researched what is typical in my area, so my prices are right in the middle. It would save me so much time and stress if I had someone doing that for me. If this exists, tell me. I’m all ears!
Secondly, I agree with you, Jason, that lowering the price across the board to eliminate the need to negotiate simply doesn’t work. A savvy client will inevitably ask for a discount. Case in point: I did a large project for a corporate client, priced it out and he asked for a discount. I made a counter offer. He made a counter offer. I paused for a moment, then told him I had another project pending for someone else. If he were willing to do his project right away, I would meet his final offer, and yes, I used the words, ‘final offer,’ letting him know I was done negotiating. We both won because he got a reasonable discount and I got to do a project during what would likely have been a down-time had I not closed this one.
Fast-forward two years…This same corporate client brought me in for another project. I gladly accepted, but made the mistake of offering the same terms and discounted rate as before. You guessed it. He asked for another discount. I was stuck with explaining that current prices had gone up and yet I had already offered a price break on this new project on the strength that he was a repeat customer. He kept pushing for a further discount and I ended up giving him a small one.
Now I know better. If he contacts me again, I will use my current pricing structure, adjusted for inflation, and go from there, knowing that he will want to negotiate.
Thank you for sharing these good insights, Jason. What would you do for a customer who is savvy to your ways, for instance a customer who has come across this particular blog post and read about your number-crunching theatrics? Are there times when you can inwardly tell the customer knows the routine but plays along anyway, and times when you can tell the customer knows the routine and is offended and wants to show that he or she cannot be “worked” in this way? I think I see four customers for this scenario: a) the one who doesn’t know the routine and doesn’t want to negotiate, b) the one who doesn’t know the routine but is willing to negotiate, c) the one who knows the routine and is still willing to negotiate, and d) the one who wants everyone to know that he or she knows the routine and is far too superior to negotiate, like the child at the magic show who wants all the other children to know that he or she is definitely not fooled by the tricks. Would this last one be the scenario in which you would “get out gracefully,” as you say?
Thanks for this post. I have really enjoyed reading through it. Jason, I totally agree with you! I often sell my work myself and mark it similar to the gallery price. I feel like it is fair to the galleries that represent me. I will negotiate, as the gallery does, and find it always helps sell the piece. I do have one gallery (50% commission) that covers up to 10% of “deals”. I think that is awesome on their part.
I’m wondering if I can ask my gallery to show proof of sale with discount. Lately a gallery I’ve been working with is giving a 20% discount for all the sales of my work. Part of me feels like they aren’t giving that discount and picketing the 20% for themselves. Is wrong for me to ask for the proof of sales and discounts? It’s ok if the block out the buyers name. Let me know please.