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.

Starving to Successful

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

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

About the Author: Jason Horejs

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

34 Comments

  1. I would give the discount only if they are ready to buy that day. If I, will you? You can explain your ability to discount based on your costs and time too. As someone who has been in sales for thirty years, I can tell you that there are some deals you just want to walk away from….the next buyer can be right around the corner.

  2. I worked as a commercial photographer in LA for nearly 20 years before I realized that my ideas were more along the line of fine art, which is what I’m doing now….
    . However, I had the same attitude about discounting my work as most fine artists do back then and would actually get offended when someone would ask for a better price. That said, a few years later, when I began a company that bought and sold and then eventually ended up restoring vintage travel trailers, first as simply a way to support my move into fine art, but that eventually became so successful that I had to put the art on hold for a few years until the Great Recession killed the whole thing, I realized that buyer….no matter who they are or what they’re purchasing….unless they’re buying something like groceries from a brick and motor location…almost always expect to be able to negotiate a bit on the price. So, I simply decided how much I thought a particular vintage trailer was worth…or basically, what I wanted for it…and then added maybe 10% to 15% on top of that. That way, I discovered, the client felt like they were getting a break when I gave them that as a discount and, after taking off what I knew I could remove anyway and still get the price I wanted, I didn’t feel like I’d compromised or was taken advantage of either. Everyone ends up happy, it’s a win-win way to do business and it’s…real simple.

  3. Thanks Jason!

    I have my first large show at the end of the year and this post has already set me up with great tips!

    All the
    Kate

  4. I notice this entire discussion is based on the assumption of a single-item sale. What about package deals?

  5. At the risk of sounding judgmental, here’s my approach: I talk with the person or couple asking for a discount and decide based upon whether I think the sale may get me exposure and potential other sales. If it is just someone trying to get a better deal (especially if the request for a better price is instantaneous and without apparent seriousness), I am reluctant to comply for many of the reasons above. If it is someone that seems to really desire my particular style or art and has an understanding of my style and an interest in future purchases, I am inclined to make a deal. Yes, it is subjective. I judge whether or not I think the person is starting out acquiring art and/or sincerely interested in acquiring an artwork that he or she cannot currently afford. If the person is interested in one piece or multiple pieces I try to judge whether he or she wants a bunch of gifts or a special piece for themselves to enjoy. If it is a single, higher priced piece, I try to judge the attributes he or she admires and how much understanding there is. Like I said, it is judgment. But it is my art, my work and my opinion as to how much it is worth–both to me and to the potential buyer.

  6. The more you buy the more you save. =) I see both sides but I agree with you Jason… Be willing or open to it… leave the door open.

  7. I am, by nature, a no b.s. sort of person, so I appreciate honest and uncluttered exchanges. But after being a fine artist for 20 years, and a commercial artist for 6, I’ve come to understand that people will ask for discounts, this is a fact. I know I’m not going to change the business landscape, I can only change the way I look at doing business. It took me awhile to understand that a request for discount was not a devaluation of me or my work, but sometimes just logistics (and yes, sometimes the tell-tale of a deadbeat client). I find that the more informed my pricing process is, the easier it is for me to decide whether or not to make the deal – it gives me leverage. I agree with Jason’s approach to feeling out the buyer, establishing value, and finding the finesse that bridges what both parties will be satisfied with. I think for many of us artists, the business part can be terribly challenging, and in this case, gallery representation may be exactly what we need.

  8. I was always reluctant to negotiate my original artwork with clients but after reading your thoughts on it I changed my attitude and I love that I am much more relaxed with the process! Thank you for showing me that it can be fun and part of the ‘game’!

    1. Hi Gaia . . . I totally agree with you! I see it now much more as simply a standard way of doing business. It takes the personal feelings out of it and it becomes more like a game of checkers. Moving the pieces around until you are crowned King . . . a make the sale! 🙂

  9. I’m not much of a buyer, so I didn’t know other artists or galleries did that, now that I have my own tiny gallery, I will keep that in mind, and start calculating

  10. I subscribe to the karmic wheel philosophy if your wheel is clogged up with too much art then selling opens up everything and it leaves room to create art. If I get to barter over a piece I’ll discount sometimes depending on how fond I am of the piece. I have a number of pieces which I’m not having an affair so with those I’ll bargain there are others I know that I can get the amount I asked, face it some of what you do isn’t super awesome. Don’t make it a strict rule better to sell than not sell. I think everyone knows I’m not talking about giving everything away…….

  11. Three years ago I probably would have argued with you Jason but over time I could see the wisdom in what you said. I set my prices at a point where I have room to wiggle and it does help. Plus no more stress over getting that exact amount which barely covered me any way. The same sized piece had sold for $4000 over as well as $2000 under what I set it at. So art (and it’s value) really is in the eye of the beholder. It has also helped me get a better idea about subject matter and what is more marketable.

  12. I very rarely enter into negotiations for a discount on the works I sell in fYREGALLERY. I believe to keep faith with collectors who have paid full price for work it is important not to undercut the floor price of a particular artist’s work. I explain that the price is fair and reasonable and that I cannot undercut the value of previous sales. Most people in Australia understand that and are not pushy when it comes to getting “the best price”. However, I do sometimes offer to discount the price (taking the hit on my commission, not the 60% that is promised to the artist) if the buyer shows interest in buying more than one piece, and more importantly, is prepared to pay up front. I have sold additional works in my shows from time to time using this approach.

    One other comment: I never have “sales” as, for me, that makes original art look like it is simply another piece of mass-produced retail merchandise. I believe it is a mistake to pad prices so that a sale price can be offered as people will wait for the “sale” rather than pay what they have learned from experience is a padded first offer price. Consumers have wised up to this ploy in the fashion and footwear industries where we see almost constant “sales” now because it is the only a sale price people that people are prepared to pay. That is not a sustainable or professional way to treat original works of art for the sake of the artist, and also for those who have worked with the artist to bring their work to market.

  13. I have always enjoyed the negotiating process, it’s a major part of life! Negotiation is a skill that should be learned by any artist that wants to sell their artwork. I am an emerging artist, I have only very recently concentrated my efforts on being commercial. I love to get a conversation going with potential buyers & collectors & enjoy the banter. I have had a lot of exposure in the local press & love to show my press articles to impress buyers & give my artwork more credibility. I feel exhilarated every time I make a sale, the money usually goes quickly but the feeling I get when I make a sale lasts so much longer!

  14. This is a tough one. After a period with a particular customer who was relentless and offensive in bargaining, I set a policy in the gallery that items priced $400 and below were at the very best price, and asked artists to price accordingly. The buyers for these small impluse buys usually did not even know collectors would try to negotiate anyway. It seemed unfair to sell at a discount to one, and and not to another, kind of like tax breaks for the rich. It did not change our sales. As to larger items, it does depend on the artist and I ask that each artist indicate in their inventory whether they will discount or not on major works. I take it from there with each client. You are right that some collectors expect a discount and will not purchase without one. Sometimes, if a client is toying with multiple purchases I offer a 5% discount for multiple sales, that day only, and take this out of the gallery commission. I can often cinch the deal right away this way and make the sale. Usually these collectors are repeat buyers. Also, for repeat collectors of my work, I just give a discount without them asking, 10% for smaller pieces, 15% for larger works. This is my thank you for their loyalty. I know who they are. Interestingly in the past year or so, we have been asked for and given fewer discounts, and sold more major works, so go figure?

  15. A few lessons I have learned over the years:
    Lesson 1: Are you an artist, or a business person? If you are an artist and you derive great satisfaction from the creative process, and the adoration of clients, then stick to your price.
    If you are a business person, and understand that you are providing a product, whether you feel it is a commodity or not, it is in your best interest to negotiate.

    I began as what I thought was a business person, deep down I was an artist and absolutely refused to negotiate. After years of struggle, that changed and I came down from my high horse. I came to realized that what I was selling wasn’t going to change the world after all!

    Lesson 2: The more art you sell, the more art you will sell. This is very important in building your business. Notice I said business and not career.

    You build a client base by having your work out in the real world. Realizing that the world is awash in talent, means you have to do whatever it takes to get your work out there. Like it or not, price is everything these days. Don’t believe me, Google the term “Showrooming”

    Lesson 3: You are a snowflake in a snow storm. Online art selling websites are now signing 1000 new “artists” every week! If you have someone interested in buying your work and they want a better price (within reason of course), do it. Remember Lesson 2.

    Finally, don’t take it personally. It’s just a business transaction. Nothing more, nothing less. Once I learned to “Get over Myself” this became a whole lot easier and more enjoyable business.

    1. Ken – I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for your comment (and I’ll throw a big thank you out to everyone who commented on this post!). You’re succinct wisdom on this topic is very much appreciated!

  16. Jason, my personal stand on this is NOT to accept any offers less than the 10% wiggle room that most of the galleries that represent me have. It’s in my gallery contracts that I not undersell them and I have honored that for over 40 years.

    One gallery that has represented my work since 1989 came up with an ingenious solution to deal with those collectors who do ask for a discount or want to negotiate thee price. The Gallery offers the collector a special lifetime membership in the Gallery’s “Collector’s Club”. The membership fee is a one time, $100 charge. It entitles them to 10% off all gallery purchases for life. This policy separates those “bargain hunters” from sincere collectors who wish to have a discount. The “Collectors Club” card greatly enhances loyalty to the gallery. It makes economic sense for the collector to spend $100 dollars they get 10% off. On their purchase of $5000 in art they save $500 ~ $400 over the cost of their membership. They know that all purchases they make in the future will automatically be discounted by 10% no awkward asking for a discount required. It saves face for the gallery as they now have circumvented the sometimes uncomfortable discount negotiation process, gained a loyal collector and made the sale. I have seen this “Collector’s Club” card work successfully for decades.

  17. Great article Jason! Thanks for continuing to educate us on the pros and cons of doing business with clients. I have dealt with customers who have asked for a discount in a positive way. One client asked if I could make it a little less costly, and since he was looking at two paintings as the conversation progressed I agreed to reduce the price of the full sale by ten percent. he was very happy with that. With another customer, I offered to pay the tax and not add it to the purchase and that pleased them and they went out the door with an $850 purchase. During a studio tour last week I had a woman interested several small bird paintings. She chose two and saw a third she liked and so I offered a 20% discount if she took all three. She was delighted and handed me her card to ring up the purchase. I had to reframe one of the pieces to match the first two, and when she came back to pick it up she spied another piece that had not been on display during the tour. She had to have that one and paid full price. She was happy with her acquisitions and I was pleased with the sales. That is really what we all want. Now I can paint some more of the birds to replenish my supply!

  18. My primary business of 20 years has been Estate liquidations, and “negotiating” is common practice, in fact it is expected. We have a lot of fun with it and our customers love “getting a deal”. It only seems logical to play the same game with art.

  19. Wonderful article…thanks so much. I’ve learned hear that a counter offer is absolute OK. I missed doing this and sold too reasonably which I have regretted doing and will not do again. Most likely they would have consented to a counter offer! Thanks again, now to reread and pass on to others!

    Evalynn J. Alu

  20. I enjoyed this article, and you’re right: those who never discount their work are selling (or not selling, lol) themselves short in the long run. I have many long-time collectors for whom I’m happy to offer “frequent flyer-buyer” discounts to, and I’d allow my galleries the same leeway in those regards. Some people do love to haggle- when I was in Zambia I was surprised to learn it’s customary to haggle on every purchase in a market. I will employ some of the tips you’ve suggested- I’ve apologized when refusing an offer- not anymore!

  21. I completely agree with you Jason on this subject. Negotiations are exciting to me and my collectors feel special and victorious after successful negotiations. As you mention, I too price my work to include room for negotiation. I feel it is best to do this rather than undersell my work as I’ve seen many of my peers do. I spend a great deal of time creating and giving my work away hurts more than the negotiation process. I too remember the days when I would become angry about people asking for a discount, and let them know it. When I realized I wasn’t making any sales, I finally realized that padding could be my way out. It works and I stand with Jason that this is the way to go.
    I like that you mentioned having the collector suggest a price before the process Jason, I’ve not done that before. I once had a client purchase two pieces at a higher price point based on padding and although they didn’t ask for a reduce price I offered it anyway. Although that was indeed a lesson learned (silly me) that person returned to purchase more work without the discount. I wouldn’t recommend this tactic, I was just so use to the process, I didn’t think.
    This was a well written article and worth sharing.
    Yadi

  22. I don’t personally feel insulted with negotiate for my art price. It’s all about business, the customer would like to do is best deal and get what he wants at the lowest price and maybe make sure that your prices are not fancy.
    Here in Cameroon (Central Africa) it’s very usual to price and it so usual that you can get a goods at half prices. Most of the times customers are either foreigners or famous people and they think the price might be double because of their status ( I owned a small gallery boutique two years ago, i used to print prices for my clients to feel secure) off course customers are all the same for me doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are I normally discount 10%.
    I don’t agree with the artist because nobody can work inside your workshop to insult what you are doing. If he thought you were not good enough he won’t come at all.
    I love your approach. Thanks for sharing i will definitely copy it.
    Also we don’t know how to get your books here in Cameroon

  23. I was taught by a renowned artist that you never discount your work, but rather offer it in a smaller size. That has worked for me on many occasions.

    My concern has been that if a collector were to find out that I sold the same sized piece for less than they paid, they would be put off and, perhaps, no longer purchase my works in the future. Additionally, if I discount a piece to a potential client and they don’t buy then, they expect to get that discount the next time they’re shopping. (By the way, my collectors get a discount on future purchases.). Also, if other people are around and hear the negotiation, now they want to discount.

    All that being said, the galleries I’m in offer 10% to help close the sale, so why shouldn’t I do the same? Thanks for the reminder, Jason.

  24. My problem is getting a client to make an offer. I will give a price, then ask them what ballpark they are looking for in order to negotiate. All I get is “I don’t know”.

  25. Hi Jason . . . This posting is an eye-opener for me on doing business. Along with a few other scenarios in this particular Q&A/dialogue, I too have gone back and forth with the grocery store concept, and included mechanics, electricians, plumbers, etc. into that same mix. Though the response I’ve heard from others is that there is a difference between need and want, as in one needs to eat or get their oil changed, I now see that there are really very few things in the need column. One can always go to someone else or buy a less expensive product that does the same thing. With Art, when people connect emotionally with a piece, it becomes a need. No one else can satisfy that need except the artist who created it. I see this a being a very important part of the negotiating process and recently used it for the first time to make the final deal. This post reaffirms that what I did intuitively worked! Now I have words to describe what I did . . . I played and had fun with it. My collector got a new piece, and I can buy more supplies. 🙂

    I like the concept of seeing it all as the Game of Business, kind of like playing checkers and moving pieces to get crowned as King. It takes the fear of not making a sale out of it for me. It’s no longer an affront to me personally or to my art. It’s simply another aspect of this creative life I’ve chosen to live.

    Thank you for the posting!

  26. I recently had a buyer try to negotiate for one of my $1200 paintings…He offered the curator $900. I didn’t want to do it, not even for the $950 she suggested, but I countered at $1000, and he bought! Then I read your blog about negotiating…and also I read it again in your book…which I refer to often. I’m glad it worked out that way, but in the future, I will price my paintings slightly higher to allow for negotiation. My curator only gets 20%, so I really came out fine this time. In the past, I’ve never negotiated, nor have I been asked to. Now I think things have changed. And I’m in a different geographic area.

  27. I brought 3 pieces into a gallery with retail pricing indicated that gave me the amount I wanted after the gallery commission. The gallerist loved them and immediately priced them much higher. Initially that was fine with me, figuring it gave him room to negotiate, but they didn’t sell and I had to retrieve them. So I wondered if my pricing would’ve sold them, or if there’s an amount below which gallerists feel it isn’t worth the effort to sell a piece? After reading this blog post, and empathizing with the artist in the initial discussion, it got me thinking, what if artists brought their work into galleries with their best price–no discounting–and gallerists were free to mark up the retail price to their heart’s content to discount their commission portion all they wanted in the process of negotiation. Is that workable?

  28. I have a question about this. I’ve been showing some pieces in a beautiful store that also does custom framing. They framed my pieces and took on that cost. Since they aren’t a gallery the commission is actually really great – they are taking 25%. I’ve come across two problems though.
    1) Someone came in interested in a piece and they have them 20% off without consulting me (they have had my pieces for a couple months). I would’ve been fine with it but they didn’t ask for my permission to discount it. Should they consume that loss or should I have to share in it?
    2) They have a larger piece that they also framed but now they are ready to give it back to me as it hasn’t seen a lot of traction. (I don’t think people go in there often to buy large works of art…they usually come in with some already purchased to get framed). Should I have to pay them for the cost of the frame they made? There’s no way I could ever afford the frame. When we first met they said that they would pay to frame it in house but I don’t remember discussing what we would do if if didn’t sell…what should I do?

    Thank you for your advice,
    Maggi

  29. Thank you Jason. Great ideas and tips. I show at two local galleries and when a customer asks fr a discount they both had prior permission from all artists to offer 10% without calling. If the pies is very expensive and customer asks for more, then they call.

    Great to know how to negotiate with that delay tactic!
    PS Still loving and finding new useful information in your book!

    Thanks,
    Beverly

  30. I don’t object to negotiation per se, but I’m having a problem with one of the galleries that represent me on this front. They sell often to designers and give a 20% discount right off the bat. Then after their 40% comes out I’m netting less than half the original sale price. Lately it seems they’ve been giving discounts of 25% and more (without consulting me). I’ve already raised my prices everywhere to account for this one gallery. My other galleries don’t typically give more than a 10% discount, and that even happens rarely. The gallery that is driving my prices up across the board is in a different state. I do want to stay in the market in this area, and there is currently not a better gallery that is willing to represent me.
    So in light of your advice about pricing consistently Jason, how do I make enough at the deep discount gallery and not price myself out of my other markets?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *