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

+$180.00 Delivery/Shipping

$5,180.00

+$82.50 Sales Tax

$5,262.50 Total

$4700 All-inclusive

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.

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41 Comments

  1. When a Rembrandt goes to Sotheby’s or Christies for auction, that is nothing but a competitive negotiation, only in the opposite direction (i.e., the base cost is set and goes up until nobody is willing to go higher). We’re not Rembrandt. Some art doesn’t have a base cost, it starts low and the bidding goes on until it’s sold.
    The sale of ALL items is dynamic. Some people negotiate on all items, some people put the word “firm” next to their selling price. We have the freedom to sell how we want and buy how we want. We have the option to walk away. Some people see a price on something and are too sheepish to even think to negotiate.
    We have societal conventions where we automatically negotiate on the price of some items while it’s unconventional to negotiate on the price of other items. Paying for talent and overhead in art is different in so many ways from paying for the overhead of selling varying-priced groceries. Honestly, the argument between the two is childish and a waste of valuable time.
    The artist who is complaining about negotiating might want to look at the artist who is selling consistently without negotiating and figure out what it is about the artist or the work or the venues that is creating that buzz and mimic it if non-negotiable sales are that important.
    I was once told by a successful artist that to be a little arrogant about your work is important, however, a person also needs to know how to pick their battles.

  2. Your art of negotiation makes perfect sense. It seems win-win. I usually negotiate, but can see the benefits of being a little more elaborate. I think with practice of your suggestions, I may do a better job. Thank you, Pam Wedemeyer

  3. I love to give discounts to people who have purchased my art in the past. It just makes sense to reward a repeat customer with a slightly sweeter deal than a first-time buyer.
    I also love to offer significant discounts on work for a limited period of time , like opening night. When I leave the gallery that night, I see plenty of red dots and I’m happy. The prices revert to the tagged price the next day.
    Further, I love negotiating. It’s fun. Sometimes I’ll say to a potential customer: “Make me an offer”. Then, whatever they say, I say “SOLD!”, unless of course the offer is ridiculous.
    The thing is, if I want to make a sale, I might have to take a hit. No problem. The alternative is to warehouse a bunch of artwork in my garage, my living room, my bedroom, the hallway, underfoot, overhead, swamped, just swamped. The stuff’s got to go, and if it lands in someone else’s house, that’s just great!

  4. I’m assuming this article is about giving a discount when the customer asks for one, and not about lowering one’s prices in general. I have given discounts to people who have purchased my art before, and I’ve also given free gifts.

  5. Very informative, it reminds me of a car salesman. A dilemma I have and have had is price with the painting or listed on a print out if they are interested in the piece.
    I have no one I can count on but me. Many people seem to be very timid to talk directly to artists. People picture us as aloof and not very approachable. So how do you get across that price isn’t written in stone?

    1. If you are dealing directly with your customer, be friendly and be yourself. I am not comfortable with sales, but I work at it. In Hawaii we have a term called “ talk story” – find out a bit about them and offer info on yourself and your art- people like meeting the artist and hearing about you. It really isn’t like being a car salesman in the negative- you have an advantage – you love what you do and you are the creator- the car salesman is not connected emotionally to the car- he is driven by sales and commissions, though he may love cars and that gives him an advantage as do you with your art. Don’t sell yourself short in that you have a lot to offer the potential customer in that you know more about your work than anyone and as I said people who enjoy art and buy art really enjoy meeting the artist. I have made some good friends through people that have purchased my art. While selling art is hard for many of us , it is not that bad if you work at it.

  6. Excellent posting! I’ve been on the sales side in the high-end jewelry/watch industry, and also on the buying side. There’s no clear-cut rule for everyone and every product or service. However, you do a very good job Mr. Horejs of providing a sensible guide for handling a negotiation that makes sense. Both sides have to win. But I had to checkle as the topic brings to mind the old saying – ‘we take a loss on every sale, but make up for it in volume’.

  7. I always price at a level where a negotiation is possible. I always offer a discount if a customer is looking to buy more than one piece. This worked very well with a customer who wanted to come and see my work at my home- he walked away with 3 originals and I had a check for $10,000.00- One of my best sales ever.
    Some people can get prickly if you don’t give them the price they want and as was mentioned by Mr Horejs you gracefully decline. Sometimes they come back sometimes they don’t. But you have left the door open for them.
    While I was never big on the business end of art- I know I want my sales to be win – win for everyone involved. I am happy with the price I receive and I have my work going to a customer who appreciates it. My customer is happy and if the deal is done through a gallery then they are happy. No one should leave with a bad taste in their mouth.
    Art is a luxury item and while it is our means of work- it is not vital like food as the artist in the interview explains.
    Also it is very important that if a customer sees your work in a gallery and comes to you to buy it direct and for a discount- ALWAYS send them back to the gallery.
    While I have sold my art through galleries and in person at hotel residencies and art fairs, I keep my prices consistent and these include some room for a discount.
    One of my favorite stories of a fellow artist was he had a wonderful folk art painting and it was on the ground at the art fair. I said I loved this piece and why hadn’t he displayed it properly. He said he had before but no one was interested. I asked how much was the price and he said $200. I said that is why it’s not selling- you are not valuing it. I picked up the price tag and put a one in front of it – I said now you can negotiate- but don’t go below $800- he did as I said and within two months he had a buyer and they negotiated and he sold the painting for $950!
    Never price too low as you can’t raise it in a negotiation- you can always lower.
    Great article and I really enjoy these posts

  8. Hi Jason, Including 20% in the retail price makes sense. Every body likes a discount. The discount would depend on how well you are selling. Some where you said, If you are not selling, you have a storage problem. Again, depending on your sales, do you want to sell it or own it.

  9. I was struck by two words. One was used a lot, the other I can’t remember hearing, but the concept was there. The words: Value and Cost. Selling (anything) is a process of establishing a “value” for an item above the “cost”. If the can of peaches is offered at 20% this week, the guess is that 20% can be lost IF the number of cans sold increases. It’s a quid pro quo.
    Art feels different to me. Example: I have 2 paintings I’ve done. One was a snap, the other fought me tooth and nail all the way. Both are 24″ x 36″ and in acrylics. Here’s the question akin to the can of peaches. “What’s the cost of the the paintings?” I’m remembering the breakthrough lesson on pricing in the ABA. The cost accounting which I used to do is a slippery slope to a quicksand quagmire. We are used to a time-clock kind of time management. Maybe we should be more about “billable hours”. Lawyers use that. If they answer the phone and talk with you for 15 minutes chatting away but also making a suggestion for action, that is a billable hour. But even that doesn’t let us off the hook. It’s still an average of sorts unless the hour is pure capriciousness.
    So- a solution from ABA is to measure the market and see what the prices are. Who cares how those prices came about. They are now in the market. Figure out where you feel you fit and set your price. But in the marketplace there is always a range whether you want it or not.
    If you’re not a negotiator, that’s a good reason to have a gallery or two.
    Just my own 2 cents. And by the way- I’d like very much to insist upon and get my “retail value.” But I don’t see that happening.

  10. Our co-op gallery just had a sales event to introduce people to the brand new look of our space. We did very well in sales, and though I drastically reduced prices, my work didn’t sell. I have to admit that I don’t enjoy crowds, so I scuttled off early. Had I stayed, I might have sold something. I do enjoy donating work to raise funds for charity, though.

    1. I came to the realization that “donating” my work to a good cause was a thoughtful idea and, if one can a afford it, and will get your work out there. However, I have begun to realize that unless your work gets”top dollar”, it is not valued very well by the organization. I now deal only with those that understand that I would like something in return. I have one that I deal with that gives the donating artist the option of accepting 50% of the auction price or donating the money to the organization. That kind of recognition means a lot to someone who i is establishing a presence. I

  11. Great discussion. As a professional in sale, marketing and retail, setting price and negotiating price are always (a) necessary to consider and (b) a matter where instinct plays a role. (I love your counter-offer presentation approach.)

    As I read I was reminded of something I that stuck with me from some Lester Karass negotiating tapes tapes I listened to (cough-cough) 30 year ago. (Yikes. And, yes – cassette tapes listened to in my car.)

    His observation was that it you don’t negotiate – especially don’t counter – the person research shows that the person you’re negotiating with has LOWER satisfaction. Why? They are likely to think they’ve left money on the table – that you’ve taken advantage of them.

    Part of negotiation is to end up at a result where both parties believe they’ve gotten a good dea. That makes a satisfying transaction (and I would assume that it brings customers back to a gallery – but only you will know that).

  12. I always factor in 20% more to my pricing for negotiation When I first met my gallerist he told me he never negotiate prices. I told him that he had a for sure 10% margin for negotiation and an additional 10% for the tough sales depending on the painting. He has sold several of my paintings over the years and most of which were negotiated. I personally don’t like haggling but that is his job not mine that’s why they pay him the big bucks. Wealthy collectors like to haggle it is part of the thrill of buying for some and if you take it away they would walk. There were a couple of times we had to go over 20% but my gallerist took the overage away from his commission, which I thought was more than fair. I think that the most important part is to get the buyer to make an offer, it psychologically locks them in even if it is a low offer. My gallerist will sometimes call me in the midst of a negotiation to ask for the 10 or 20% discount and I laugh at him as he is only playing out a drama for the sake of the buyer because he knows he has the margin. All the world is a stage I guess

    1. Looked at your portfolio…outstanding work Kevin!
      .
      Most artists don’t like fooling around with the sales details, they just like to do their art. But money is one of those irritating distractions from doing one’s art that the artist has to deal with in order to live.
      .
      Galleries may take a 50% commission on sales. So they have some room for negotiation in their commission. The artist should not think the gallery can do all the negotiating on their end. Galleries have lots of expenses with advertising, rent, employees, etc. So the 50% commission is not that crazy. I think it is fair to tell a gallery that you will take off the first 10% – 15% and they can do any additional discounting via their commission if they are in a hurry to make the sale.

      1. Daniel thanks for the compliment. Let be clear the gallerist took the hit on the above 20% I didn’t ask him to or expect him to. He is a really great guy to work with. I probably would have split it with him if it wasn’t too much more. I trust he made a good commission on the painting anyhow

  13. I don’t discount my work that often but when some of my better work doesn’t sell I ask if I’m pricing it appropriately in the first place. I voluntarily reduced some (about 20%, oddly enough) and they sold.
    The danger of discounting across the board when you have a high water mark sale is your work tends to command less overall … I’d rather hang on to something for a more lucrative venue. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. When I said I decided to keep a piece because it didn’t sell, that was absolutely the truth at the time.
    I sold a sweet little painting a few weeks ago for half of what I felt it should have brought. This dear lady was obviously in love with it. She told me she simply could not afford it. I then asked her what she was comfortable with and she asked almost in embarrassment, would I take $XXX? Yes, I would.
    I want my work appreciated and loved. This woman paid more within her budget for that simple little painting than an affluent buyer who ignores price tags. It’s not always about the money, folks.

    1. Which brings me to the one comment by the “Artist” that concerned me…
      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.
      As evidenced by Jackie’s client, not all art buyers have plenty of money. It’s dangerous to make assumptions about what someone can afford based upon how they dress, what they drive, a quick first impression. Perhaps it is best if this “Artist” relies on a reputable gallery to handle his sales.

    2. Nice Jackie
      Balancing Heart And Art like your share!!
      $$$ is great however creating happiness has its value also!
      Thanks👍🏻

  14. Wow, so much great information from the article and the comments. Love getting these emails. I’ve have had three pieces sell through three different venues this last month, all three asked about a slight reduction. I said why not.

  15. that’s exactly what I do and you gave me an idea for another approach!!!!! I use to be a “no negotiation” artist then realized that I rather see see my work walk for a minor discount than stay for no cash. I’m all in for that approach. I mean if you are super popular and your pieces fly away with no effort then why discount but most of us are not that artist.

  16. Welcoming negotiations is respecting the free will of people to ask what they may wish for, to hear their concerns and point of view. I see it as being open to creative ways to help buyers and customers enjoy the process, while maintaining good repore, and validating the artist’s and galleries work.
    Such discussions are healthy for relationships and for business. The bottom line is that we should have a bottom line but are willing to be flexible within reason. I believe in respecting a persons need to “negotiate” if that be the case. I am also very happy when a buyer pays full price. This process is as individual as an art piece and the excitement of obtaining a sale is worth the transactions that may be needed. Thanks Jason, for the great play by play sales scenario – I enjoyed it.

  17. I have been selling my art in shows, galleries and direct for almost 20 years. In the beginning they were very inexpensive as I was not confident. Over the years as my skills grew and awards came in, my prices have risen twenty times what they used to be. Once I got into several galleries 5 years ago, I had to think about what discounts I could offer. I didn’t want to deal with it. I was giving 50% for direct sales for several years, I know, BIG no, no. But since then I have seen consistent buyers paying full retail at galleries, I can’t do that anymore. Buyers are not sneezing at $2,000 works and pay full price. I do a newsletter and I can’t imagine the cringing of a full price buyer who see a similar size work at half off. I put my full gallery price on the paintings for sale now on my website. If the piece is several years old or what I can call a work study, then I can discount the price. It’s been tough for me to ask full retail price in a direct sale where I do not have to pay anyone a commission. So I would take 25-30% off. After reading your article, I will only take 20% off. At art fairs there is more room to negotiate but not too much. It is a delicate balance. For instance I just sold a $1200 piece for $750 direct the other day, I didn’t have to pay a commission. I felt I may have undercut myself a little, but just was too afraid to lose a sale. I didn’t feel there was time for further negotiation and just made the bottom line cost I could accept. It takes having strong nerves to negotiate. Gotta work on that. I feel it is time to be taken more seriously and valued as a fully emerged artist. Thanks for your scenarios and role playing.

  18. Welcoming negotiations is respecting the free will of people to ask what they may wish for, to hear their concerns and point of view. I see it as being open to creative ways to help buyers and customers enjoy the process, while maintaining good repore, and validating the artist’s and galleries work.
    Such discussions are healthy for relationships and for business. The bottom line is that we should have a bottom line but are willing to be flexible within reason. I believe in respecting a persons need to “negotiate” if that be the case. I am also very happy when a buyer pays full price. The buying process is as individual as an art piece and the excitement of obtaining a sale is worth the transactions that may be needed. Thanks Jason, for the great play by play sales scenario – I enjoyed it.

  19. I was chagrined after my last show to realize that I didn’t even recognize that a potential buyer might have been angling for a discount without coming out and saying so…oops. Evidently being tuned into the subtext is also a part of the negotiation process.

  20. Thank you for this insightful article. In the past, I have driven two hours to a gallery to meet with an art patron that requested a discount for the sake of his European wife. I drove across Central Texas, met the client, verified the 10% discount to the gallery staff of our co-op, and left with a spring in my step, knowing that my meticulous scratchboard drawing of a nesting Cattle Egret was going to a loving home in Germany. Negotiating the price allows us to build relationships, and I am blessed to have met someone who appreciates my original art. Win-win, indeed.

  21. Dunno, either something will sell or not at the stated price. Gallery can negotiate or not, it is up to the gallery. If a gallery wont negotiate, it saves a little bicker time.

    Tell the artist in question to mark it up by 10% for some wiggle room to negotiate. You can also have a gallery policy that is a piece does not sell in 6 months or a year it must be discounted or removed from the gallery.

    If the artist works in a pretty involved or visually interesting process, a short video of the artist at work may be a helpful sales tool for the gallery to use.

    Here a fascinating oral history of the rise of Pop Art as told by Ivan C. Karp who worked at the Leo Castelli Art Gallery in NYC in 1959 as associate director. He discusses prices, gallery management of that era and a lot more.

    https://archive.org/details/InsideNewYorksArtWorldIvanC.Karp

  22. At a festival about 8 years ago, a collector wanted to negotiate. I held my price and didn’t make the sale. In spite of being shown regularly over the years, today that painting is still in my storage area … and now I’ve changed my painting style, making it obsolete. One day in the future it will go to a charity … for free. I cheated a collector out of the enjoyment of a painting he loved and permanently cheated myself out of a sale.

  23. This is one of my favorite blog posts! I have managed art galleries for the last 10 years and I love your “tools” for negotiation. I am lucky that most of the artists I have ever represented were established and knew that it was just part of business. They agreed in writing to split discounts up to a percentage and we knew what we COULD eat if we needed to. I never led with a discount, more putting the focus on the artist’s achievements and their process and the painting, but there is a pause…. a long pause after you’ve said all you can say and they are glaring at the price tag. They are maybe embarrassed to ask, but I’ve closed sales after that pause by offering just a little something off the top, 10%, 5%, just to determine if they are seriously considering the painting. Either they will laugh and let you know they have no intentions, or they’ll pause some more and then you know you can find a way in. Offering to deliver the painting and let them “live with it” for a couple of days also gives you an upper hand. If you can cross the threshold of the front doors, I’ve found my odds to be very good and the discount to be minimal, if any!

    Long ramble, but I do love your blog and will encourage all of my artist friends to tune in!

  24. Wonderful article Jason, and this is why we need galleries! It depends on the personality of the artist as to whether they can also be a negotiator, but your skills are clear to me. Thanks to all the other contributors here, I have been looking at your wonderful art work too.

  25. Negotiation is truly an art unto itself. A little flip on this is negotiation between a local town and the artist who gave it a sculpture 20-30 years ago when he was starting out. It has been in a prominent street location since in an area that has heavy tourist traffic and the town now wants to move the work as they re-route traffic. The artist is fighting this and asking for, I believe, $8 million as his work is now well known and he does not want this piece moved. The current plan is to put the piece into storage until they can come to agreement.

  26. I didn’t read all the comments but I am thinking that if you sell a painting directly to a client that has seen your work in a Gallery, and if you do not want to lose a sale in directing back the customer to the Gallery, the right thing to do will be to give a 20% of the price to the Gallery. It is only fair since you will not have had the sale without them, but since they didn’t handle the process etc.. you cannot give them the full cut they will earn otherwise.

  27. I personally am agreeable to discounts. My question lies in the co-ops. When I sit the gallery, I am willing to give discounts to get a piece to move. The problem is communicating with the other artists to see if they will go along with it for their work or someone NOT calling me to ask me about it for one of my pieces.

  28. I loss a sale of three framed photographs I was showing in a Starbucks. Later I came to the conclusion that I had made a mistake in not negotiating. Now reading your article I feel I have a better grasp of the history and reasons to negotiate.

  29. This has been very interesting, I always negotiate but as I am the artist and do have a couple of galleries representing me I don’t know how to come to a discount when they buy from my studio without undercutting the gallery. Any advice is welcome. Pamela

  30. Your art is not a sacred cow, it’s a commodity like everything else, and if you want to sell you have to flexible. Now that does not always mean that you have to drop your price. I always offer an incentive to my customers and collectors. Sometimes it is as simple as offering to put your autograph on an open stock print. You just added value in that persons eyes and that’s what it’s really about. It’s all about perceived value and it’s all about the customer, not you. Not if you want to sell art. When I price my work I always price a little higher giving myself a opportunity to negotiate down and still come away with a price that I am ok with. Free shipping is another great way not to have to loose value in the artwork, but the customer feels that they received a deal. There are so many ways to go about giving people what they want and still coming away as a win win for both parties.

  31. Amazing article Jason I learned a lot. I am Latin and come from a country where negotiating is in our blood. Yet, when it comes to negotiating my own art it gets difficult. Your step by step example is very helpful.

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