When it comes to art pricing rules, there is one that stands out: if you do nothing else, keep your pricing consistent. This means the retail price of your artwork should be the same whether it’s sold in a New York City art gallery, a California beach gallery, on your website, or from your studio. But is it ever OK to discount your artwork?
Some art collectors will not purchase a piece of art unless it has been discounted. It is not uncommon to have a piece for sale online and received an email specifically asking for a better price. You can’t blame a consumer for trying to get the best price! However, it is not always wise to discount your artwork. Here’s how to tell the difference:
When you should never discount your art
1. Never discount your art for a collector who finds your art in a retail setting and contacts you directly to see if they can get the same or similar work for a better price. This is a huge problem for brick and mortar shops and galleries. They create a selling environment that is expensive to maintain only to have potential buyers come in, find work they like and contact the artist directly through the artist’s website. It has become very easy for potential buyers to undercut retailers because most artists can be found quite easily through a Google search.
2. Never allow a retailer to permanently discount your artwork. It does not matter if the retailer is a brick and mortar Gallery or an online catalog. Be careful here, because it is OK for retailers to run limited sales or offer discounts to their customers who make bulk purchases. But sometimes a retailer may advertise that they are running a sale, but actually, the work is discounted for an extended time, or even permanently. When a retailer permanently discount to your work, they lower the value of your work and they also make it difficult for your other retailers to sell it. In addition, if the customer purchases a piece of your work at full retail, then finds it at a discounted price somewhere else, they may come to you to make up the difference.
If you discover that a retailer has been permanently discounting your artwork, take action to correct it. If your work is on consignment, it is easy enough to correct the disparity because you still own the work and can request that it be returned to you. Simply call the retailer, and ask that your prices be returned to full retail, or in the alternative be returned. However, if the retailer purchased your work at wholesale, you have less control. Although you can ask for the retailer to sell it at the suggested retail price, your only remedy may be to decline sales of future artwork to the offending retailer. Going forward, let potential wholesale buyers know that in exchange for geographical exclusivity, you require that your work not be discounted for longer than two weeks or if it is damaged.
When discounting your art is OK
1. It is OK to discount work you sell from your studio that is experimental or considered a second. Seconds include work that is not up to your usual quality standards, but also include work that may have been returned or the result of an abandoned commission. The discounted work should be distinguishable from the work you have in retail settings so that there is no confusion on the part of the buyer.
2. It is OK to run short promotional sales to drum up interest in your work. This is OK for both you, as well as your retailers. The sales should not last longer than two weeks, and should be clearly defined. Once the sale is complete, the pricing should return to your normal retail rates.
3. It is OK to offer discounts “to the trade.” Sometimes you will be contacted by an interior designer or art consultant who is buying on behalf of a client. It is OK to allow them to purchase your artwork directly from you at a substantial discount as long as they are selling it to their client at a regular retail rate. Typically, design professionals get paid a commission for placing your work in their designs. The standard commission rate is between 30 and 50% of the full retail rate. So, when a design professional purchases your work directly from you, you discount the retail price by the amount of their commission, and they get paid when their client reimburses them at the full retail price.
4. It is OK to discount work that you are closing out. Artists tend to work in series, sometimes multiple series at a time. If you have a series that you are no longer working on and are ready to move on from the idea, close it out. When you do, it is fine to offer a discount on the remaining artworks from the series. If you choose to do this, be sure to let your retailers know that it is OK for them to offer the same discount to their customers. Be careful though. If you have a retailer who purchased a collection of the closing series at wholesale rates, they may not be ready for you to discount the work if it has not sold well. In this situation, check in with your retailer before offering the permanent discount.
There are many situations where it is OK to discount your artwork. Likewise, there are some definite no-no’s. If you have a situation that is not addressed in this article there are a few things to keep in mind that can help you decide whether or not you should allow a discount:
First, consider your retailers’ business interests. Your retailers help support your art practice and it’s only fair that you help to support their business. If there is a possibility that discounting your artwork could potentially interfere with their ability to sell your art work at a full retail price in any way, think twice about it. Remember that your relationship with your retailers is actually a business partnership.
Second, (and just as important) consider your collectors. You know exactly how it feels to purchase an expensive item only to find out that another retailer consistently sells the same thing for significantly less. Most consumers are not bothered by promotional sales, close outs or discounts on goods that have been returned or are slightly damaged. But, if there is a possibility that discounting your work could potentially make one of your collectors feel like they shouldn’t have invested in you, don’t do it. It’s just not worth it.