A subscriber wrote, “Many online galleries these days have a money-back guarantee. I recall your father mentioning that if a buyer didn’t like a painting and wanted to return it, he would gladly take it back in exchange for another. When I think of business practices, this great customer service ranks at the top of the list. On pricing, if an artist has work showing in an online gallery and that gallery takes 40%, and she/he has work hanging in a local gallery at a 50% split, and then they also have work for sale on their own website, how does the pricing work for all those different venues?”
The simple answer is that if you’re a living, working artist, your prices need to be standardized across all platforms and be transparent to your collectors, no matter how they choose to shop. The only variables should be discrepancies in currency, taxes, framing and shipping costs. In our brave new world, where collectors can find you in their pyjamas, while on holiday, at an art fair or on the main street of their hometown, they deserve to be honoured and rewarded for their good taste and speculation with this basic fairness.
A bit old school, maybe, but if a brick-and-mortar gallery has endeavoured to represent you, give them a respectable territory — if you live in the same town, don’t cramp their style by making private sales from your studio unless you’ve agreed on some terms up front. And don’t undercut gallery prices, online or otherwise, undoing all the value and integrity you’re supposed to be building. Online art portals may dangle a big reach for a lower commission, but they often warehouse more artists and do less work, banking on volume over specificity. You may discover some benefit by association with certain sites, especially if they cultivate a targeted audience or elevate your work’s context with other meaningful content and professionalism. Your brick-and-mortar gallery might appreciate this, or they may prefer to post on your behalf, as your representative, as many do on curated sites like Artnet, which funnel collectors to galleries and auction houses.
PS: “Thou shalt start out cheap.
Thou shalt publish thy prices.
Thou shalt raise thy prices regularly and a little.
Thou shalt not lower thy prices.
Thou shalt not have one price for Sam and another for Joe.
Thou shalt not price by talent or time taken, but by size.
Thou shalt not easily discount thy prices.
Thou shalt lay control on thy agents and dealers.
Thou shalt deal with those who will honour thee.
Thou shalt end up expensive.” (Robert Genn, The Ten Commandments of Art Pricing)
Esoterica: Art is a long game. Evaluate regularly what kind of business you’re in, what kind of partner you want to be and what type of distribution is working best for this stage. I recently visited with an old friend, an artist who after years of steady effort is well established. Part of her success has come from being represented by an important gallery in her city, though they’ve since parted ways. Now independent, my friend makes steady sales from her studio and shows in public exhibitions, art fairs and alternative spaces, allowing her more control and eliminating commissions. Her great web and people skills, work ethic and chutzpah have made it easy for her collectors to stay up to date and cared for. In spite of all this, my friend looks forward to partnering with a gallery again, because she appreciates the value. A dealer equipped to get behind you — who spreads the magic and widens the net — deserves your loyalty, steady deliveries and referrals. In return, your collectors can benefit from professional care, authentication, framing, shipping and installation services and, yes, a customer satisfaction guarantee. All while you go to your room and paint.
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“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” (Warren Buffett)