Pricing our art — especially at the beginning — can be a daunting task and while numerous factors have to be taken into consideration, there is one that doesn’t get talked about that much. The problem is though, it’s one of the most important ones!
Regardless whether you’re aiming to take your art directly to the market and sell on Etsy, SaatchiArt or on your website, or if you wish to go the longer path of getting a gallery to represent your work, a solid base price for your work is imperative.
The problem with most of us though, is that we don’t know how to approach pricing in a way, that is going to work long term. What I mean by this is simple:
A lot of people, regardless of their profession, when starting out as freelancers (and that’s more or less what most artists are at the beginning — even till the very end) don’t have a lot of experience in their field and as such base their price on how much others charge for similar work. If they’re in dire need for new customers, they might even decide to set their prices a bit lower than their competition — considering that people will probably go to the cheaper alternative.
But there’s an enormous issue with such a model, because it’s a race to the bottom. And to paraphrase Seth Godin; the worst thing that can happen to anyone is for them to win a race to the bottom. Why? Well, the fact is, there’s always going to be someone that will be prepared to do what you and I do, but just a little bit cheaper.
Unless it’s a luxury item like a Hermes bag we are taking about, as far as commodities are concerned (and art under 1000€ is a commodity, not a luxury), the deciding factors will always be who is better, faster, but most importantly cheaper than all the others.
Because unlike luxury items that demand a premium because of the whole ideological infrastructure that was set-up to accommodate their high price tag, commodity items have no real story, no real ideology and rely on purely utilitarian factors to dictate how much they are worth.
As with almost every other product on the market, a bag and even a painting can obviously be either a luxury or commodity; no product is inherently a luxury item, unless it’s made out of extremely expensive materials, but this is an easy way out and never works long term (looking at you Hirst).
The goal of any of us artists isn’t to just incorporate diamond dust and platinum into our paintings, because all this does is to produce cheap thrills and in the end only attracts the wrong kind of customers (think of all the shallow people that define beauty on the merit of a product’s price tag).
We should focus on value. The value our work can provide to anyone that experiences it.
Think of it this way: Let’s say I really like Venice (preferably in the winter, when the fish smell is tolerable), and I would love to experience the view over the canals.
A nice room with a view that isn’t somebody’s laundry rack is worth about 200-300€ a night if I want to experience the real deal. But I could get a nice, big print of the canal for 5€ at my local print shop, by just going online and downloading a photograph that I like. Or I could buy a 50€ print of Canaletto’s View of the Grand Canal, and enjoy it that way if I’d like to get fancy!
While going to Venice might cost the most, it would probably be the most valuable investment I could make. But let’s consider the night in Venice was actually the night I got mugged or arrested for breaking some weird 18th century law, prohibiting the feeding of local ducks with imported bread. Suddenly my investment and the perceived value of the experience would diminish immensely (unless you’re like me and would pride yourself on going to jail for illicit duckery).
Now, let’s say I decided not to go to Venice and to just buy a nice print of the city. In a perfect world, this would truly be considered a cheap move but what if I met my future spouse, when getting my work printed at that print store? My 5€ investment and that 30 min of searching for images on Google just increased in value incomparably!
Imagine someone selling such experiences as packages; 1000€ for a hotel and plane ticket to go to some dark moist Italian cell, or 1000€ for meeting the love of your life. I bet all of us would gladly pay 1000€ for that printshop visit and considering the expenses were only 5€, the person selling such experiences would make 995€ of profit.
What I want to say with this convoluted tale of ducks and strangers arranging our marriages is that value is perceived. It is experienced and as such it should be the base of how we set our prices, at least those of us that really know how to produce such experiences.
While most might base their value on materials, time and other factors, the best of us will always set the price according to the value that their work provides. If you can produce a work of art that makes people connect with their inner selves and gives them permission to feel good inside, I believe it’s your obligation to set the price high. So high, that it becomes a barrier for those that wish to experience the work in the comfort of their own home and only those that really value it might consider to buy the work.
Because the reality is, nobody will pay 5€ for a chance to meet the love of their life and actually expect anything to happen or to actually treat the experience as respectfully as they should. But make them pay 10.000€ or 100.000€ and you will get much better customers and much better results, because they understand the value of what you have created and they understand the true price of value.