If you want to learn to sell your art effectively, step outside of the art world for a moment and visit a street market. Forget drinky-poos on opening night and all that arty-farty nonsense. Market traders know how to sell. If you want to know how to negotiate the price of your art, this is it in a nutshell.
In order to sell art as a bargain and get the price you want, you must convince your art buyer that your painting is worth more than the price you’re asking. The bargain is the disparity between those two figures.
Everyone wants a bargain, even at the higher end of the market, and it’s your task to find the price that satisfies both you, and your buyer. So how can artists use this psychology to sell their artwork?
This is how you do it.
(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)
How to Haggle in an Art Fair
All traders use the same sales tactics. To prove a valuation, a trader compares their product favorably to the competition, highlights their product’s implied worth, limits availability, and finally, delivers a huge discount for an immediate sale.
That’s fine in theory, but in practice, it’s not so easy. Most artists will settle for the passive approach and label their art with a fixed price, sit back and relax.
The customer can take it or leave it.
The simplicity is tempting. It’s a passive approach that involves little input beyond a display and calculating the correct markup to earn a good profit.
It works if you have multiple items for sale, namely, various art prints, and related merchandise. Customers tend to assume that the prices will differ for each item, and they’ll want to know the prices without having to ask.
Take a look at this: How to Price Art Prints: Practical Advice For Beginners
Customers are reassured by clearly marked pricing. It’s a written contract, what they see is what they get, no less, no more. They don’t have the embarrassment of asking the price only to gulp when they can’t afford it.
It’s not as effective as having a tempting offer and you can construct a take it or leave it offers without having to enter into any price negotiation.
Entice your potential buyer with a written deal. This will work for any items being offered for the same single price, including art prints.
$10 Each : 2 for $15 : 3 for $18
My main bargaining strategy is to devise a multi-buy deal. The more you buy, the better the price.
It works for supermarkets and it will work for you.
Don’t underestimate people’s desire for a bargain. Many people are hardwired to get a good deal.
What I don’t do is compromise the offer.
The best deal is in the offer, it works because I’ve worked out the costs and calculated a fair price. I won’t budge.
If they can’t afford my best price, they can’t afford them at all.
I have a bottom line and I keep to it.
The other bonus of advertising your prices is the perceived value it implies. You are in effect saying, ‘this is what they are worth’ and ‘this is what others are paying’. It’s straightforward and honest.
You can also take a leaf out of the supermarket handbook and advertise your discounts for all the world to see.
Never be ashamed of your prices.
At present, I choose to display my open edition prints with a sign clearly saying £6.50 each or 2 for £10 The retail price is in large, bold print and there’s no room for discussion.
Most people buy two prints.
Some will ask the price for three, which is fair enough. As two prints are £10, they should be £5 each and that’s a good price.
Naturally, the customer is hoping for a better price, whereupon I can either say £5 is my bottom price or I can weigh up our encounter and offer a slightly lower price if the sale is uncertain.
I will repeat my offer for 2 prints for a tenner, and £4 each thereafter as my lowest price. In effect, I’m offering the third print for a 20% discount. That sounds like a great deal and everyone accepts it. That’s £14 for 3 prints.
I don’t advertise 3 prints for £14 because it’s a clunky price offer. The magic price is £10. That’s the hook to get people interested. I can up-sell the better offer.
If you are serious about making a living as an artist, Douglas has a popular class on Udemy with 2337 students and very good reviews
How to Haggle The Price of Your Art Prints
Outside the western world, haggling is often the norm and second nature to all those involved. No one bats an eyelid discussing a price, it’s ritualized and follows a set of unwritten rules.
The asking price is way too high, the offer is way too low, and somewhere in the middle, there is a sweet spot acceptable to both parties.
It works best when all concerned know roughly what the price should be anyway. This is not the case with artwork so a little more thought must be put into the process.
I price my art prints this way. I display my cheapest prices but leave my premium limited edition prints unmarked. This allows me to construct and pitch my offers and increase my sales.
From the outset, you must have a selling price in your head, a bottom line that you will not fall beneath. All your efforts must focus on achieving that minimum price or above.
It takes timing and practice to get your sales pitch just right. As a seller, you have to develop a trader’s patter and have a supply of tried and tested quips and phrases at the ready.
When your potential art collector asks for a price, it’s important to state your price confidently. Don’t apologize, stutter, or hesitate. Then wait for the reaction.
If the customer is unphased or lets slip their surprise with a comment such as ‘is that all?’ You’re onto a winner.
If the reaction is one of disappointment you can follow it up with a question, ‘ Is that a bit steep for you?’ then continue ‘If you are keen I can offer you a deal.’
Ideally, your customer will enquire ‘how much?’ This is a clear sign of interest.
There are three ways to proceed:
- You can offer a percentage discount,
- Ask the customer to make an offer,
- Throw in a freebie.
The most profitable offer for you, the seller, is the latter.
Before I explain further, you need to understand my position as the seller and know my costs.
Pre-pandemic (and now pre-inflation), I sold my limited edition prints for £20 each. They cost me £1 each to buy in bulk. Bear that in mind as you read on.
Offer a Discount Without Haggling Over The Price
It’s easiest to discount your price there and then. Most people are not affected by 10% so I’ll offer 20% upfront, which is generous. If on the rare occasion anyone tries to get a better deal, I will offer 25% off if they want to buy two prints. I’m still making a big profit.
It’s a simple offer but there is a very real chance the customer will back away.
That’s why I prefer to turn the table on them.
Invite the First Offer and Take Control of the Haggling
If someone shows a distinct interest in a limited edition but is reluctant to pay the price I will ask them directly to make me an offer. This disconcerts people. They don’t know what to say. They are frightened to offend you.
I reassure them that I won’t be offended and urge them to give it a go.
Almost no one offers half, they are too embarrassed, and they usually offer about three-quarters.
I know this is going to happen!
My initial asking price was £20 but I will secretly and happily accept £15.
I know they will offer £15 from the start, nearly everyone does, so when that happens I accept their offer there and then! The sale is mine. No one backs out of a verbal contract. I get the sale without any risk. It’s a commitment.
Why risk losing the sale for an extra couple of quid, when they might back out and walk away?
Offering a Freebie, the Most Profitable Haggling Option
This is my favorite ploy.
I’m prepared to cut a deal by offering a freebie instead of a discount.
Some people are too shy to make me an offer, or more likely, they are torn between choosing one of two prints, one costing far more than the other. From my point of view, it’s the difference between taking £20 for the limited edition or £6.50 for an open edition print.
Human nature, being as it is, means an indecisive customer is likely to choose the cheapest option but I, naturally, want them to spend £20.
I make my move and this is roughly what I say:
“I tell you what, if you want both prints I can do you a better deal. If you want the limited edition for £20, I will INCLUDE the other one for the same price. You get both for £20.“
For the average customer, this deal is almost too good to be true. That appears to be something for nothing right? In the mind of the customer, I’ve just given away £6.50!
If the customer is suspicious I simply tell the truth, I can always reprint the open edition and sell it again. The Limited Edition can’t be replaced. All is fair and everyone is happy.
Decision-making is traumatic, people find it stressful. I’ve solved that problem and now the buyer can have both pictures without the angst of making the wrong choice.
For my part, as the seller, I was initially unlikely to get the £20 sale, but by offering the freebie I’ve secured the sale with the loss of only £1.00 for a new open edition print.
Relief all around.
Learning to haggle is a useful skill because it works. Whether you choose to spend your days’ bargaining is up to you. For my part, I prefer to combine fixed and flexible pricing, and for good reason, I just haven’t got the energy to haggle all day long.
Negotiate The Price of Your Art Prints Using Contrasts and Comparisons
Art isn’t like other goods. There is no fixed benchmark to refer to, instead, you must construct one yourself.
- Who inspired your own work?
- What prices do their originals command?
- What do their prints sell for?’
Use these as your benchmarks to contrast and compare them to your own work.
Have you got an example of a well-known artist to show your audience? Can you reasonably claim to be as good or even better? Use it to your advantage.
“Look this is by ‘so and so’ and it’s for sale right now for £600 online and it’s only a print. I’ll sell you one of my originals for that! Is it better? I don’t think so”
If that’s not easy for you, why not use ‘modern art’ as your contrast?
Believe me, I seldom meet anyone who has any time for conceptual art. I’d go as far as to say, most people I encounter, treat it with scorn.
The public mostly likes art they could never do themselves. They admire skill and patience. Use that insight to your advantage and offer up an outrageous contrast.
“A pickled shark is worth millions apparently, it’s supposed to be high art. It took me 40 years to draw this well and you can have a signed print for under a tenner.”
I use the price difference on my own website as proof that my prints are worth more.
“You can get them on my website for a tenner each, plus postage. It’s only cheaper here today, you can have two for a tenner with no postage.”
I also highlight the difference between my open and limited-edition prints.
“My limited prints are £20 each and there are only 350 prints, once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. I’ll reprint my open editions and sell as many as I can, that’s why they’re cheaper.”
Use photos of your work hanging on a wall.
Photoshop your image into a beautiful interior. Show people what it looks like.
“This is how it looks all framed up and on the wall, look at the difference that makes, Its a 100 times better.”
People are afraid of framing costs, they’ve probably been stung before.
If you don’t sell frames make sure your prints are the right size to slot into a standard shop-bought frame and promote the savings that can be made.
If you do sell the frames yourself, tell everyone how much it normally costs to get one made in the framers down the road.
“It’s daylight robbery”
You’ll encounter negotiations in every art environment and trade shows are no exception. This class on Skillshare will help you to prepare for the big event.
How to Build a Bargain by Being Unique
By emphasizing the uniqueness of your offer, you’re increasing its scarcity value,
These are the kind of things I say:
- ‘You will never find work of this quality sold this way, anywhere else’
- ‘This is an arty town but you won’t find another artist who can do anything like this, you can look all you like’
- ‘Ever seen the prints they sell? They cost a fortune, you never see them for sale at these kinda prices’
- ‘You don’t find artists selling gallery standard work on a street market like this, it’s unknown, it never happens’.
- ‘I travel a lot, all around the world and I still haven’t seen anyone do anything like this, nothing of this quality’
Saying what they are not, is just effective as stating what they are, it’s a way of allaying fears and suspicions while at the same time reinforcing the value of your work.
Let’s round this off by looking at one of the most effective forms of face-to-face selling.
The Cascading Sales Pitch
It’s an old-school market trader’s device to deliver a sales pitch and a knockout price to a crowd of people. I’ve seen modern versions of the same oratory online and on shopping channels but it doesn’t have the same punch.
I include it here merely to be comprehensive and inform you. I’m not sure it’s suitable for art but good luck to you, if you try.
It takes nerves of steel and perfect timing to pull it off.
The idea is to start with the highest price point and rule out each subsequent price drop in descending order.
The final price is announced with a clap or the clack of an auctioneer’s gavel and is far lower than expected. That’s the key.
It might go something like this:
‘You’ve seen them in fancy galleries all lit up with fancy lighting and fancy frames and what will you pay? They can go for hundreds.
This is the same thing in a different package, I should know it’s my own work, and I’m not asking for silly money.
I’m not asking hundreds, I’m not even asking £50. We are cutting out the middle man.
I don’t want £40 or even £30.
These are fine art prints, signed by me, the artist. I’ve got 5 here, when they are gone they’re gone, all I want is the price the gallery gives me…..first come, first served, put your hands up if you think they are worth a tenner. Well, I’m asking UNDER a tenner.
First come, first served!….PAUSE…
CLAP!… GIMME £7.99′
Of course, the routine would build up the final countdown with an elaborate display of colorful rhetoric and humor. It’s a sophisticated sales routine that’s part theater, part psychology.
It’s a method market traders and demonstrators have used for centuries and was a common sight until a few decades ago.
I remember being mesmerized as a child by these professional performers pitching their wares.
Shopping was fun, a market was an event. We’ve lost something.
You can see why this approach to mass sales would be tricky for an artist. I wouldn’t say it can’t be done, all I can say is I’d like to be in the audience when someone does. But not me.
For it to work you must rinse and repeat all day long.
The only trader that operates this way where I work is a magician/escapologist who gathers an audience by using similar psychological tricks.
He builds an audience of onlookers first by creating a commotion. In his case, he gets a few volunteers to conspire with him to clap and cheer.
A crowd likes nothing better than something happening and people rush over to have a look.
He does this every 30 mins or so throughout the day and ‘hats’ the audience at the end of each performance.
Imagine doing that all day long. Exhausting.
But boy, does he make money.
How to Negotiate for Art as a Customer
To round this article off and make it a comprehensive as possible let’s take a look at things from the buyers perspective.
How to Bargain With The Artist
Attitude plays its part in negotiating a price.
Sometimes a customer gets everything wrong and adopts an unpleasant manner. I would rather miss a sale than sell my artwork to someone who shows me disrespect.
And sometimes a customer will almost beg for a discount. I find this approach very embarrassing and awkward.
Another ploy is to suggest they’ve seen something similar for less money. My answer is always the same. I suggest that they should buy it because I can’t match them. I know they’re fibbing.
I don’t sell at any cost. It’s not worth it. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The best approach for the seasoned haggler is to warm the artist up first and make a few jokes. If the buyer entertains you, it’s a form of giving and that’s a reciprocal thing. Any cheeky request for a discount is likely to be met with a positive response.
I’m happy to offer a discount to good people because it makes me feel good too. It’s very basic psychology.
Selling art is as much about relationships and rapport, as it is about the art itself.
It’s important for the buyer not to give the game away and reveal their hand. The best negotiators are prepared to walk away. In other words, to show some interest but not too much enthusiasm.
The tactics are simple, a buyer must project pleasent uncertainty. They must be non-commital and vague, and surpress their delight.
A buyer should feed the seller with teasers:
- “I’m not sure I can justify it”
- “I’m not sure I can afford something like this”
- “I’m not sure my other half would aggree”
A good seller can spot potential clients. It’s in their interest to spend time with the most likely prospects. It’s the first-time buyers, sitting on the fence, that are open to pursuasion. If you know this, you have the upper hand. It’s only a matter of time before a discount is offered.
It’s a fact that many artists undersell themselves and let their art way go too cheaply.
How to Bargain with an Art Gallery
A gallery owner will have a price list, but those prices are not set in stone. In fact they art dealers expect to offer a discount and build that into the asking price. There’s no reason to pay the full price. That said, a buyer has to be realistic.
It’s not the same as buying from the artist directly. There is less wiggle room. Art galleries have overheads
A standard gallery commission is 50%, or p ut another way, the retail price is split 50/50 between with the artist and the gallery. If an artist needs £500, the gallery will double that figure and add any sales tax. The purchase price will be at least £1000 and in the UK the overall price of the work could be £1200 (inc VAT).
The gallery must cover additional expenses and make a profit from their half of the money. That includes:
- Local business taxes
Is it any wonder that galleries come and go? Your scope for a generous discount is severly limited. You can expect a standard discount of 5 to 10 percent and aim for 15% if possible..
Now before you feel sorry for the poor gallery owner, you must also know that the art business doesn’t pay for stock. Artists sell their work on consignment (sale or return) and if a painting doesn’t sell they hand it back to the artist or arrange to hang another. That’s low risk.
If you are very keen to buy a piece of art and lack the funds, you have two options.
You can ask for a payment plan, but if you go this route you will forfiet any discounts and won’t take ownership untill the final instalment. Or you can make a reasonable offer and ask the gallery to contact the artist and see if they’ll lower the price a little.
There’s no harm in asking politely.
Another way of negotiating a better deal is to arrange free delivery. Large art is difficult to transport. This could save you a lot of money.
Negotiating the Price of Your Art: Final Thoughts
If I know anything from my 20+ years as a professional artist it’s this, your best customers are your existing ones. That’s right, look after your collectors. You will need new clients and knowing how to negotiate is a key componant of selling, but never neglect your fan base.
One way to keep them coming back for more, is to offer a collector discount. It’s a gesture of goodwill that goes a long way.
If you are selling your art, you now know how to get the price you need for your art prints or art piece, especially selling face to face in art fairs. If you are a new collector you know how art gallery prices work and this knowledge will save you money.
Keep in mind that however you decide to negotiate, the most important skill of all is to engage.
Be friendly, positive, and smile.
Get a new perspective and learn to sell online with Katy on Domestika
If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit: (Amazon affiliate links)
- Pentel Mechanical Pencils 0.3mm
- Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
- Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Paper
- Jakar Battery Eraser
- Tombo Mono Eraser Pen
- Faber Castell Putty Eraser
- Blu Tack
- French Box Easel
Wanna sell your art? This is one of the many lessons you’ll learn in my guidebook. It contains everything you need to know. Take a look!
If you found this post helpful, you should read these too:
- Sell More Art – 10 Selling Tips For Artists
- How to Sell Your Drawings (Everything You Need to Know)
- How to Make Prints of Your Art – Printing Art Explained in Detail
- Pricing Art For Beginners: Originals, Art Prints, and Formulas
- Can You Copy Art and Sell a Painting of a Painting? I Found Out
- What Are Limited Edition Prints? 12 Things You’ve Got to Know
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