When was the last time you raised your prices? For some reading this the answer is never. For some of you, the answer is, “I am thinking about lowering them!” (Ouch)
I am on the email list of many of my clients and many other artists. And I have noticed a dreadful trend for the past year or so. I keep seeing artists putting their fine art – original, unique, one-of-a-kind, 2-D and 3D art – on sale as though it’s a commodity. As though it’s a pair of winter boots. As though it’s a set coffee mugs or pillows from a print-on-demand site.
If offering a cell-phone or mouse pad is in your marketing plans, then putting them on sale from time to time makes sense. But the original image you created is an entirely different category!
Sadly, some art selling sites seem to be encouraging this practice. It looks like (and might even be!) a move from desperation. However, as you will see later in the article, there are other ways to “add value” to a purchase and create a sense of getting a “good deal”.Chasing Art Sales by discounting the value of original art is an imperfect solution. Click To Tweet
It’s as though there is no established value. And it’s very disheartening for the art collectors who have already invested in your art.
I know I am going to get some comments from various corners of the internet from people who will defend themselves, but be prepared: I will fight back – just sayin’…!
Part of the perceived (and real) value of original, hand-crafted, or limited production artwork is its lack of availability. It’s not repeatable. It’s not cookie-cutter. It can’t be googled and bought somewhere else at a better price!
The creative soul behind original hand-created art can’t snap their fingers and create a duplicate. Even photographers can spend an entire day or months to get that exact angle in the exact light. And then there are the artistic choices for the exact cropping, tweaking for greatest effect, and choice of the perfect matrix and printing medium.
If you want to be able to sell your original paintings, sculptures, fine hand-crafted woodwork, and hand-crafted artwork to a growing group of happy collectors, then you need to protect their personal expenditures. And their patronage. And your future credibility! They want to support an ever more popular and sought-after artist. They want to be able to say, “I knew her when her pieces were under $500.”
The vicious cycle
An artist recently called me complaining that, at that the last show she did, nearly every buyer was asking for a discount. She admitted that she had offered a pretty substantial discount (20%) in a recent email campaign and had a banner with a discount offer at her last show in that same area. I pointed out that she had “taught” her buyers to expect a discount.
The only solution for her, long-term, is to stop discounting. Since she hadn’t raised her prices in the past five years, I also recommended that she raise them by at least 10%. The majority of her prices were between $300 and $800 so it’s not a big jump. However, it says to anyone considering purchasing, or who have already purchased, that the value of the work is to be respected.
She also sells open-edition prints of her originals and so I recommended that if someone “needed” to get a “good deal” she should give them a free print of their choice. She is delighted to have a “better” option.
How saying “no” can be win-win
Okay, so admittedly, this is all about confidence! And you need to rehearse your own statement so you can be strong in your messaging. This needs to be put into words you are comfy using, but it’s not hard once you believe the idea behind the statement. So when someone is considering a purchase and they ask something like, “Can you give me a discount?” you can reply with something like one of these statements – or something that applies to your situation:
- My devoted collectors expect my prices to go up, not down and therefore I cannot discount my originals. If you want to join my email list, I do offer XX off on any of the prints to my subscribers. You can sign-up right now.
- I don’t offer discounts on my original hand-made work, but as a courtesy, you can have a discount on the frame (or shipping).
- I am in several terrific galleries who support me and my work and I cannot sell my work for less than it would sell in those venues. I must honor the values that are established.
- Because of high demand, I will actually be increasing the prices in a few months. My recommendation is that you take advantage of the good value now. (See Below for an outline of this idea in action.)
I think you see the pattern here. Politely let them know that the value is real, credible, and protected now and into the future.
Encouraging “good deals” with current collectors
One surefire way to instigate sales without lowering prices is to create a sense of urgency among your current collectors and would-be collectors. The almighty email list is your key to success!
As my followers here already know, I am a purist when it comes to marketing and I teach that email marketing is your foundation. With each change to an algorithm, Facebook and Instagram (same company) have become increasingly ineffective. Use them or any of the social media platforms, but use them to get more people on your email list!
Armed with a vibrant “permission-based” email list and a little planning, you can set up a chain of events that pushes people through the “Buyer’s Journey” and into your shopping cart with big smiles and their credit cards.
Once a year (or every few years depending on your art form and other factors), you should raise your prices with a bullhorn at your side. Let the world know that you are 1. having a hard time keeping up with demand 2. gaining credentials 3. adding new collectors at an increasing rate
That is to say, let them know you are gaining in popularity. They will like that and will want to join that club of collectors who are riding along with you on your train to success.
If you are not experiencing any of the above, then just say that your process or materials are forcing you to adjust pricing. Or just don’t even say anything at all if none of that feels real to you. Just announce a price increase. The most important part of the entire campaign is making sure you do it with a ticktock deadline.
Two groups to inform and two approaches
Group one is your collectors. They own your work. They have a reminder of it in their lives every day. They know the “real value” of ownership. Learning that the actual value is about to go up, even just a little bit, makes them feel good.
Group two is the wannabes. They are on your list and you know they really want to purchase “someday”. They have been to see you at shows or openings. They keep lingering in the consideration stage. Learning that you are raising prices will have a big impact.
Treat the two groups in separate email campaigns.
Phase one for GROUP ONE: This group needs to have a “special” offer. Let them know you are giving them an early head’s up. Emphasize that they are getting this extra sneak preview time because they are already collectors and that gives them a special privilege. Let them know they have a full week to look over the collection with only other collectors. Remind them that the work they are considering is also being considered by other collectors and that if they see a piece they really love, they should act immediately to secure their purchase.
Phase two for GROUP ONE: Adding more urgency requires you send out another email with a “last call”. This is their “final warning” to purchase before the rest of your list is contacted. You must send them an email that says something like, “Tomorrow, you and the other collectors will be joined by the rest of my list. Tomorrow, all the people who have followed my career, but have not yet collected my work, will learn about the price increase that goes into effect on (date). If you have considered any purchases, and if that piece is still available, there will be a much larger group of people on my site searching for the perfect piece tomorrow starting at (time and time zone). The odds of availability will lessen for you.
Phase one for GROUP TWO: It’s not rocket-science. Just let them know that you had previously given first dibs to your list of owners of your work. Remind them that if they become owners, they will be on that special list; the list where special offers and advanced invitations happen. Give them the deadline. You’re basically done with group two.
Phase Three for BOTH GROUPS: 48 hours from the price increase you send an alert to your full list.
Creating urgency helps people focus
Keep your email messages short and scannable. Send your readers directly to your offer online in the email via a solitary CTA (call to action) button that is clear and easy to click. Send them to a landing page – preferably your shopping cart – and restate the terms: Deadline date before the price increase, first-come-first-served, and a “don’t miss the chance” statement.
We all want a “good deal” when possible. Making a price increase into a good deal is a better overall strategy than offering a discount on fine art and collectibles. It secures the same energy – the sense of lost opportunity if they don’t act fast. But it also projects increased long-term value of the treasured art they are adding to their collection.
I consider this a win-win-win method of increasing traffic and sales.
If you need my deeper thinking or want to put together a strategy session, just set up an appointment anytime.
Thank you McKenna, this is an ongoing issue.
There is a tendency to beat everyone else at what someone calls a “race to the bottom”, where the goal is to lower prices at any cost (ha!) or strive to have items at lower prices in the hope of attracting more sales.
This ultimately hurts everyone and the only effect is the devalue of every single truly handmade piece.
I have several people in the art&craft world still clinging to this idea and ‘blaming’ higher (=appropriate) prices for lack of sales.
Then the above mentioned “race to the bottom” ensues and the effect is detrimental to everybody, as the wrong customers are attracted and the $30 something priced items overshadow all the efforts and good work of everybody else. And everybody than tries to have $30 something priced items…. and it goes on and on and on.
Of course matters are also dependent upon the venue, but there needs to be a difference between ‘trying to make a buck in this economy’ and transforming every craft market or show into a flea market event.
Keep speaking this loud, I for one am listening.
Yes, yes, yes, Emanuela! Leaving the fine art world aside, this is especially a problem for fine craft work, too. My own jewelry line always required a proper venue and higher than crafty pricing.
It’s why I always rail against anyone who is making finely hand-crafted items (YOU! for example) from even getting involved with a site like Etsy. When that site started, there was an emphasis on hand-made – now they take imports. But even in the early days that still meant that a hobbyist could put an item up with a price that covered only materials and anyone trying to actually pay themselves a living wage was “forced” to lower their prices. SO… to your point: venue matters. And it matters Online and Offline! Everyone needs their own website with their own shopping cart so their own story can be told and their lovely work can be highlighted (YOURS!) without the distractions of cheap imported goods a mere click away.
GOT ME AGAIN!! HOW DO YOU DO THIS!!??? McKenna! You do it every time!! I LOVE your words of wisdom, and the practical help you give. I have an automatic 20% discount code as a permanent fixture on my website for those who sign up for my email. Guess how many sign ups I’ve had? GOOSE EGG! There are probably other factors involved… but you would think that after people who have seen my work, love it, and check out my website, would at least sign up for my email!!
What’s your opinion of taking that puppy off?
When I jumped on your site…. YOU have a problem with how you “sell” the 20% off and then how you seem to be creating a “bait & switch” scenario. So #1: YES TAKE THAT OFF. Especially front and center the way it is right now. AND remove the word discount from your menu and your site map list. You are leading people to believe that you are a swap meet, not a fine craftsperson/artist. Again, it’s fine to offer some incentive for people to sign up for your emails, but the first thing you want them to sign-up for is to stay in touch. You can allude to them getting a special offer in an instant email or some such thing, but take all that “buy cheap” stuff off your website. Honor your work and it’s value first. Offer incentives last.
This is such a relevant topic Mckenna! You and I have talked about this before but it still continues to be a challenge.
I used to sell many, many pieces on a major platform alongside other professional artists but I’ve seen pricing deteriorate in the last couple of years and now my work doesn’t sell so well as it’s perceived as expensive alongside cheaper stuff. The platform actively encourages artists to have sales and I see 50% and even 70% off sale prices which are just nuts!
But I don’t think serious artists need to fear this or join in with it as people’s perceptions (as you’ve been teaching us) are more powerfully affected by other factors like quality, exclusiveness and a strong emotional connection with the work. On our own websites we have the freedom to set out our stall in a way that reflects our experience and the quality of the work. As you know, my previous website just wasn’t doing that but my new one is.
I’ve put my prices up recently a couple of times but regret now that I didn’t make the kind of fanfare you suggest, but there’ll be more chances! But there is a strong emotional tussle that goes on inside when raising prices – you feel that you will put people off – it’s hard to have confidence that it will increase sales rather than diminish them.
I do have a couple of questions around sales on reproduction prints. You’ve said a couple of times that it is a good idea to have a flash sale to one’s subscriber list. What frequency do you recommend so as not to give people the idea that they will always get a discount? What size? 10%? And finally what do you think of sites that offer a discount code in return for a sign up?
It was a recent 50% off on all our art from one of those online “galleries” which prompted this rant! Ackkkkkk!
And yes… raising prices is a bit scary, but when done with intention and “sold” as a benefit, it certainly can boost sales. For anyone reading this who has other crafts and are worried, creating a range of prices is the answer.
As to your questions: If the prints are open-editions (limited editions should increase as the edition is close to selling out) it’s certainly rational to “use” them as tools to gain followers (including getting email sign-ups with a monthly drawing!) or close sales on originals. A free smaller-sized reproduction can be just what it takes for someone to pull out their credit card. Frequency is tougher to set into concrete. Amount of discount tends to be most effective around 20%, but 10% might be fine for many. Assuming that the item is properly priced with a solid profit margin built in, of course!
I am pro giving discount codes or even free stuff such as a set of note cards. We all (believe) that we get too many emails, so most of us want to know, “What’s in it for me?” Each person reading this needs to calculate what the “lead acquisition” cost is and if possible track any direct selling that happens. Note cards have the added benefit of being sent to others who might become followers, so make sure you have your contact info on every card!
One artist I know sends a single note card that is actually a small original watercolor. She knows for a fact that it has led to sales of her original oils.
Thanks Mckenna, some good ideas there. As I don’t do open edition prints(feel that is another down-market move), what you’re saying is I shouldn’t be offering %discounts at all! I like the notecards idea and as I have a big range of those it would be no problem to offer a pack. I have been in the habit of offering a £15 voucher to local subscribers to spend at my open bi-annual open studio events. People do take me up on it and it seems to attract people in who might not otherwise make a decision to purchase. Am I going wrong there?
Open-edition prints are a “down market move” and you might be right to avoid offering them. Notecards are you next best thing! If you have a system in place that encourages purchasing like you have for your bi-annual open studio and you feel it is THE “closer” that is making a difference to your overall sales, then go for it. I don’t have the “golden book of rules”, just the general road map for the Buyer’s Journey.
The 15 off, might be just the right tone for your event! From what I see – that’s about 10% for your lowest priced pieces. You might consider, however, having the discount only apply to your limited edition reproduction giclee prints – just to distinguish the real value of your original hand-made works.
Another way to attract people is to announce it is an unveiling of a new collection or a new single work. And even tie your sale to the first 5 pieces with a 10% donation to a locally beloved non-profit. The non-profit will likely announce to their memberships and help build your audience.
Wow… off-topic, but I think you get the gist? LOL…you always get a lot out of me!
Thanks for that – it’s making sense. Yes I think the voucher offer should just be on reproduction prints. Someone used it on an original last year and told me how guilty they felt using it! They knew that an original shouldn’t have its value eroded away.
I don’t think it’s off topic – artists are bombarded with marketing advice about offering discounts and I have to say that you are the only source of info I follow who sees that discounts might not take artists where they want to go. We need encouragement to stand our ground on not offering discounts, confidence to raise them, but also knowing when it can be judicious to apply them.
Sorry to pump you for information again but I’m starting the build up to my next open studio event and have all these things rattling around in my head.
Well… as you know, I can be put to work in a Skype session anytime, Rebecca. Feel free to set up an appointment – with your time difference we know it will be early am for me and late afternoon for you! My rates – at just $89 US per hour are very reasonable. Let’s do some brainstorming! Email me: email@example.com