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How To Negotiate and Set Your Prices

How To Negotiate and Set Your Prices

Eric Maisel

Dear Dr. Maisel:

I have a lot of trouble setting my prices but I have an even harder time when somebody wants to negotiate my price down. I have the same trouble when I’m trying to fix a price for a commission and the interaction becomes a negotiation. Do you have any tips around this?

- Ron D., White Plains, NY

Hi Ron,

Thank you — A visual artist who has had only a moderate number of sales and for whom each sale is a “big event” is likely to have a hard time negotiating higher prices and better deals. Naturally fearful that if he doesn’t accept the proffered amount or deal exactly “as is” that he might well lose the opportunity, he will agree to even outrageous offers, for instance that he take 20% of his usual price or do five paintings for the price of one. I have clients who have been offered precisely these sorts of deals, usually accompanied with the pitch that “being hung in this location will do wonders for your career” or “if you let me have this for a deeply discounted price I’ll send lots of business your way.”

Negotiating is not so much a skill as a feature of the practical, psychological and cultural landscape an artist inhabits. Some people need to drive prices up or down for psychological reasons, because, for instance, they frame everything in terms of winning or losing and to accept a price as offered feels like losing. You see this all the time on the television reality shows, as in the case of the “house flipper” who reflexively demands that every sub-contractor work for less than he or she usually gets. Similarly, the cultural “game” in a flea market is not the same “game” as in a grocery store: at the flea market you bargain, at the grocery store you do not. Do you see the selling of art as more the one or more the other?

Then there are the myriad practical matters that factor into each unique equation: “If I sell this painting for 50% of my usual price, that still pays for my studio space for the next three months, so although I may be doing myself some harm by undercutting my prices, at least I can pay my studio rent.” One artist will refuse to undercut his prices, reckoning that in the long run that is the wisest course; another artist will opt to pay his rent.

Putting all these important matters to one side, when you do want to negotiate how should you go about doing it?

Next: Where Will the Negotiation Go? →

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