Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Art Of The Deal: A Rant

Warning:  The following touches the third rail of the art business. 

Just the other day I was in need of the services of a lawyer.  Nothing major, mind you, just the run of the mill, everyday stuff that manslaughter sometimes on occasion you might need a lawyer for.  I stumbled upon this person on the internet and went over for the free initial consultation.  As I sat down in his plush leather chair beside his football field sized mahogany desk, I said, "Look, I know you want my business, right?  So before we go any farther, I want at least two more free consults, and I want you to drop your fee by ten percent." 

One thing I noticed right off-- Lawyers may have gone to college and learned some big words, but they know a lot of four letter ones, too.

So, as I was driving away after getting kicked out leaving his office, the engine in my car started making weird sounds.  I pulled in to the first mechanic I could find.  After he checked my engine thoroughly, he informed me I need new lifters (whatever they are) and the bill, plus labor would be at least seven hundred dollars.  "Listen," I said to the guy.  "I'll pay the price for the parts, but I know you work for yourself, so waddya say we drop your hourly rate by fifteen percent?"

It seems lawyers and mechanics know a lot of the same words.

So, anyway, I wanted to buy an expensive piece of jewelry as a Christmas gift for my beloved partner Ellen, so I limped my car over to a big department store.  Bullseye, or something, I think it was.  When the cashier was done ringing me up she said, "That's $26.52"  I looked at her and said, "Well, what will you take for it?  How about $19.50?" 

She just gave me one of those cashier-type blank stares and repeated, "That's $26.52"

"C'mon, " I whispered to her, "You know and I know that even at $19.50 you still make a profit.  So what do you say?  We got a deal?"

Who knew big retail department stores could issue restraining orders?

When I got home, I found an email from a potential customer who wanted to buy a couple of my paintings!  Except she wanted free shipping and a discount of 15%.  I can't say I was in the mood to accommodate her request.

Why is it perfectly normal to haggle with artists selling their product when you wouldn't do that to a lawyer or a doctor or a big department store?  The folks buying art are trying to get a deal, I understand that, but meanwhile us artists are trying to make enough money to buy either a new tube of paint-- or heating oil.

Were I to accept the deal the aforementioned customer proposed, I not only would have sold one painting for less than what I was asking, but literally thrown in the second one for free.  I am no business expert, but I know two things that don't last long in this world:  Dogs that chase cars, and businesses that give away their products for free.  But you would have gained a collector, I can hear you say.  Sure, and she would expect more discounts and freebies for the next painting she bought from me.  Call me a hopeless romantic, but I want my customers to believe they got a great painting for a fair price, not that they got screwed for paying what I asked.

Look, I'm not blaming this customer.  She said she gets deals from other artists and galleries all the time.  So obviously the fault, dear Brutus, lies not with the stars, but with ourselves.  We have conditioned our prospective customers to automatically assume we'll immediately negotiate our prices.  We brought this on, and my trying to singlehandedly stem the tide is a fools crusade.  We all feel that the term "starving artist" is pejorative, but it's also mostly true.  I just wish we hadn't gone the Monty Hall route long ago.  Our art should be the grand prize, not the game piece. 

After all, nobody wants to get zonked!



Susan Roux said...

Congrats for standing your ground! You may be broke, but you still have your dignity. (and a few good paintings...)

Kay said...

I needed to read this. It is a rant I understand. I sometimes feel the need to lower prices, offer freebies or discounts just to get people into my studio with their money!! But it doesn't work well enough to warrant the discounts..so I am sticking to my guns too. Years ago when I raised, showed and bred German Shepherd dogs I was always expected to lower my prices or give my puppies away because I should be so honored to have someone even want the dogs!!!! I had judges come to me and want my pups for free because of the honor they supposedly were bestowing on me. Well that doesn't buy dog food, vet services, show entries, travel expenses, stud services and supplies. And these were people who had "paid their dues" and knew what kind of money it took for me to breed that puppy. It made me raise my prices, but that didn't work either. Having bred some of the top GSDs in the country didn't sell the puppies. I quit the biz several years ago because people wanted something wonderful for nothing and would not treat the pups all that well anyway. So I need remember those lessons in my art. By the way..you must have p@#$% off a lot of people while doing research for this post!!!

Daniel said...

Kevin - your comment reminds me, I enjoyed the hell out of this post. Not that I'm in a position to implement the moral of the story, but one can always pre-emptively overprice work...