Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Supply and demand that doesn't stretch

The other day I mentioned to a friend that I was having trouble keeping paintings in stock. I know that's not a bad problem to have mind you, but it does make it harder to put a good show together. My friend suggested that I should follow supply and demand and I should raise my prices and thereby slow my sales down.

Unfortunately, I don't think this will work, even if I ignore the idea that at this stage of my career I need to get as many paintings out into the world as possible and not worry about maximizing dollars per painting. An even stronger reason that I have to be very careful about raising my prices is that you can't lower them if you go too high.

I am finding out that the business of selling art is a little different than commodities that go up and down like oil or gold. Those types of things have an elastic supply and demand type of behaviour, whereas art is inelastic.

Art is more like edging towards a cliff. Galleries and other sources have informed me that once you're established you can raise your prices, but you can't drop them.

There are apparently artists who went too high with their prices (without a commeasurate increase in quality), and what happens then is not a predictable slowing down of sales, but a complete dropping off. Basically, their careers are finished. If they drop their prices they devalue all the paintings that they've already sold, and they send a signal that they might go down again, meaning that their paintings aren't reliable investments. The other signal they send is that their existing collectors paid too much. Their only options are to quit painting or to start over again at much lower prices using a pseudonym. Yikes.

So in the end, you have to suck it up, pick a reasonable price scheme (mine goes by size) based on your average quality work, and live with the fact that you'll be selling your best pieces at less than their value. And then you gradually inch your prices up and inch towards that cliff.

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