Your Prices May Suffer if You
Flood the Market with Art
Q: I'm fairly successful as far as artists go and make my living entirely by selling my art. I don't make lots of money, but I make enough to live comfortably. My situation is that I make art much faster than I sell it, so I'm wondering whether I can increase sales by selling through more galleries. The two local galleries I work with sell a lot of my art, but they don't like this idea much. I also want to work with galleries in other parts of the country. What do you recommend?
A: Increasing the number of galleries that sell your art is a good idea as long as you're careful how you do it. The key is to control the amount of art you have on the market at any given time, the number of galleries that sell it, and where those galleries are. If you saturate the market with too much art or give too many galleries the right to sell it, you can run into problems. Part of your current success is likely due to the way your market is structured, in other words, that a limited amount of your art is available through two galleries that represent you, and that's that. You're not at that point yet where if you substantially increase the amount of art you have on the market that buyers will be able to absorb it.
As for the two galleries you have now, you have to consider how important they are not only in selling your art, but perhaps even more so in maintaining your profile. Basically, the more instrumental they are in promoting you and keeping your name out there before the public, the more concerned you have to be about keeping them happy. If spreading yourself too thin compromises the success they currently have selling your art, they'll spend less time selling it, and here's the important part-- less time promoting you as an artist worth owning. They'll keep doing what they do now as long as your shows continue to be successful. If the buyer stream begins to dry up, they'll spend less time selling your art, less time keeping your name out there in front of the public, and you'll not only become less of a headliner at those galleries, but likely also less of one in the overall marketplace as well.
You're currently a mainstay at two galleries. In order to keep things that way, you want to make sure they approve of any career moves on your part; you don't want to upset them. If you put too much art on the local market through new galleries, something you can easily do since you make art much faster than it sells, you run the risk of making it too easy to get, increasing competition between galleries, and in the end, compromising your status at your two main galleries. They'll likely lose sales to the new galleries, and that's why they oppose an increase in exposure. So be really careful here.
Your best tact is to look for new galleries in other parts of the country. The farther they are from the two galleries you have now, the better. In fact, keep these two galleries happy by telling them exactly what you'd like to do and asking for their suggestions. You might even let them work to expand your market for you by acting on your behalf. One gallery approaching another gallery with a business proposition generally carries more weight than an artist approaching a gallery. Plus allowing the galleries to deal directly minimizes the possibility of confusion, disagreements or misunderstandings over who gets to sell what where and for how much.
Even though you have plenty of art to sell, add one gallery at a time, monitor the impact to your market, and do what's necessary to make sure the new galleries don't compete with your current ones. Wait long enough between new additions to see how your overall market is effected, especially with respect to that delicate balance between the amount of art you have for sale and number of people interested in owning it. You don't want to go lopsided in terms of supply because in order for your selling prices to hold steady or go up, you have to maintain a degree of exclusivity around your art and not make it too easy to get.
Internet exposure is another thing you have to be concerned about. Discuss the details of your online profile will all galleries and make sure everyone understands who gets to sell what. The Internet blurs the lines between physical territory, so it's your responsibility (in conjunction with the two galleries who currently represent you) to make sure there's not too much online overlap.
If at some point you get really famous and can hardly make art enough fast enough to satisfy the demand, then go after lots of galleries everywhere. But as long as you produce art faster than it sells, don't flood the market. Collectors like to believe they're getting something special when they buy art, not something they can get anywhere, at any time and with little effort. Make sure things stay that way.
Additional pointers for artists who make art faster than it sells:
* The more art you have on the market in relation to the size of your collector base, the weaker your prices tend to be. For example, if you have 50 serious collectors and 400 works of art on the market, those collectors will be more inclined to shop around and bargain on prices before they buy.
* Assuming you don't have a substantial collector base, the more galleries that offer your art, the more negotiable your prices tend to be. You may get whatever prices you consign the art to the galleries for, but the galleries may undercut each other at the retail level in order to move more art. As a result, your retail prices may suffer.
* Never sell art out of your studio at prices less than galleries sell it for. In fact, it's best not to sell any of your art directly when galleries represent you. There are always collectors who want to cut out the middle man, and that will only increase as your reputation expands through additional galleries. If you sell direct, galleries will focus less on you and more on other artists. At worst, they may drop you altogether.
* If an occasional piece of your art comes onto the secondary market priced substantially below what it sells for at your galleries, seriously consider buying it back or contacting a gallery or collector and having them buy it. One of the easiest ways to hurt your retail price structure (and your reputation) is to let your art sit unsold at low prices on secondary markets.
* If, for some reason, you can't buy back secondary market pieces, never badmouth them. Telling people that they're not the right look or medium or are too old is even worse than letting them sit unsold. Negative statements reflect on all of your art. If you do that, how do potential buyers know that several years down the road you won't be saying the same things about the art that they're thinking about buying from you now?
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