As part of your agreement with a gallery or selling outlet, the selling price you set will have commission added to it. The final selling price will be made up from your price for the work plus a percentage added on by the gallery which they keep, to help pay for their overheads and costs related to selling your work on your behalf - such as running costs, rent, publicity on your behalf and so on.
This means the price you want to sell at - the amount of money you need to earn on a work to make a living and support your practice - is only a part of the final selling price passed on to a client or collector. Your own price must to take this commission into account to your final selling price remains at a good level for your experience and sales history.
The level of commission set on your work will be individual and should be negotiated with the gallery. Take time to see if that price is realistic for where you’re at in your career and make a choice about how to go forward.
There is no standard level of commission. Galleries can add on anywhere between 33% and 100% to your price as their commission, but commission on works sold through boutique shops or stores reach as much as 250%, or more - making your final selling price two and a half times more than what you're earning from the sale. In all cases, commission should be negotiated with the organisation or company selling the work, and should be in your contract of exhibition or written records if you are represented by a commercial gallery.
See gallerist Rene Gimpel from Gimpel Fils gallery talking about the artist/gallery relationship.
Things to consider when considering a commission level:
- Your accomplishments since you first priced the work, i.e. have you showed much since you originally showed the work? And have you sold much at that price point?
- Peer research: what are other people at my career level selling their work for?
- The state of the economy. Being realistic is an important part of selling. If the climate is right for moving work in your ‘new’ price point and you trust the gallery’s ability to sell the work (i.e. they have a proven track record of working with artists at a similar stage in their career to you, at a similar price point), then go for it.
- Finally, and always most importantly, are you happy with this price? Would you be comfortable telling people who have bought your work previously about the new price?
If you’re not comfortable, or able, to add a substantial commission on top of your prices, the gallery still needs to take it’s cut for it's own costs. That means that you may have to take a loss on your own part of the selling price - again, negotiatie with the gallery and make sure you are getting the best deal possible or see if they are willing to share any loss in the short term. Remember a small loss initially could equal a lot more work sold (particularly if you are making editions of work). You could consider this an investment in your career and future selling potential.
If you sell work on your own and through a gallery, it is a common courtesy to keep your prices at the same price. If a gallery is selling your work for £1000 and you are selling it for £500, the obvious thing for a collector to do is to try to buy from you directly, thus cutting out the gallery and diminishing their profits and ability to meet running costs - and their ability and willingness to support you as an artist. Mutual respect is the key to working with any organisation and you could damage your reputation (and therefore ability to sell work or create new projects) if you do so.
Two interesting reports published in 2005 are the Arts Council England report Artists in Figures: a statistical portrait of cultural occupations, and the Institute for Employment Research bulletin A Balancing Act: artists' labour markets and the tax and benefits system, both available for free.
© Medeia Cohan-Petrolino