At the latest Art Walk, for the first time, I had some chapbooks/mini-books to sell at a lower price point than I normally have product at. I had two different, complete, individual short stories put together as 32pp & 44pp mini-books. I printed up 50 copies of each, signed & numbered them, and set the price at $2 apiece. The primary motivating factor here was to try to make sales to all the people who implied they wanted to buy one of my books but that they didn’t have the $13 or $14 required or a credit card (I totally take credit cards). I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that some of those people would have at least a couple dollars with them. I only moved 5 mini-books at the Art Walk.
The fact that people didn’t have (or lied about not having) $2 to buy a short story isn’t what struck me the most about the experience that night. Instead it was this: People assumed they were free.
Now, I could have used a color and/or cardstock cover to clarify that they weren’t simply photocopied brochures or flyers, though I suspect there may still have been some people who assumed they were free. A lot of people picked the mini-books up, looked them over, and managed to ignore the price marked on it in 70pt type. Over and over again. They grabbed, they looked, we discussed what it was, and they moved to walk off without even considering that a product at a vendor booth might have a price.
I thought this was bad enough, then when the crowd had thickened a bit later in the evening, it got worse. People started grabbing the mini-books and moving to walk off with them without so much as slowing down or asking what it was they were grabbing. Upon final inventory Saturday morning I confirmed that I’d caught everyone who’d tried to walk off with an unpaid copy, but the experience further illuminated some problems with perception I’ve been having pretty consistently with my business.
Another aspect of the problem that also manifested itself last Friday at the Art Walk comes across in the oft-voiced assumption that the art I’m showing is prints (as opposed to the handmade originals they all actually are). I’d thought this might be related to my relatively-affordable prices, so this month I didn’t post any prices. More people than ever asked whether my art was prints before (or without) asking about pricing. I know that some of the other artists at the art walk offer both prints and originals, and that some even offer prints exclusively. I just wonder what is driving this assumption about my work.
In thinking about this problem, it occurred to me that it might have something to do with the precise nature of my recent work, and of how carefully I’ve worked to produce clean, crisp, bold intersections and interactions of color fields. That some of my recent work is so well-crafted that it appears to have been created in (or cleaned up in) a computer and then printed out. That the sharp edges I create with my hand-carved tape-stencils are clearly not created with manual brush strokes. I really don’t know what it is, I can only guess, and these are what I’ve come up with in the last few days.
The other possibility is that people are projecting on to the work what they want from it. That they don’t believe they can afford original artwork, so project the idea that the art they want is available as an affordable print. That they can’t afford a couple of bucks for a chapbook, so they project the idea that they’re free.
Other perception problems I’ve had potential customers express: People who have been to my websites (modernevil.com, wretchedcreature.com) and who honestly are not aware that they can buy my books and/or art online (or in some cases, that they’re available for sale at all). People who have my business card (and/or are looking at one of my websites) and don’t know my address, phone number, or email address to contact me. (Literally: My name, address, phone number, and email address are on every single page of both of my business sites.) People who have purchased an handmade original piece of art from me, given it away to someone else, and come back to buy another copy of the same thing for themselves – sincerely believing that what they bought was a mass-produced (or at least multiply produced) item.
I don’t know what to do about these perception problems. Putting “all artwork original” on a sign at my Art Walk booth and on wretchedcreature.com doesn’t seem to have helped to communicate that I’m not merely selling prints. Offering prints isn’t the answer, either. Not only do I not like the idea of it, preferring each piece to be handmade and unique, but I’ve also looked into it and found the costs to be prohibitive. I’d have to at least double the prices on all my art, probably up to double the normal prices (ie: quadruple or more the current prices), or some of the prints would actually be more expensive -just to print- than the prices I’m asking for the originals. I’ve been thinking of changing my prices, but downward, not upward. I want my art to be selling briskly more than I want individual pieces to be gaining value.
Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts on these quirks of perception; I mostly just don’t understand them. Book pricing, perception of value of the printed word, perception of value of chapbooks, these are a separate discussion I’d meant to get to earlier today, but haven’t yet made time to. Perhaps tomorrow. I thought I needed a nap 5 hours ago; by now I need a full night’s sleep. Good night.