During a recent zoom artist roundtable, celebrated artist Natalie Featherston initiated a great conversation about the pros and cons of listing retail prices for available artwork on a personal website. I hadn’t realized it at the time of the conversation, but the debate over whether or not an artist should list prices on their site has apparently been ongoing for quite a while on many art-related forums and websites.
Fortunately, in my years as a professional painter, I have connected with some incredibly generous gallerists who are always happy to share their time and expertise. As such, following our roundtable discussion, I reached out to Howard and Lance Rehs from New York’s Rehs Gallery and Rehs Contemporary, Dave Ethridge and Chris Serr from Denver’s Gallery 1261 and Abend Gallery, Steve Diamant, from New York’s (formerly L.A.'s) Arcadia Contemporary, Jack Summers from Tulsa’s Lovetts Gallery, Robert and Megan Lange from Robert Lange Studios Gallery in Charleston, Clint Mansell from Principle Gallery Virginia, and John Manzari from Santa Fe’s Meyer Gallery. Each of these gallerists represents an impressive roster of talent, maintains an effective online presence, and can boast a wealth of experience in promotion and sales.
The three most common arguments for website price omission (regarding galleries and personal sites) are eliciting communication, avoiding complication, and the impact on website aesthetics. In a Sept. 2019 article by Jason Horejs for his website reddotblog.com, he spells out these reasons in a bit more detail. Mr. Horejs writes, " Briefly, to frame both sides of the issue, those who don’t include pricing seem to omit it for one or more of the following reasons: To encourage contact from the potential buyer. If there’s no pricing information, the reasoning seems to suggest, the client will have to call the gallery or artist and ask for the pricing, and now the salesperson has an opportunity to actively engage the customer and push toward the sale.
Including pricing can lead to complications or confusion. As I understand this concern, if there is inconsistency in pricing between the artist’s website and the gallery website, it can lead to obvious customer service problems. The same would be true if the site is out of date and a price has not been updated after a price increase.
Including pricing makes an artist’s website site seem too commercial." - Jason Horejs.
One of the most influential gallerists in my career was John Pence of San Francisco’s John Pence Gallery. Established in 1975, The John Pence gallery would spend 42 years as one of the most celebrated U.S. galleries for strong American realist painters. John was always adamant, at least in my experience, that artists should not list or quote prices anywhere outside of the gallery–period (online or otherwise). He felt that all such inquiries should be simply directed to the gallery—end of story. And while I can remember John having price ranges on his site, I cannot remember him listing any prices for specific pieces. (In the interest of adding some additional context to John’s policy here: I signed on with the gallery around 1999 when online collecting was not as seemingly ubiquitous as it appears to be today. And while some galleries still put forward GREAT arguments for the advantages found with omitting price listings in many scenarios, others have some great arguments for the contrary.
Before presenting these valuable insights, I would like to put forward that the default position for any artist facing a choice to publish prices should be to first consult with any parties affected by such a move. A productive discussion with your representation should allow you to better appreciate and consider the impact on your collective online presence as well as the branding and sales strategies that your representation may have in play, thus allowing you to make an informed decision and avoid unnecessary problems on your path to success. Hopefully, the following insights can be used to help generate more meaningful questions and considerations for just such a discussion.
The first gallerist I was fortunate enough to speak with on this topic after the zoom discussion was Arcadia’s Steve Diamant. Steve stated that he takes his lead on this front from today’s top-tier galleries. He pointed out that when you get into the realm of the “blue-chip galleries,” you tend to find very few published prices. Pace, Gagosian, and Acquavella, for example, may feature language like “price upon request,” instructions to submit an inquiry, or a mention of availability following a work description, but that’s about it.
Furthermore, Steve states that there is indeed a certain level of intimidation built into a gallery contact scenario that can absolutely discourage some from submitting an inquiry. However, for those that do reach out, a certain level of commitment for a potential acquisition is more likely to follow. In any case, whether or not that initial contact results in an immediate acquisition, Steve views such interactions as ongoing opportunities to build new relationships with those that share an interest in the work that Steve is passionate about promoting.
Beyond this, Mr. Diamant stated that his choice to stay in sync with the heavy-hitters not only facilitates the aforementioned contact dynamics but also contributes to an overall site aesthetic that he believes is more conducive to the specific experience that he aims to cultivate, one that places less emphasis on the site as a merchandise-moving mechanism. This is not to say that a web presence that holds a more overt retail “feel” is somehow inherently undesirable; rather, it is just a matter of personal preference relative to the gallerist’s intended balance of atmosphere and utility. And as artists, I am sure we can all understand just how varied such a balance can be.
Next on deck was father and son gallerists Howard and Lance Rehs. While New York’s celebrated Rehs gallery has long been known for specializing in important 19th and 20th-century works of art, increasing engagement with contemporary artists had led to the 2012 launch of Rehs Contemporary. Interestingly enough, the Rehs team has very different approaches as to how the traditional side and the contemporary side handle the publication of prices.
Howard was quick to point out that Steve’s observation about the “blue-chip” galleries was quite correct. It seems that as the price points for the gallery’s works increase—so does the absence of published prices. One of the reasons that Howard quickly put forward for this dynamic was privacy. He stated that the collectors that are ok with the hefty price tag on a top-tier work might not be that ok with that price tag being made public. As such, you will not find Rehs Gallery posting any prices for the 19th and 20th-century works that they handle.
Lance Rehs drives the contemporary wing of Rehs Gallery (Rehs Contemporary) and was kind enough to forward the following insights:
" …there are definitely reasons for both routes, but as you point out, with everything going online these days it is becoming far more common, and that explanation is rather simple and due to logistics – in order to convert a sale online (add to cart type functionality), there needs to be a listed price. I’m not sure there is any other “benefit,” comparatively speaking. I mean, it is certainly more transparent, but I’m not sure I’d quantify that as a benefit to the seller in this regard. In fact, if we are being blunt, I’d argue the reason galleries have long resisted putting up prices is they see the lack of transparency as a benefit to them.
There are a number of reasons not to list prices. However, I’ll preface that with the fact that I still think the advantage of easy conversions outweighs the following, particularly for a gallery (retail). So the first nice thing about not listing a price is that it compels any interested party to get in touch. When you have a price listed, the person can either decide to buy or not buy–if they do not buy, you potentially never hear from them, and they move on. If no price is listed, that person may reach out to inquire about the work, and even if they do not go through with a sale, you now have their contact information to follow up with other work later on. It also provides the opportunity to glean more information from the interested party – what they like about the work, their comfort level when it comes to price range, size of work they are considering, etc. At the same time, it gives you some flexibility on pricing without bringing too much attention to it. That is, if you decide to bump up prices, someone who has simply been viewing work (without prices) on your website will have no reference for the price of older works and would be less likely to notice price increases.
The reason I still feel listing prices is the way to go is that you can still capture contact info in other ways, specifically by offering clear and easy mailing list sign up, both upon landing on the website as well as while using the site. The other point would be regarding price changes – and to that, it really is up to the artist/gallery to be responsible for updating the information displayed. If a work sells, remove the price and list it as sold (removes historical price reference point). And as you increase prices, be sure to increase the prices of your older work that is comparable, so you are not creating discrepancies within your own oeuvre. Obviously, older work that you feel is not comparable to the current work you are doing can be kept at a lower price; however, there should be some sense as to why that price variation exists. Further from the artist perspective, when working with a gallery, you need to ensure your prices are kept updated with their prices – I can attest that we’ve had individuals reach out about a work we have and then mention that it was priced lower on the artist’s website (accidentally, or not updated), and we typically honor the lower price as seen (unless it is a glaring and substantial mistake – like leaving a 0 out). "
Howard also mentioned that while he and Lance are absolutely fine with any of their contemporary artists listing prices on a personal website, there needs to be a significant commitment to consistency . Aside from the occasional occurrence of someone trying to undersell the gallery (which absolutely happens), significant problems can arise (as Lance points out) with failure to keep the listings current. It’s important to remember that many collectors do a good deal of homework prior to an acquisition. If that homework reveals inconsistencies, a great deal of collector confidence can be lost—not to mention any number of future sales.
Robert and Megan Lange of the Robert Lange Studios Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, are always willing to share their experience and expertise as well. In response to my inquiry, they write, "Personally, we have always found it advantageous to have prices on the website but not the ability to purchase directly from the website.
As for the prices, I believe there are many clients out there that don’t want to make a phone call or write an email inquiring about a piece for fear they will be roped into future correspondence or pressure tactics from the gallery when all they really want to know is the price. I have seen many paintings on gallery websites that I would be interested in getting but end up making the assumption that the painting will be out of my price range. Therefore I don’t reach out in fear that I will be embarrassed by my inability to afford the work.
Also, because we have our pricing on the site, when people do reach out about a piece, they have usually accepted and understand the price, so the sale is far more likely to happen.
As for being able to purchase directly online, I believe that removes the human side of this business and makes it a little too transactional for my taste. We love having a friendly personal relationship with our clients and believe it adds a connection to the gallery’s philosophy and ideals and ups the chances of repeat purchasing."
Jack Summers of Tulsa’s Lovetts Gallery shared a very different take on the topic of online purchasing. He explained that having a purchasing mechanism on your site can take better advantage of those collectors’ that may be shopping during the gallery’s off hours. Many of us are no stranger to shopping on our devices in the late evening hours. Website purchasing mechanisms can facilitate acquisition 24/7. As such, this strategy is also highly advantageous when you consider international acquisitions.
Jack went on to state that in regards to artist website price listing, it can be an excellent idea as the listings can be a valuable piece of verification for those collectors that like to research the art and artists prior to acquisitions. As I mentioned earlier, independent sources of information that are in agreement can boost collector confidence. I remember seeing these little charts in American Art Collector magazine that tracked an artist’s price points over a specific period of time. I am not sure if they still do this, but I would speculate such information indeed goes a far way in terms of collector confidence.
Jack also went on to stress that open, clear lines of communication about price listings between the artist and the gallery, as well as unwavering consistency are vital for collective success.
Meyer Gallery’s John Manzari was kind enough to share his expertise and experience as well. He writes, " I see no reason why prices should be omitted from the artist’s website or the gallery’s website. After all, this is a business that provides a livelihood. Give people as much information as possible in the virtual. It’s an extension of the brick and mortar (in my case). After all, I have prices adjacent to the works on my gallery walls. Why should they be omitted from my website? AND, simply put, art comes at a price.
I hear the argument being made that including prices can be distracting from the aesthetic found on a site and perhaps appear a bit gauche. I disagree. Another argument would be to leave prices off in the hopes of having potential collectors contact you directly. Not necessarily true. In my experience, if they are serious buyers, they’ll get in touch ."
Principle Gallery embarked on a full website redesign not very long ago, and director Clint Mansell stated that this very topic was kicked around quite a bit during the process. He states, " We decided that it was more advantageous not to have the prices online to capture contact information from people and force a conversation with the prospective client. Since then, the trend has been that people are more comfortable buying directly online and sight unseen.
Another concern was that [the art] becomes too much of a “product,” which it obviously is, but does it take away from the romantic and emotional experience of buying a piece of art, if you can buy it like a sponge on amazon? Should we force a person-to-person conversation? I think we can all agree that the best way to buy art is in person, but things are moving increasingly online, and we must adapt in certain ways. Adding a buy it now, add to cart, or similar button on our site has been another ongoing discussion that we haven’t quite come to an agreement on yet.
One way we have adapted or given into the pricing on the site in the time of COVID is to make in situ documents for each of our exhibitions. We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from this, and I’m sure it has added to sales. This is something we’ll continue to do. The idea is to do it for most of the work we have in the gallery in the future, not just exhibitions, but the process does have some limitations, especially in how time-consuming it is to update. So, we have been already adding prices to the site, and it has been benefitting us. If you were to poll people searching for art online and ask if they think prices should be available, I bet almost everyone would say yes. That’s not to say the consumer knows how to best run things, but obviously, that’s something to consider.
Positives of prices on the site: Transparency, ease of information gathering for the client (not wasting either’s time), lower-priced artwork would probably see an uptick in sales if people are pleasantly surprised by the cost and relative cost to other works in the gallery.
Negatives of prices on the site: We couldn’t capture some peoples’ contact info if they reach out for a price (but are these people even viable buyers?), If a client sees one artist’s work at $10k and they’re looking for a less pricy work, they may just leave the site not realizing we have less pricy work."
Clint closed out his email stating that continued discussion among his colleagues at the gallery is now " leaning more towards adding prices to all the works on our site in the image information. "
Gallery 1261 and Abend owners Dave Ethridge and Chris Serr also had some great insight to share. Dave let me know that he has been working on some business-themed educational resources for artists hoping that it will help them navigate issues like this even more effectively. David writes, " We are firmly in the “post your prices” camp.
Reasons to post prices:
Artsy (I’ve attached their 2020 report on posting prices) and 1st Dibs tell us that it is crucial to post pricing and that listing pricing information leads to a higher sales rate. I consider both companies to be authorities on the subject. They have been around for many years now, have very high traffic, and have the data to back up their position.
Excerpt from Artsy’s 2020 report on posting prices via Dave Ethridge:
Our collectors expect and want to see pricing. Here is a direct quote by a collector related to one of our artists that doesn’t allow us to post pricing. “It pisses me off that you don’t post pricing for this artist. I am busy, and I don’t have time to play games emailing you for the pricing information.” This collector is not alone; we have heard this sentiment many times over the years. For many collectors, not posting pricing is a roadblock.
Transparency. I believe this industry should be less opaque. By posting pricing, we are transparent, and it creates more trust with the visitor. We want more people to feel that they can start collecting original art without worrying about “not being rich enough.”
Posting pricing pre-qualifies a collector. If they still contact knowing the price, our conversion rate is much higher, plus pre-qualification also helps us be more efficient and not waste valuable resources on an inquiry that cannot afford a given price point.
I don’t think artists that show in galleries need to post their pricing. I think they need to state their galleries clearly, and even better, link each available work directly to their galleries’ website. I only say this because I see an artist’s website as a reference and the gallery being the sales outlet for any given work. But, that’s only for artists’ that sell through galleries. Those artists that sell directly to the public should post their pricing. And it should be the same as the galleries. Selling direct and showing in galleries is another subject that I could write a lot about as there are a lot of potential ethical lines that can be crossed if one is not careful.
There aren’t many unless your goal is to be more flexible with pricing. I suppose another con would be for those artists with price points that only cater to the 1% , and you want to appear super exclusive and only for those that are very rich. Why post pricing if that’s your goal? But, for the vast majority of artists, I see no con to posting pricing as long as prices are consistent.
Some artists argue that posting “contact for price” creates more opportunities to “sell” a collector on the painting. While I get their reasoning, it doesn’t work out well for us in practice. First, it alienates some collectors that want transparency and don’t want to take the time to reach out to us for pricing. They also are most likely worried that the gallery will hard-sell them, and nobody likes that. Second, since the inquiry isn’t pre-qualified, it creates more “junk” inquiries. “Junk” inquiries occur a lot, and we would like to limit those because they are a waste of our time.
Not posting pricing irritates a lot of collectors. We know this because we have heard from many collectors over the years on this subject. Does posting pricing irritate any collectors? The answer is NO; we have never heard a collector complaining about posting pricing. Why would they? Only an irrational buyer would complain about transparency. So, I know many artists/galleries will disagree with me here. But, I think they are wrong. This business looks backward a lot, “what once worked, will work again.” I’m sure Blockbuster may have thought that at one point. Looking forward is how I like to run our business, and the genie is out of the bottle. More galleries and artists will continue to post pricing, and those that do not will be passed by the times or eventually start posting pricing.
One caveat. I don’t know if the big blue-chip galleries will ever post pricing. Part of the business model is not to post pricing to change the prices depending on the client. But, do we want to look at that blue-chip market and apply their business practices to what we do?
So there you have it—direct from the experts. We can see common threads as well as significant differences based on each gallerist’s experience and intentions. They know their audiences, understand the landscape intimately, and have worked to provide the best possible experience for both the artists and collectors.
And while there is no inherent “right or wrong” move in this scenario independent of contextual considerations, a strong takeaway is to always aim for clear communication with your gallery (if applicable) and maintained consistency.
Additional articles are listed below! Please feel free to add any additional resources, insights, or opinions in the comment serction.
A huge thank you to:
Howard Rehs, Rehs Gallery, and Rehs Contemporary
Lance Rehs, Rehs Gallery, and Rehs Contemporary
Dave Ethridge, Gallery 1261, Abend Gallery
Chris Serr, Gallery 1261, Abend Gallery
Steven Diamant, Arcadia Fine Arts
Robert Lange, Robert Lange Studios Gallery
Clint Mansell, Principle Gallery Virginia
John Manzari, Meyer Gallery