This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for
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Transparency Creates Trust
I've worked with some of the best gallery dealers and some of the worst, and what I've learned is that artists should never put up with unfair business practices from gallerists. If they're late on payments because of financial hardship, we might encourage them to be transparent with us so that we can work together to get through the difficult time. Everything should be above board. However, many times artists are silent about "slow to pay" or non-payment or even downright lies. In a perfect business partnership, both parties frequently talk and discuss options - nothing is hidden and no one is left wondering what's going on. Transparency creates trust in the long run.
An Equitable Commission Rate
While some galleries still take
a 40% commission on sales, the majority of them insist on 50%. Richard Schmid has shared with me that years ago, galleries took 20%-30%. The commission rates artists are paying today were unheard of 40 years ago. Some galleries have now gone beyond the 50% mark - having raised it to 60%. Where will it end?
It will end with us, the artists.
As long as artists believe gallery dealers are in charge of their businesses, some dealers (not all) will continue to require more and more from us. I've always maintained that I own and run my own business
- I can either sell work on my own or else pay
someone else a commission to sell my work. There are real advantages to working with a good gallery.
Many times, galleries have access to art buyers that we artists do not, especially if the gallery is located in an arts or tourist district.
Some Galleries Deserve 50%
While I prefer to pay a 40% standard commission to all my galleries, there are times when I make an exception and pay 50%. For example when a gallery goes the extra mile to promote my work through magazines ads, pays for food and mailings for art openings or when the gallery is located in a major arts district - where the rents are likely to be outrageously high, the extra 10% seems warranted.
However, I've worked with galleries who have decided to take 50% just because "other galleries are doing it". But at the same time many gallery dealers still take only 40%? Interestingly, I've observed that many who take 40% tend to manage their finances well, and pay on time, every time.
An artist friend, (whose name I am withholding), makes well over $100K a year through gallery and outdoor show sales. She insists that all her galleries take 40%. Amazingly, her galleries agree - because they know they'll be able to sell her work easily. Additionally by keeping all her sales commissions at the same rate, it helps keep her prices the same across the board.
Double the Cost of Your Frame
When I do work with galleries, I prefer those who take 40% or less. In reality, I am the one who pays the gallery a commission to sell my work. They are not my employees and I am not their employee - we are a partnership. The reason why I think 40% is fair - is because I frame my own work, and the extra 10% I keep allows me to put a better frame on my paintings.
It Never Hurts to Ask
So when the gallery normally takes 50% or more, ask them if they will consider 40%. If they insist on 50%, ask what they will offer to you for the extra 10%. No matter what they want to take, realize that it is you who pays them the commission. I'm not suggesting that you get angry or upset, but set a fair standard for yourself and other artists. I wonder what would happen if we all asked galleries to take only 40%. Would it change the industry standard from 50% to 40%?
It's Your Business
Remember who owns your business. Whenever you're negotiating and suddenly get a sour feeling in the pit of your stomach because you know you've been taking advantage of, perhaps that's a good time to begin an open discussion with your dealer - to begin setting up a system that seems fair to both of you.