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$$$ and arts -- pricing and the swag method

updated wed 30 apr 97


Hiro Matsusaki on sat 26 apr 97

The pricing is both art and science. ... But...

The money and arts don't mix well. The money itself is but a medium of
exchange. From what I have observed, the economists are not very good at
making a science out of pricing or making pricing decisions for others,
especially for clayarters. The economists do know, however, how to price
their own services in a sort of monopolistic manner. Yet, as far as the
eonomic theory goes, today's gospel is the free market originated by and
rehashed from the ideas of Adam Smith (723-1790). Ironic, ha?

The derivative economists, or the modern marketing gurus do not devote much
time on pricing, since they are more interested in $$$ for displays,
advertising and promotion, packaging, logistics, segmentation, guerrila
tactics, international strategies, or some such stuff. Compard to mass
marketed brand items, hand-made pottery or ceramic items are a difficult
bunch of stuff to analyze, let alone price, so they seem to stay away from
soiling their reputation or boots by kicking the dirty "shit" of clay. If
there is such a creature as the science of pricing clay objects (much like
glaze furmulation), I would like to see it with my own eyes.

The scientific aspects of pricing, therefore, resides with our own being as a
clay person who takes a sole control on this matter. Do it systematically,
observe the results and try to experiment in order to improve the situation.
Do not let others decide the matter with an authoritative tone as to what you
should or should not do. Use your own judgement. Acquire suitable knowledge
to back up your good sense. Experience is the key.

Clay pricing decisions is highly personal. Some are good at it. Others are
not so. Like any art medium we command. With $$$ some are too greedy. Others
are too generous. Some timid and tentative. Others bold and decisive. The
best, of course, is to strike a proper balance. Consider the roots, the self
image, and the medium, before you proceed.

The more people writing on $$$, therefore, we will have some idea what works
and what does not. BUT only under given, specific circumstances. As long as
the person is aware of the larger picture and relate the pricing experience
in a proper context, the experience of others are a valuable guide. In my
previous post I cited the _Mud Pie Dilemma_ book, which details the various
personal stories on pricing, which I find revealing. Some posts on the thread
are helpful, too.

Dear clayarter, the pricing is not an exact science like glaze formula. We
should not discuss the matter in minute analytical details, as if splitting
hair or wood. It simpply does not make sense.

Basically, most of the stuff we produce are sold, directly or indirectly, to
our own customers. It is impossible to remember them all. If you wholesale,
the feedback from the cutomer becomes remote. So, my talks to follow are more
relevant on pricing in direct selling, rather than wholesaling.

At any rate, how can we remember the multitudes of potential or past
customers? And all the minute details of our pots? And the right price
charged for each? Impossible. Unfortunately, a lot of us have a selective
memory, or worse, a selective amnesia to protect our fuzzy self image. This
complicates (or contaminates) the matter (the decisions).

I still do make my own pricing out of the seat of my pants. (Yes, I do wear
pants.They hide my vital parts, at least, better than other attire. Like good
glazes do to my poor forms. Or, was it the other way around? Actually, my
forms have gotten better, and perhaps outgrew my glazes nowadays. I have
advanced. Now I must go to the glaze gurus at Clayart to improve my pots. Or,
again, is it the opposite that is true? I can't tell you.)

My past pricing decisions were made by what I would call a SWAG method. It
stands for the scientific wild ass guess. I am good at S-wagging it. Shaking,
posturing, or even flaunting the ass? That's the art portion.

The oft-made reference to wal or K marts means that they know the science
part of their pricing down to the bits and pieces. The rise and fall of such
retailers attest to the exactitude of this science. My standard items are at
least four to five times more than their price, maybe ten times more.
Unthinkable? But I do sell them. I did not say my ceramic items, though. For
rather mundane standardized items with a few competition, I can get away with
that much price spread. Yes, it's true. But I don't sell that many of that
stuff (still undefined, ask my spouse for details, I don't have the space for
elaborating on this). The upside is that I get to produce only about
one-fifth in volume to get the same return. I produce them in volume to
lower production costs, at any one shot or sitting, off season, while not
busy. And I do not sell a large volume to any single buyer. It takes time to
get rid of them all. Eventually they are gone. That's the scientific part.
The rest is art.

Producing in large numbers and selling them all at five times the walmart
price is ideal, on the face of it. But it is not only hard to do, but also
far less profitable. Why? Whenever large numbers are involved, those who can
make money out of you start getting involved, somehow. The walmart included.
Don't tell me why and how. It just happens. That's where your money goes.
Your suppliers, extra studio setup, machinery, assistants, accountants,
resellers, distributors, organizers of markets or fairs, and the gallery
owners who definitely get away making more money from and than you.

The context is highly important in the pricing decisions. Let's not get
bogged down by technical details. An example. The rumors aspect aside, the
pricing by two internationally known potters quoted by Clayphil should not be
taken out of context, I would have done the same, if I were in their shoes.
The international market is highly competitive. K and wal marts pale in
comparison in the fierceness involved. To the wealthy collector, the
relatively higher price menetioned is like cathew nuts tins at these marts.
The same competition at a different range where shooting is far more

Frankly, most Clayarters are well aware of the source credibility. Not to
jump on to any technical advices right in. Be they woodfire, reduction fire,
form and function, kiln building or pricing. Those, I tell you, are neburous
areas. The technical details and use of them are tremendously sensitive to
the larger context for proper interpretation and application. And they belong
to art more than science.

Become sensitive to the larger context or the bigger picture. No harm in
there for doing so. Takes only a minute. Review your own roots, the self
image, and the medium. Remember the balance you seek. You are the very source
and the originator of it all. And I don't have the slightest clue what they
are that you have generated.

Copyright by Hiro Matsusaki, April 25, 1997. All rights reserved.

(Hiro Matsusaki is a self-appointed critic of ceramic arts and a self-styled
maker of craft potteries, who likes to point out both the good and the bad.)