Friday, July 22, 2011

The Renegade Craft Pricing Experiment

What happens when you invite strangers to appraise your work? Sounds like an invitation to some serious anxiety. At the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco, we decided to let visitors (and artists), price two of our pieces at our booth The Whiteout.

It was all done on an iPad version of a pricing app (The Pricerie) built in webkit. Users had to enter a value and at the end of the day we would have the final community price, which would be the sweet spot from all prices after dropping the outliers.

Day 1
On Saturday July 9, we picked a popular product ‘Fruit Fly’. This piece is made from a tree ornament salvaged from Urban Ore. It’s been primed and painted white with an original pen and ink illustration signed by the artist.

When we invited people to price, we told them the story behind the product and to use their best judgement... “Use your gut. No pressure.” We didn't linger around to see what price they entered.

52 people priced it. The final community price was $28.

This price point is interesting because we sold a similar piece earlier for $20, lower than what the community suggested. We artists always tend to underprice our work, don't we?

Day 2

The next day, we thought let's switch things up and and use a polarizing meme. Charlie Sheen '#Winning'.

This piece is made from a plaque salvaged from the Goodwill Store. It’s been sanded, primed and painted white, with a freehand illustration of Charlie Sheen with the once-upon-a-trending topic ‘winning’.

Not everyone got the cultural reference. Some said they wouldn’t pay 5 cents for Charlie Sheen because he’s a ‘total scum bag’. Fans said they would pay $150. Some people decided not to price it stating they wouldn't be the best judge. It was nice to know people chose to abstain versus throwing out some random number just for the heck of it.

The final community price was $68 with a total 22 people pricing it.

That's only half the people compared to Fruit Fly. We hadn't really set any price in our heads for this piece since it was a wild card.

What did we learn?
For items with a general theme, the pricing behavior is not only similar between people, it's also higher than what we predict. Our previous tests produced similar results.

For products that are niche and polarizing, like '#winning' it’s better to keep the pricing closed to a niche audience—in this case internet nerds. The highest entered price was $150. The data suggested this piece could easily go for $90-100.

We’d be better off selling a piece like this online and appealing to a specific audience like the Charlie Sheen fan group, if it exists (of course it does). Or if we sell at a craft fair, we’ll put it under a section like 'Memes'.

Overall people had a lot of fun pricing. I guess it was also empowering. A few were embarrassed that they priced lower than everyone else, but we said well this is art, there is no right answer.

Hopefully this experiment will be a step towards taking the guesswork out of pricing. Once we stress test the idea a bit more, we'll open it up to more artists who want to participate. It would be especially useful to new artists for test marketing ideas and introducing new products.

Next month, I'll speak to three artists with different approaches to pricing and what they do to take the pain out of the process. If you have have thoughts on how to make the pricing process fun, please do share! We could all use any help we get.

This is part of a monthly post on the touchiest of all subjects, pricing! See you again in August.



  1. Fascinating. I do wonder though whether what people think something is worth and what they're actually willing/able to pay are the same thing.

  2. @Metalight good point! We're not entirely sure about that; seems like it may vary between people. It'll be a good question to ask during the next round for sure. We did get feedback that once we had a final community price validated by a good sampling of people, buyers felt better about making a purchase (and so did we about selling it at that price). We just sold 'Fruit Fly' a few days ago.

    Overall, people seemed really thoughtful while appraising. Some even explained their criteria...Is it freehand? is it signed? Origin? That was quite impressive.

  3. Nice, this was an interesting read! I'm sure all sellers (especially those newer to Etsy, like myself) get nervous about pricing ... is it too much? is it too low?

    I think it's hard as a new artist/seller, since you don't want to seem too cocky about your work, but also, everyone is their worst critic/judge ... so what someone would pay $10 for even, you might be pricing at $5. Another important point is to be proud of your own work. : )

    Can't wait for next month's post!

  4. You're right about that! There's always the insecurity about pricing that new artists have to deal with. And even established artists introducing new products. But I'm sure we can find ways to make it a fun part of the marketing process. Think customers would like that too!


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