ayalanya: (Default)
[personal profile] ayalanya
I'm just getting this out of my system - I'm angry, and not sure I'm right to be angry, but I don't want this simmering in my head right now.

About eight or nine years ago, I had just started selling my jewelry. I was charging almost nothing for the work itself, focusing instead on recouping the cost of materials, and I decided to vend at an SCA May Day event. One woman came up to examine my stuff, and asked "what makes this necklace $20?". I explained, somewhat brusquely, how much it had cost to make it. She said "oh" and walked away.

A few years earlier, a church acquaintance commissioned a set of four drawings/paintings for her family for Christmas. When I told her how much she could expect to pay ($20/painting), she seemed very surprised. She bargained me down to $20 total plus a thing I didn't actually want, a cutesy useless product she had just started making herself. When I delivered the paintings to her, she paid me $5, gave me two of her products instead of one, and returned the one I had done that depicted an African man (it was a fae four seasons set, and he was summer, sitting by a river that I assume was in Africa due to the book illustration I had drawn inspiration from. This was the first really obvious example of the quiet racism that permeated my childhood, which is why it sticks out for me). I wrote her a rather angry email and she delivered the remaining $15 the next day, a little sheepish.

Probably around the same time, I had an account on Elfwood to show off my drawings and paintings. Someone found my work and emailed me, asking for study drawings of people in various poses. I quoted my prices, and they said "forget I even asked". I think I was on LJ by then, I dunno, but I remember getting feedback from various friends online who said that I had in fact done the right thing by not offering to do it for free.

So back to jewelry. I've been told for years that my prices are too low, except by those who told me they were too high because they wanted to chase me out of their store (Broom Closet, I'm worth it now). Or, uh, other vendors who wanted a discount (I gladly offer discounts when I can afford it and when I have good reason - please don't ever *ask* me for a discount, though, because I will be rather peeved). I've submitted to some who were louder than others, foisting lists off to them and telling them to price my work instead (thank you, [personal profile] australian_joe - you taught me some excellent basics for pricing). My prices have remained extremely low for the materials and work involved, compared with just about every decent-sized retail you'll ever see selling work like mine. And the fact that silver was relatively cheap helped enormously; I had a huge stockpile thanks to being financially solvent for a while.

But that has changed.

I started making the elf ears. They've caught on - hooray! I've started to enjoy making them, although now that they're my main work, it feels weird and extremely fast and easy when I make anything else. Not complaining, mind. So now I'm almost out of silver, and it's time to order more, so the guy who ordered 20 pairs gave me an advance to buy more wire. Here's the thing - I quoted him a bulk rate and down payment before checking the current price of silver. I checked the price and...oh my god. It's nearly doubled since my last major wire order. I didn't notice because I always had plenty, so all I ever had to pay attention to was the fiddly details, like earring hooks and clasps and sometimes chains. So I sent in some scrap silver to trade for some of it, I used up almost all my stockpile to make half the order, and used his down payment to pay for the other half, because that's all it covers. Because my bulk rate was too low, I'm going to be making about $5/hour for these ears. For reference, before we had to let her go, I was paying my babysitter $20/hour. Because Scott's job is basically halved, he's been home a lot more, which thankfully takes care of the childcare issue.

So I gritted my teeth and made announcements in three places, spacing it out because I was terrified of the response. Finally today I announced it on my facebook page, and the first response was encouraging and sympathetic. I was so relieved. I'm finally worth my price! The next comment, from someone who is understandably upset at the thought of these things being out of reach, took me down from relief to anger and uncertainty, reminding me of the experiences above. Art is not taken seriously; it is a luxury. I expected this. But I do take it seriously, and I finally have the freedom to wrestle my way to the top without shifting focus. I have the balls to haul myself up. I'm not as meek or timid as I used to be (you can stop laughing - you'd be surprised at the bullshit I put up with when I was younger). I am going to DO THIS, and I am going to make a living at it. I'm not okay with making just enough to cover supplies anymore. I cannot afford to treat it as anything other than a job that's expected to pay me a living wage. If this is going to be my career, I need to make enough to cover living expenses, taxes, and if applicable, the childcare required to allow me to do my job. So yes - my prices are going up. They have to go up, or I cannot afford to do it anymore.

Date: 2011-04-19 11:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sylvari.livejournal.com
Don't let it get to you dear. *hug* Many people think that an artist should charge what they can afford not what the artist can afford. Just smile and stick to your guns. The rest of us can see your worth.

Date: 2011-04-20 12:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
:) Thank you. I totally understand where she's coming from - I've never been rich, and I've been a lot more poor than I am now. Just, argh. I let things get to me.

Date: 2011-04-20 06:47 am (UTC)
ivy: (axe barbie)
From: [personal profile] ivy
It sucks when you can't afford the things you want. I've been there too. (Hell, I'm there now -- I've been waiting two years to get that practice sword.) But that doesn't mean that it's the job of the swordmakers to make it something I can easily afford. The world does not owe me a sword and a pair of elf ears... no matter how entertaining of a mental image that is. [grin]

So I understand that it's upsetting to get pushback -- and it'll probably keep happening, because everyone wants to be able to afford things they like. [hugs] Next time someone complains, just tell them that after the cost of materials you made $5 an hour on your last batch and you bet they wouldn't want to work for that wage either. Hopefully most people will understand that.

Date: 2011-04-20 08:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Oh yeah, I expected pushback this time around. It's just that I'm apparently more of a Sensitive Artist than I realized!

I would love love love to see you in elf ears. I can imagine the glare of death pictures that would result if I tried to put them on you. ;)


Date: 2011-04-20 01:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taura-g.livejournal.com
Yes, exactly this.


Re: This.

Date: 2011-04-20 01:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
:) Thank you.

Date: 2011-04-20 03:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] australian-joe.livejournal.com
Nicely put!

Date: 2011-04-20 01:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] moominmolly.livejournal.com
Yes! Yes yes yes, that. Or even: "what the artist thinks they are WORTH", not just what the artist can afford.

Date: 2011-04-20 12:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilcylic.livejournal.com
Art is a luxury, not a necessity. It's not air, water, food, (basic) clothing, or shelter. No one is going to die from lack of silver elf ears. ;)

That said, it costs what it costs, especially when there's a commodity material (such as gold, silver, copper, aluminum, steel, etc) involved. Anyone who wishes to purchase a luxury item needs to understand that, and while some measure of research into how much material and labor went into something is reasonable, browbeating the artisan about the price is pretty egregious. If you want it and the price is reasonable, buy it. If you think the price is unreasonable, seek an alternate vendor. But in either case, being polite about it is the right thing to do.

Surely anyone who deals in jewelry understands that the cost of gold and silver is going up precipitously?

Date: 2011-04-20 12:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Oh yeah, absolutely it's a luxury. I'm sorry, I probably phrased that poorly. What I meant that to mean: because it's a luxury, it's not taken seriously.

And THANK YOU. That's exactly it. Like I've said before, I've been poor. Poor enough that the prices I charge now are laughable to past-me. And I do layaway, which is apparently a dying practice, but it ensures that you can still afford really expensive stuff from me unless you have no money for luxuries at all, in which case, it doesn't matter what I charge because it can't be spared.

Mainly, though, until recently my customer base has largely been people who don't have anything to do with the jewelry industry. It's cool, it just means that not everyone understands just how little I've been making on this. I'm trying to get in with much bigger companies, though, so I anticipate being able to explain "hey, price went up" with a little less trepidation in the future.

Date: 2011-04-20 12:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rivenwanderer.livejournal.com
Good on you for knowing you can stand up to that kind of crap!

Silver prices are so ridiculous. It's important to keep up with them! And you deserve nothing less than to earn decent money for your art. And nothing less than customers who respect that.

Date: 2011-04-20 12:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Metal workers unite! *fist bump*

Date: 2011-04-20 01:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nex0s.livejournal.com
I just finished an estimate for a friend of my mother's. I explained to her that most contractors charge double what they pay for materials and that I would charge her for the cost of materials. And that I was halving my per-hour rate, and not charging her for the design process portion.

Her estimate came out to about 8K. She said she probably won't have me do it, because she thought I could do her garden for about 2K.

2K covers the cost of materials. That doesn't cover the cost of me going around and getting the materials, not to mention INSTALLING the materials. I'm supposed to pour concrete, do tilework, and more for free? I don't think so. If I'm going to be there, I still have to pay the sitter. Who makes $15. I'd be making $25 before taxes and before paying the sitter. Just... no. No.


Date: 2011-04-20 01:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Seriously? Wow. That's impressive. I'm really sorry!

Date: 2011-04-20 01:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ilcylic.livejournal.com
"I can do your garden for $2k. Just not the way you want it done."

Alternate answer for the snarkily inclined: "I can do your garden for $2k. But I'm not going to."

Date: 2011-04-20 06:55 am (UTC)
ivy: (hoodie on vikingbeast)
From: [personal profile] ivy
I wonder if it would help in a small business sense to take the pricing approach that I sometimes have had to do for my clients. Give them the real estimate and the breakdown, like you did. If they get horrified, find out what they're willing to spend, and see if they can prioritize. You might be able to get a smaller $2k gig out of it, which is still better than nothing. If you show that you're willing to work with them and come in under their budget, whatever that happens to be, you might be able to find something that will make both you and them happy.

It's difficult when you're dealing with a client who has no idea how much your services actually cost, and no knowledge of the field... so they may blame you for being expensive rather than realizing that the service they want is pricier than they thought. Sometimes comparison shopping will make them realize that they had unrealistic expectations, but not always. Sometimes people just balk and walk away. I wouldn't waste immense amounts of time trying to make them happy if what they want is way far away from what's realistically possible at your price point.

Hugs and sympathy -- this stuff is hard!

Date: 2011-04-20 12:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nex0s.livejournal.com
She kind of wants what isn't possible at this price point. Also, the garden has not been touched in about 10 years. And the last time it was really renovated was probably 30 years ago. The concrete is spalling, there's a giant planter in the middle filled with rocks, and the fence is being pulled down by vines. It's a wreck. Doing just part of it would make the rest of it look worse!!!

People forget that renovating a garden from the ground up is kind of like re-doing a kitchen.


Date: 2011-04-20 02:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Exactly. I mean, honestly, I wouldn't expect to be able to re-do my kitchen for 2k, even if I did it myself!

Date: 2011-04-20 02:25 pm (UTC)
ivy: (grey hand-drawn crow)
From: [personal profile] ivy
Eek. Yeah, sometimes people are just unrealistic.

Date: 2011-04-20 01:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elusiveat.livejournal.com
You go! : )

Date: 2011-04-20 08:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Thank you! :)

Hey, speaking of jewelry, should I be poking you about your commission, or should it wait for a bit?

Date: 2011-04-23 09:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elusiveat.livejournal.com
Why don't you hold off until I can get around to sending you the materials I'd like included? I'm sorry I've been so lame about this.

Date: 2011-04-23 10:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Sounds good. :) And no worries. I'm not going anywhere!

All part of becoming a business woman. :)

Date: 2011-04-20 03:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] missdimple.livejournal.com
Trust your instincts. I can't afford your work, but that's got nothing to do with your prices...it has everything to do with my cash flow. My cash flow is not your problem, though offering layaway says you're sensitive to cash flow problems. :) Just roll your eyes at the morons and move on to marketing to people who can afford your skills and talent.

Re: All part of becoming a business woman. :)

Date: 2011-04-20 02:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
I wonder if I should make some sort of regular "layaway is an option" announcement...

Re: All part of becoming a business woman. :)

Date: 2011-04-23 05:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] turelie.livejournal.com
The layaway policy at my store is 20% to hold the item and 60 days to pay it off unless other arrangements are made. When the 60 days are up, a phone call is made as a polite reminder..."Hi, you've got a layaway here and we haven't heard from you in X days. Can you please call us and let us know if you still want it?" We take credit over the phone...mailed checks (in state only)...money orders, etc...so no excuses. :P

If I do not receive a call back within a week...I call again, this time with the added warning that the deposit is forfeit and the item will be returned to stock if they don't call back within 5 days.

I have had people, more often lately, not call and I have put their pieces out and sold them within a week (an apple coral 3 piece set, necklace with 5 lg pieces of coral, cuff, and earrings, $300+). I even had one lady call back, tell me she was coming in, then never showed up or called again. Her $100+ will be store credit if she comes back...but her item (a mahogany obsidian handmade knife blade with a handcarved antler handle for $400) is currently on layaway for one of my coworkers.

In fact, its been awhile since I checked our layaways...so Monday morning I'll be doing so.

I say, if you want to make an announcement...get your entire policy settled first, then put the entire thing up for easy reading. No misunderstandings that way. :D

Date: 2011-04-20 03:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] australian-joe.livejournal.com
Almost every artist or crafter I know has said they run into this. Mass production and sweatshop labour have distorted the uneducated customer's perception of costs. I know someone who makes costumes who says they're routinely offered a price that wouldn't even cover the materials, let alone any labour.

When you walk someone through it, many will agree it's reasonable to want to earn at least as much as one would earn in McDonalds as a 16 year old. The rest are jerks and cannot be reached by any argument.

It isn't just an arts/craft issue - just about every freelancer and small business owner I've ever heard of has tended to under-price themselves. We're all nervous of turning away customers.

And it's true, we might lose the poor and the clueless customers if we price realistically, but they're not exactly the customer base for business success anyway.

Every time I've put up my consulting rates I have held my breath and prepared arguments to justify it. No-one has ever blinked. I *have* had people tell me I'm too expensive, but those were always agencies wanting to put their own margin on top of my rates, and never the actual end client. I've since adjusted my own expectations about what's a reasonable split with an agency or referrer, and I now have a reputation for giving away more than is usual. I want people to have plenty of incentive to bring me work.

Anyway. Go you! And I'm glad that spreadsheet all those years ago was helpful. :)

Date: 2011-04-20 02:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
So true!

I'm starting to feel a little bad now. In all fairness, her comment wasn't so terrible, it just hit me on this particular button.

Date: 2011-04-20 03:49 am (UTC)
volta: (Default)
From: [personal profile] volta
Huh. When I saw you post that your prices on new work would go up, but existing work was to be priced the same (wow, that phrasing is awkward, you said it better but I am too lazy to look it up), my only thought was "I would increase the price on the existing pieces, too, to cover the cost of materials to replace them." I nearly said it then, but the whole not being part of your target market thing kicked in so I kept my mouth shut.

You are doing skilled work with expensive materials, and the price you charge should reflect that.

Despite you not being part of her target market,

Date: 2011-04-20 12:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] missdimple.livejournal.com
I actually don't think this is an unreasonable suggestion at all.

Date: 2011-04-20 02:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Aahahahahahaha I wish I had run the announcement by you first, because that is a completely sensible suggestion I would have taken. Now it's too late, because people will have seen it and would be miffed at me going back on my word, but definitely I'll keep it in mind for when the prices have to go up again.

Date: 2011-04-23 05:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] turelie.livejournal.com
Agreed on the sensible thing...but its not so bad that you didn't. :) My boss hasn't upped our prices (we have a LOT of jewelry in the store....repricing would be a three person, whole-day job), even tho what we're selling our silver for won't necessarily replace those pieces when they sell.

Our tiny collection of gold is like that. We've got newer rings from a good company (all Navajo/Zuni artists) that retail for $1200. 14K gold bands with inlaid Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. We knock the price down to $900 and then take 30% off that. $630. Still a lot of money...they move slowly. But we won't be getting any more. I promise you now that he cannot buy another for that $630. We got them before gold really hit $1000. Now...no chance. Some older rings are in the $200 - $400 range cause they were bought years back.

What I'm saying is...it's not unheard of to keep the current prices. :)

Date: 2011-04-20 02:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yunafonfabre.livejournal.com
Caroline does some crafts that are useful to a certain class of people I know.

After she made an item for me, I asked her how much she might be willing to make them for other people. She said $40 + materials, probably around $80, was reasonable.

Needless to say, when others saw my item, they immediately wanted one. I mistakenly quoted $80 + materials, probably about $150 -- nearly doubling the amounts she'd given me.

Turns out that the going rate for commercial work of the same quality was $300 flat. Who knew?

I've seen your work plenty of times and it's worth the price. I can understand "I want it now" but shouldn't someone who's made it to adulthood at least understand the CONCEPT that things cost what they cost?

Date: 2011-04-20 02:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
I saw this when BPAL had to raise their prices due to components getting more expensive. There was a divide among fans - some saying that of course they had to do that, and some implying that they should instead absorb the cost. And they're a much bigger deal than I am! So eh. I think, as Joe says, sweat shop labor and mass marketing have distorted the sense of cost that people have. Hand-crafted luxury stuff at a fair wage is difficult.

Date: 2011-04-20 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yunafonfabre.livejournal.com
"I want it. Sell it to me."
"I'm sorry, you don't have enough money."

It always amazes me how infantile people can be.

Date: 2011-04-20 02:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayalanya.livejournal.com
Sigh. It's not even that anyone has said that. I dunno, the relatively mild comment just rubbed me the wrong way and called up all these memories. I have no memory of whether or not I've said or implied similar things to other artists, although I know I've offered others barter that they couldn't accept, and so on.

Oh hey, by the way - I know that guy! Let's see if he remembers me. :D

Date: 2011-04-23 05:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] turelie.livejournal.com
Hey girlfriend....you're absolutely doing the right thing. :) I have enough of your stuff to hold me, and the stuff I really want, I will find a way to obtain. My priorities are skewed, but that's nothing new. ;)

People who truly love your stuff and have ANY brains in their heads will buy it even if the price is high. It IS worth it. Its silver, not cheap copper. You can always offer the low-cost version of some things, using colored wire, if you are so inclined. If not...well, when one person bows out of the running for the good stuff, someone else will gladly take their place.

Now, I freely admit I am beyond furious at the price of silver. I really have a distinct dislike for gold as jewelry...I've never liked it. I've always been a silver girl. Now...with gold at astronomical prices, people are moving to "affordable" silver and making it hard for people like me to be able to wear anything but bead jewelry, which I am not all that fond of either. Having said that, I would never think of blaming you for the price of your supplies, which you have no control over. Some people need to understand that this is not your hobby, it is your chosen profession. In fact, I've been wondering when you would get around to raising your prices due to silver costs...and lamenting the probability that I won't be able to afford much of it anymore. :(

I'll be sad...but its not your fault I don't have money, LOL. And I will still be here to see all your gorgeous creations and watch you enjoy making them and seeing them sell. :D
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