Session 3: Art as a Product

How Do You Define a Product When the "Product" is an expression of self?

Art and creative services are difficult to consider as products. If you are invested in sustaining yourself through your art form, consider using this business vocabulary and applying it to your work. To make a profit (or ends meat) your work must be something that either consumers, funders or patrons want to pay for.

Product Lines

What Influences Consumer Preferences?

How do people decide what art to buy? What show to see? What poetry to read? 

In many worlds of creative professions, the work, or at least the idea for the work, comes before we ever get to the question of who will buy or pay for it. As difficult as it may seem, developing a “product line” does not have to be exclusive of artistic integrity. For example, can your scale your work? Can you sell copies of the originals? Can you license your work to an organization for their own marketing? How can you utilize your creative process skills in a different context or business setting? You are tailoring your existing vision only in its physical state or practice, not its intent. Each product within the line then, is based on where, when, how and by whom it will be experienced.

Reflection Questions

  1. Do you offer more than one type of art?
    1. If so, are they directly related, or completely separate endeavors
  2. What is unique about your work compared to other artists or businesses in your market? How specialized is the type of work you do?
  3. What audiences tend to be drawn to your art work, whether it’s film, poetry, dance, performance, etc.?
  4. Why are they interested?
  5. Are there other people who share that same interest–for a different reason or in a different context perhaps–that you aren’t reaching?
  6. How can you modify an aspect of your existing body of work to better appeal to those art markets, without changing the nature and intent of your work?

BONUS: Can you isolate the unique qualities you have as a creator and apply them in a different way? For example, a theatre artist consulting with sales representatives on presenting skills, or a writer who consults with mass-media firms on how to tell compelling stories.

Everyone's a Critic


In either your products and services or operations section of your business plan, build in at least one strategy to help you adapt to feedback with clear intent and focus.


How to Price Your Work (Dave Picciuto, Artist)

How much does it cost you to make your work? What are your expenses? How much money do you need to make? How much is your time worth?

How much would someone be willing to pay for your work? Many individual artists, writers and creative ventures in general have a tendency to drastically undersell their work and their time. If you shift your perception away from pricing your work to make ends meet and gear it toward communicating the quality and value you offer, you may find yourself much better positioned in the local, national and global art markets. Cleveland may be a more affordable place to live than other cities, but it doesn’t mean what comes out of it should be any less valued.

Determine Your Value (Bill Carney, Creative Mornings)

Reflection Questions

  1. What have your total sales been in the past three months?
  2. What has your total revenue been in the past three months (your total sales, less your fixed costs (rent, utilities, etc.) and variable costs (materials, time, rental costs, etc.)?
  3. Are you underselling yourself? If you increased your prices by 10% each year, would you drastically reduce your customer base?
  4. If you increased your rates even more, could you break into any new, higher-paying markets? What would they look like?
  5. Could you compete in those markets? What would be your niche?
  6. Could you develop or maintain some lower priced offerings of your creative practice while increasing the prices of your high-value creative works? Which ones?
  7. Would the labor intensity of the low-cost, high-volume work make up for the value of keeping your prices low? Would it help or hurt your bottom line (and what does it do for your own health and well being)?
  8. 8. How much work and at what prices would you have to sell in order to make a comfortable living (based on your own definition)?


  1. Create a pricing sheet: List every item you identified in your “products and services” list.
  2. Assign a price to every art work or artist service you intend to offer.
  3. Segment products by product lines.

Do the prices you have listed match what the audiences for that product line?

For example, “bread and butter” items (low-cost to you, easily made items, that many people will purchase) should increase your potential profit the more you sell. “High-end” or exclusive buyers may may rely on price as an indicator of value, so it will be critical not to undersell yourself here.  “Whole sale” work that you will sell in bulk to a retailer will need to allow the retailer to make a profit off their individual sales. Conversely consignment options will need to accommodate the percentage the owner will take when your art sells. Artistic services may require you to set an hourly or daily rate, or you may choose to set one fixed price for that service based on the preferences of the people hiring you.

Driving the Market

Are other artists forced to lower their own prices to match yours? Is that good or bad? These questions relate to your direct effect on the local art/music/literary economy. By lowering your prices, others are forced to lower theirs to keep their market share. Ultimately, new customers you would have gained by reducing your price will likely go back to buying the lower-quality, lower-cost work. Likewise, increasing your prices and valuing your work may allow others to do the same. In time, you are contributing to driving the local art market up or down.

Supply and Demand

What people are willing to pay for your work is also affected by demand, or the number of people who want it and how much they want. So, for example, let’s say no one else is offering anything remotely similar to what you are creating, and a ton of people want it. Demand is high. Supply–or the amount of items, seats, copies or time you are selling–is limited. Price should much higher in this case than if, for example, you have a warehouse of inventory or never-ending supply of work and only a handful of people who want to access it. This is not an excuse for giving your work away for free, but may be an opportunity for selling in bulk or at very low cost. When should you offer free goods or services?

Competition and Prices

The beauty of what you do is that your work is always one of kind. “High-quality,” “creativity” and “local” are all great selling points. Everyone, however, has competition. Without diving too deep here (the Marketing session is next), there are some pricing tricks you can use to convey how you are different without lowering your rates. For example:

  • Ending prices in odd numbers has been known to convey a sale or clearance. This has a tendency to also reduce perception of quality.
  • Leaving off a $ symbol conveys higher-end products, and opens you up to a more global market.
  • Offering “bundle” prices could increase a purchase for someone who came for just one item, but sees value in the collective offer.
  • Higher prices are generally associate with higher quality and exclusivity. Building trust with those clients requires that you deliver on those promises.

Copyright and Fair Use

One of the most important things an artist can do is protect her or his work and ideas. Having the right resources can involve a great deal of research, but it will definitely be worthwhile in the long run. Watch the video and read through some of the articles below to learn more about copyright and fair use.

Can You Copyright It?

Reflection Questions

1. What are the primary differences between a copyright and a trademark?

2. What types of your work are eligible for copyright protection? What types are eligible for trademark protection?

3. Given the art you are creating, are there certain types of work that would warrant formal copyright or trademark protection?

4. What would be the advantages of mitigating the risk of your intellectual property being stolen or misrepresented, given the cost of registering for copyrights?

5. If you are hired to create new works, your rights related to your intellectual property may be different than the work you do on your own. What are the major differences?

6. How can you ensure that you understand what rights you will have to the work in the future when conducting “work for hire”?

7. Are there resources in your community that can assist you in obtaining low-cost or free legal services (e.g. the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association hosts a volunteer program, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts)?

Distribution Outlets Reflection Questions

For each artist, filmmaker, performer or writer, distribution outlets will significantly very. You might be thinking publishers and agents, fairs and galleries, music halls and clubs, screening locations or any combination of other venues.

1. What are some distribution outlets–both within and outside of your discipline–that you have seen artists use to distribute their work?

2. How do you currently make your work available to people?

3. List advantages and/or disadvantages to the particular method(s) you use. For instance, are certain methods more time-intensive, but get in the hands of audiences more directly? Have you been more successful in generating profit through one than others? Are some better at developing long-standing relationships or quick transactions?

4. Where is your target audience when they are looking for things similar to what you are doing?

5. Where are your audiences more generally? Can you put your work in unlikely places where your target buyers already go?

7. Have you seen artists use any nontraditional or outside-the-box methods for distributing their work? Can you follow (or improve upon) their lead?

6. Which distribution outlets do you believe present the most opportunity for you in the future?

7. Who do you know that could assist you in getting your art in those places?

8. How do you plan to gather additional information about new distribution outlets?

9. Will new outlets stretch your resources? Would the payoff be worth it?

10. Are there cases when you should pay (or pay more) for getting your work in the right location?

Dave Arnold, Mr. Sign, talks of turning his passion into a business.

Please note: This Video Contains Profanity

Making the Sale Reflection Questions

Note: If the term “sale” is completely off-putting, try using a different term, like “support” or “exchange” or “unicorn” if it helps.

1. In the last year, what sales tactics did you employ at each point of distribution (Maybe that you didn’t even realize you were doing at the time)?

2. Did your strategy differ depending on where you were and to whom you were talking?

3. How would you rate your success for each thing you tried? Was it related to your comfort level or their interest level?

4. How would you modify your current strategy to help you “close a deal” faster, sell more work or get a higher price?

5. Identify a small step that you can take to improve your next sale. Add this to your list of goals in the business plan.

6. What local, regional or national resources can help you get your work in the hands of the people who want to pay for it?