That Time I Charged Less and it Backfired

Pricing products and services is something I have been informally learning about here and there while exploring business podcasts and blogs.

One theme coming up over and over again is the role of complex insecurities, especially in regards to generous and altruistic women. This can lead to undercharging for services and not understanding the market value of an item

In addition, charging less than what something is truly worth can put business owners in a downward spiral, probably accounting for why ½ of businesses fail within the first five years and 96% fail within 10 years.

Enjoy it? Do it For Free! Give it Away!

When I think back on my time as a full-time musician, I definitely felt the prickly impact of trying to put a price on music and performance. Maybe people think being an independent musician is based on luck (and anything based on luck doesn’t deserve to be well paid)? Maybe if you enjoy doing something you should do it for free? Whatever the logic is coming from a few people, it’s a permeating force and generates a sticky issue. 

Even the other day, a musician acquaintance of mine with a decent Instagram following received criticism selling tickets for online shows and not giving all of her income to charity (she was giving 20%). 

Do you consider that a ridiculous jab from a fan? I couldn’t believe it! Especially since I know a little bit about her tenuous financial situation. Thankfully, a bunch of people came back to defend her choice (since she can’t tour full-time and needs to support herself somehow during the ongoing COVID crisis). I don’t know why that man had the nerve to say such a thing when he clearly wasn’t a full-time artist going through this unstable time. 

Basically, if you are going to do anything creative in a public space and be paid for it, these reactions from others can be expected.

A Short Story: Pricing CDs 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, purchasing inventory to have on hand can be tough to gauge. 

I wanted to get rid of my 5,000 self-produced CDs before I quit playing live shows full-time. In my mind, I thought I would lower the price of a CD from $10 to $5 and get rid of more. 

You know what happened? I kept track of it and sold LESS. Less CDs overall at each show for a summer straight. 

It was almost as if people couldn’t trust the recording quality of something priced so cheap (even if it did contain 13 songs). I knew what my logic was - I felt better giving away the CDs than finding them in heaps and boxes in my future house. But other people? They think they get what they pay for. And they’re willing to pay more.

The summer after that? I had to go against myself to raise the price back to what it was. But the proof was in the experiment. I sold more. It’s a short story with a big lesson in it, especially if I’m trying to learn from my past business failures.

Do you have experience with pricing artistic expression? How do you go about it?

Have you been able to raise your rates over time? Do you ever feel guilty about it?


4 Replies to “That Time I Charged Less and it Backfired”

  1. Timely topic as I was having conversations with our label on pricing the upcoming release. We all agreed on $19.98for the digipak since it’s is limited edition, and has both audio and A DVD. The ones with that include the large format photobook (with signed bookplate) are $49.98 (Ltd 100). We’ll see. When performing, we just charged $10 for the simple reason people have generally have a ten dollar bill on them and it worked very, very well. T-shirts were $20 for same reason.

    As for my writing I’ve been paid in $ when I wrote for music mags, paid in tickets/access to events when I was a scene reporter and nothing at all when I had my work included published in books. Fates On Fire, of course, is and always will be an intentionally non-monetized venture.

    It’s a tough call, but like your example above, charging too little is always damaging. I’ve always tried to used the ‘artificial scarcity’ concept to both increase demand and, consequently, asking price.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Like you, I was surprised how often people actually had cash on them (like $5, $10, or $20) so that is what drove how I priced items or offered packages of all the CDs or 3 CDs or something like that. This was for live shows of course. Translating it to the online world and taking into account the digital options has always been a little difficult for me regarding pricing. Figuring out what to be paid for writing is also difficult as a new-be. I usually just take what I’m offered and don’t counter, but I think that would change with experience and confidence.

  2. it wasn’t artistic but we’ve been selling on ebay for 3-4 years. i hardly watch it much any more but there were a few items that didn’t sell early on so i raised the price and they sold! boom. mrs. me couldn’t believe it.

    i’ve had discussions with her about her artwork and always say to raise the prices. sure, a few people get the friend and family discount if they come to the studio and not buy from a gallery but most of them are repeat customers. plus, an original painting is not a commodity like a print where you could make more. charge up. people will pay when they value something.

    one of these days i’ll charge people for investing advice.

    1. I love that you raised the price and then they sold – just random items on e-bay. That ties in really well with this post.

      I can’t imagine not being able to reprint or replicate what I do – but you’re right – that’s what artists who dabble in the physical world of art are facing everyday. I think people should charge a lot for what they like because the worst that could happen is it hangs in their own house and it’s like they bought it from themselves! Of course – you wouldn’t want to do that with all pieces, but it makes sense for ones you become really attached to!

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