Sunday, 21 October 2018

Money Money Money

Golden Wasp Game #7

Perfectly nice people can be strangely hesitant, not to say ungenerous, where parting with their own money is concerned. Someone who will happily invest thousands in a car, clothes, or, dare I say, in photographic equipment, will balk at the token cost of supporting another's artistic endeavours, whether this be buying a busker's CD, an interesting-sounding novel, or the modestly-priced painting of a young, unknown talent. Yes, you may like what they are doing, but probably best to wait until they fill a concert hall, get on the Booker shortlist, or have a retrospective at the Tate. There's no point in encouraging a loser, is there? Some people even make a virtue of their tight-fistedness. I remember being at a charity gig many years ago – it must have been Rock Against Racism or something like that – where my companions demanded their entrance money back, as the bands playing (for nothing, remember) were so hopelessly bad. "The Left should not be exploited like this", was their rationale.

Without wanting to sound too jaded, I was mindful of this when I recently launched my Puck's Song book and PDF. Obviously, I would never expect more than couple of people, at most, to spend £50 on a book, beautiful as it is. I wish it could be cheaper; I have to buy my copies from Blurb, too. But I trust nobody thinks I make anything like £50 profit? In fact, unless and until I bump up the price of the book from its current slightly rounded up "production cost", I make precisely £3.41 from each sale. Which is actually less than the profit from each sale of a Puck's Song PDF from Blurb. But (and seeing as we're talking about people's reluctance to part with their money) I won't embarrass anybody by saying how many PDF sales there have been so far. Except to say that, as Blurb won't reveal buyers' names, I can't thank, uh, both of you personally [1]. To be honest, I think I was more surprised that there were so few comments on the tenth anniversary post.

Some of my most instructive experiences in this regard came when "fulfilling" sales of the prints I made for the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. As you may recall (I think I may have mentioned this once or twice before), I was pleased to get two of my digital images into that prestigious show, one of which sold out its edition of 50 more or less instantly. That is, by the end of the first day of the private view, so-called Buyers' Day. I was astonished. In fact, for the next couple of months I was being badgered by people who'd been to the show and wanted a copy, despite being told by the RA that both editions had sold out. There was actually a waiting list for cancelled purchases. A waiting list! I have no idea what particular magic those two images held, but I have been unable to repeat it since.

It may sound cynical, but I suspect that a large element in their charm was their price. You get to be invited to next year's Buyers' Day by buying something this year. On walls covered by works with price tags in the thousands, a nice-enough little print at a mere £75 must be very tempting; a bit like the postcards in a museum gift-shop. And once the little red dots (indicating a sale) start to stack up under a picture, a certain "me, too" effect kicks in: next thing you know, the edition has sold out.

However, there's "selling" and then there's actually getting the money into one's bank account. A Summer Show buyer pays a 30% deposit plus 20% VAT to the RA, which in effect is their cut of the selling price. On a twenty thousand pound painting, this is a not inconsiderable sum. On a seventy-five pound print, it's small change. The RA having taken their cut, it then becomes the artist's responsibility to "fulfil" the purchases: contact the buyers, invoice them, chase the recalcitrant ones, collect the outstanding sums, and deliver the artwork. Out of my ninety-four buyers, I found a significant proportion failed to respond to my first round of emails asking for payment, sometimes because they'd gone away for the summer, sometimes because the details provided by the RA were inaccurate, and sometimes because they simply had better things to do than fork over £48 for some bit of paper they'd bought on impulse back in June. Consequently, the admin took up most of my summer; in fact, it took until November to finally extract the last payments. I became a familiar face at the local Post Office, clutching armfuls of A3 mailers for despatch [2]. What with that and keeping track of the invoices, it was all a bit too much like being back at work, and not very "fulfilling".

The demand for one of the two "Golden Wasp Game" prints was particularly great ("No. 7"). Some buyers had bought the other one ("No. 3"), I realised, simply because they couldn't have the one they really wanted. So, I decided the fair thing to do was to identify the subset of buyers who had bought GWG No. 3, and only No. 3, and offer them the chance to bid for the two copies of No. 7 I had intended to withhold for my own use. If nothing else, it would help me establish a benchmark for the true market value of my work. Enough of those I approached were grateful for another chance to get hold of the print to make the auction a success. More admin for me, but a lot more fun. Not everyone wanted to put in a bid, however, and one guy actually accused me of money grubbing. I quote: "Please remove me from this email list. I'm not interested in your continued pursuit for money and negative views of the RA. You should just be pleased your prints where [sic] choose [sic] in the first place." Quite right, sir, and I expect you, too, give away your labours for nothing more than the honour and pleasure of it.

Then there was the couple from Diss in Norfolk (I'm tempted to name and shame them, they annoyed me so much). Having seen No. 7 at the RA and discovered it was already sold out, they asked me for a "proof" print, on the grounds that these were what they really collected. I explained the difficulty of this concept in the digital context, but said I'd see what I could do when the administrative dust had settled. Although I was slightly bemused when they said they would usually expect a proof print to be much cheaper than one from the edition. Um, no... By the end of that busy summer I had forgotten all about it, but then they contacted me again. Again, I explained that I had no "proof prints" as such, but would sell them a copy of the "friends & family" hors de commerce edition I had made (identical, but slightly smaller and on an A4 sheet, unnumbered, and signed with my red Japanese-style seal) at the very good price of £50. I attached an image of the print to the email. They agreed to buy it. Only to send it straight back for a full refund because they were "disappointed" with it. The only people to do so out of nearly 100 buyers, and this after two people had made bids over £300 for the two auctioned prints of GWG No. 7 [3]. This was my (not unreasonable) reply:
I am taken aback: you *did* see the print at the RA, didn't you? Apart from a very slight difference in size, in what way does this differ from what you saw there? What were you expecting? I even sent you an image of what you would receive. I don't see how you can be "disappointed" with what you have received.

Frankly, this is annoying: you asked for a proof copy originally, and as I couldn't supply one I thought I was doing you a favour by letting you have a copy of this edition at a very good price. I am not running a mail order company here.

Anyway. If you want a refund, you'd better give me your bank details.
Should I ever pass through Diss, I may seek them out, if only to admire their collection of satisfactory (and presumably cheap) proof prints.

There were other strange and amusing things, too. There were the people who had to have a particular number from within the edition of 50. There was the guy who pretended he'd never received the print, and the print that "disappeared" inside an architect's office, despite having been irrefutably recorded by Royal Mail as "signed for" in both cases. There were the people who felt that buying a print entitled them to some kind of ongoing relationship with me, including arranging possible meetings, and inviting me to visit their houses. There were the ones who wanted to offer swaps with their own work in lieu of payment (David Hockney, maybe; you, no). Oh, and the mysterious vanishing Norwegian businessman and the ditzy Asian actor who were both the very first to buy and the very last to settle up, in November. In the latter case by cancelling the deal, after months of studiously polite emails and answerphone messages from me. Although this did allow a very grateful and surprised person on the waiting list to get print number 3 of "Golden Wasp Game #7". Which would have infuriated the woman who had demanded to be given the lowest possible number in the edition, had she known.

This year, as it happens, I failed to get anything into the RA Summer show (cheers, Grayson!), and once again got selected but not hung in the Royal West of England Academy's Open Exhibition in Bristol, which was frustrating, and although I did get three pieces of work into a show in the Cotswolds and four into another in East Sussex I sold nothing at all at either, despite keeping my prices modestly low. And now, as I say, my CD offerings have fallen rather flat. It's a funny old game, trying to exchange art for cash, and I'm glad I've never tried to earn a living this way. But, looking on the bright side, I suppose I have as a consequence ended up having an easy summer of it, free to bask in the unaccustomed sunshine, unsullied by any unworthy money-grubbing or foisting of unsatisfactory prints onto people, and above all without testing the limits of my reserves of patience, tact, and endurance. I should be grateful, really. And, besides, I notice the local Post Office branch has now closed.

Golden Wasp Game #3

1. That "both" joke never gets old, except that it's not an exaggeration in this case. I have to say that PDF seemed like a bargain to me, compared to a £50 book, offering the exact same content in a high-quality portable digital format for less than a sixth of the price. As I never tire of saying, the most sincere form of flattery is not imitation but cash purchase. But, so far, precisely two people have felt that flattery is appropriate in this case, which I suppose is fair comment.
2. The cost of which, a rigid A3 mailer sent as "First Class Signed For" mail, knocked yet another dispiriting chunk off my £48 "profit". I was glad to have chosen "Signed For" postage, however, as it enabled me to prove delivery, which sadly turned out to be necessary in a few cases.
3. These winning bids were so much higher than the nearest runners-up that I actually reduced the final sale price to them by quite a bit. I'm a fool, really.


amolitor said...

Raise the price on Puck's Song! I am violently offended at the notion that you make more money on a PDF (which I do not want) than a real book.

Mike C. said...

Well, I will, of course, once I'm convinced there are no more takers among my, um, loyal readership... (Look out, here comes that "both" joke again...)


Paul Mc Cann said...

Hmm. I'm one of two. I must be losing it

Mike C. said...


Well, thanks for that, and I hope it gives you some visual pleasure, as well as a gratifying sense of belonging to an elite minority!