Issue #158  3/15/2009
AIPAD Show Tips For Attendees

By Alex Novak

Many of our clients often ask us when is the best time to go to the show. I always recommend that you go on the weekdays (Thursday and Friday), if possible, from about 11 am-4 pm. Dealers generally have more time to spend with you and there are less crowds. Be patient at other times. Dealers are often pulled from one client to another. Trust me when I say that it is as frustrating for the dealer as the clients.

Also, Sunday is not a bad day to buy. There are plenty of great deals left on Sunday. As a collector I made some of my best "steals" that last day--pieces that everyone still overlooked. There are just too many images for all the good ones to go early--especially in this environment when most clients take their time in deciding on purchases--sometimes too much time (more about this later in the article).

Don't be afraid to ask what else the dealer has brought with them. Often some of the best deals and very top pieces are sitting in a box under a table or in the dealer's closet. I know several dealers that have "discount" boxes underneath that they usually show to their best clients.

Are prices negotiable? Well, that depends on a number of factors, including the dealer, the piece, the margin, etc. And there are ways to deal with this issue--both good and bad. Yes, the weaker economy certainly has made dealers a bit more flexible, especially in terms of payment. Each dealer handles these issues differently though. I have actually often paid exactly the offered price, because it was fair. With some dealers you could get a 50% discount and it would still be higher than another dealer on the same or similar item. Don't focus on the discount: focus on the value of the piece. And make sure that you are comparing apples to apples, and not to oranges.

Remember the adage of the butcher. A woman came into a butcher’s shop and asked him why the price on his chopped meat was so high when his competitor-down-the-street’s price was 25 cents a pound less. The butcher asked the woman why she had not bought the meat at the other butcher. "Oh," she replied, "he is out of the meat at the moment." "Well, " said the butcher in reply, "if I were out of meat, my prices would be 25 cents less per pound too." Just remember that prices shift rapidly in this field, and even the best dealers may not be on top of all these changes. Do not make comparisons on the basis of what someone would charge IF they had the item in stock. Only make comparisons based on actual comparable prints. When making comparisons to auction prices, realize that prices may have gone up since that auction, no matter how recent. You should also understand there may be a difference in print quality from source to source.

Over the years I and other dealers have seen a few potential buyers (a very small number, thank goodness; and more "potential" buyer than actual) who think that they can continually "renegotiate" (re: beat up on a dealer). They think that this is the way that they will wind up paying very little on a piece--often offering in the end less than what the dealer paid for it. That's a process that frankly turns off a dealer and is both inappropriate and counterproductive. On the other hand, I understand why some clients feel they need to do this. They don't really know how to price a rare or unique image and they want to get the best price that they can. That's perfectly understandable. But the way to do that is to pick your dealers carefully. If you pick trustworthy ones, you will get good, reasonable offers on top material. Beating up people will only get you frustration and offers on inferior material, and your reputation as a "bad" buyer will proceed you. It is a very small world.

Also, if you reserve or negotiate on a piece, be serious about it. A dealer gets only one or two real opportunities to sell their big pieces at these fairs. Too many clients are often cavalier about the process. On the other hand, if you are interested in a piece, always ask if the dealer can "hold it" for you for a set period of time. I can't tell you how many disappointed buyers I have had, who wander back and find that their "prize" has just been sold to someone else.

Certainly you can mention the obvious and ask a dealer if they have "any room" on a piece of art, and if they could offer any payment terms, if you wanted to pay over time. But both are interrelated. If you want six months to pay for a piece AND want a big discount, that is more problematic. Focus on what is important to your own finances: price or terms.

On pieces that a dealer owns outright, their flexibility largely depends on what they have in the piece. Occasionally, a dealer can pass on some of their good fortune; sometimes a dealer has paid top dollar though for a top piece (the normal scenario). I once told a collector who said they would offer me 10% over what I had paid for a piece at auction (one that I was willing to pay double what I wound up paying). Although I politely passed on their offer, I told them that I would be very happy to sell them my mistakes for that mark-up. Be reasonable in your expectations.

You also have to understand how the photography/art business works. If the dealer owns a piece outright, they get 100% of the deal in real cash flow, even if the profit margin is reduced (unless the piece is on consignment to them). That's not true on photography where the gallery or dealer actually represents the artist (or the consignor). On those photographs they are bound to give the artist approximately 50% (sometimes occasionally even a slightly higher percentage for the hottest artists) of the take. In the case of a private consignor, the dealer is often paid only 20-25% of the sale. On top of that they are often paying for shipping the piece to and from the show. If a gallery reduces the price, it is often taking the reduction entirely out of its piece of the pie, so that a 10% reduction is actually a 20% (or even 25% with shipping) reduction of the dealer's portion.

Also you have to consider that it costs a gallery or dealer roughly between $25,000-60,000 to do a show like AIPAD when you factor in shipping, hotel, booth space, promotional costs, travel, framing/crating for the show, and booth accessories (walls, lights, electric, cleaning, decorating, hanging, etc.). At many of these art and photography fairs dealers will often walk away with very little to show for their efforts and expense. Dealers need to get a reasonable profit in order to survive. Frankly if a dealer offers you 30-40% off a contemporary piece of an artist that they represent, I would suggest that there are several potential pitfalls: the gallery is probably not paying its artists and you don't really own the piece; and, this is a gallery that will soon be out of business. Good luck if you have any problems down the road, and good luck on the artist's future reputation.

A few other points: rare vintage pieces have virtually disappeared from the market. Just look at the poor quality of material represented in the upcoming auctions compared to a year ago and you will see what I mean. The auctions have late-printed and low level pieces for auction at relatively high price ranges (especially factoring in the auctions' 25% buyer's premiums added to the hammer price, insane shipping costs, sales tax wherever you are, and lack of financing). The only good pieces being offered for sale are now from dealers. That's a big change from just 8-12 months ago. Prices on this type of material have not gone down at all. As I have said in the past, inflation is a likely scenario in the future due to the heavy government spending. Quality photography has always been a very good hedge against inflation, and there is no reason not to expect this to continue.

Photographers should refer to my article from April 2007, which you can read here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article_view.php/132/123/706 . AIPAD is not a time to approach dealers about your work. They have high show expenses and need to generate sales at these shows. Just for the record, Contemporary Works/Vintage Works is not reviewing work, nor taking on any other artists--no matter what. Many other exhibitors are, like us, private dealers, with limited resources to represent artists. Identifying which companies are actually representing new contemporary work is certainly one step you can do. Read the article reference here on how to get the most out of AIPAD without hurting yourself in the process.