I just read a blog post on pricing at this blog, here.

I did an apprenticeship with a Japanese teacher and as I understood the way the world works there is a set formula for pricing work for people like me. I should point out that there are many roads to apprenticing. One is to apprentice to a living national treasure. The living national treasures get a yearly stipend from the Japanese government, of which a portion is designated to be spent on training apprentices. I think L.N.T. pupils get a monthly allowance. There are other routes such as apprenticing to a potter in one of the big associations. Yet another route is to apprentice to an independent potter. This is the road I took. That should be taken to mean no monthly allowance.

The basis of the simple formula in the pricing scheme I learned is that the pupils work goes for 1/2 the price of the teachers work. Tea bowls are a multiple of 20 of what guinomi, sake cups cost. I am sure there are a lot of other formulas but those are two I remember. This makes sense as long as you are using the teachers resources such as clay, wood, etc.

The formula my teacher used for pricing bowls is as follows. First calculate the surface area of a bowl. Then multiply the result by 70. The number 70 was the price factor used by my teacher. I would use 35 if I followed the tradition. As an example I will use a bowl I made today. The diameter of the bowl is 52 cm. 26*26*3.14*70 = 150,000 yen rounded off. My bowl would be half of that, 75,000 yen.

There is a simple problem with the formula. Of course the formula is sound mathematically. I am talking about the assumptions behind the formula pupil = 1/2 teacher. It assumes a set trajectory. A well-defined path after finishing the apprenticeship. There are 6 apprentices I know about that have studied with my teacher including me. There is one more that doesn’t like to be called an apprentice so lets call it 7. Of those only 1 has done well enough to earn his entire living through his work. That someone isn’t me. Of the others one has quit entirely and the others are struggling. It is possible to go on and on about if their work is up to snuff or not but it is at least technically as proficient as the one guy that has done well. The guy that has done well has a great personality and a mother that runs a gallery in Osaka.

The structure of pricing in my case doesn’t seem to fit with the current reality of what will work and keep sales enough to make the time spent worthwhile. The structure of 1/2 the price of the teachers work, or any structure that sets unrealistic prices, seems to be one problem that has to be over come. I am not suggesting giving work away. I am suggesting that my big plate either be given a price that is realistic or put in a storage area until my prices have reached a point that it will fetch what I think it is worth.

I am moving strongly toward a more “this is a business” approach to my next kiln load. The kiln is my new 9 meter long snake kiln that will probably hold 4,000-5,000 pieces. I am thinking about setting a yearly income goal, assuming a generous 80% success rate in the firing and then setting prices accordingly. The goal is far more sales so the overall income will rise if my devious scheme works. I will hold back on one or two of the best pieces from each area as I hate to sell them anyway.

Tags: japanese apprentice, pricing, sales

May 31, 2010 at 12:43 am |

I enjoyed this article on pricing. I’ve often wondered how artists create prices for their works. Especially for Japanese ceramics because the asking price is quite high for many works.

May 31, 2010 at 6:47 am |

Hello Jason,

Pricing is a very interesting subject. Thanks for reading.

Dave