Makers Don't Negotiate Like Middlemen
When buyers negotiate with sellers, it’s common for the buyer to try and persuade the seller that the item is worth less than the listed price. The stereotypical picture of every haggler is, “What, you want HOW MUCH? For this piece of crap? I’ll give you half that and you’ll count yourself lucky.”
Apart from the obvious reasons why this is a favored negotiation tactic among buyers, it’s sometimes necessary to explain to the seller why the thing that they’re selling kinda sucks. After all, it’s also common for buyers to over-value the item they’re selling, sometimes due to emotional attachment, and sometimes due to wanting to avoid the feel-bads of selling an item for significantly less than they paid for it. (See, for example, all of the people who paid $3,000 for a large flat-screen TV in 2005, who now need to be persuaded that their TV is now worth much closer to $300.)
This negotiation tactic varies in its effectiveness, usually depending on how emotionally attached the buyer is to the thing that they’re selling. For example, at the car dealership, the salesman has no emotional attachment to the car he’s selling. If you say, “You’re charging way too much for this piece of crap and you’ll need to lower the price if you want me to consider buying it,” the car salesman won’t be personally offended. It’s not as if you’re insulting someone he made.
However, not all sellers are mere middlemen like the salesman at the car dealership: sometimes, the seller has an emotional investment in the item.
The place where the buyer negotiation tactic of “tell the seller that their item sucks” goes most disastrously is when negotiating with a seller who was responsible for creating the thing that they’re selling, which makes them the furthest thing from a middleman. It happens in artist alleys in convention halls across the world (and online with sites where buyers can commission artists). A prospective buyer will tell an artist that they’re charging too much, deliver a lengthy explanation of all the flaws that they’ve found in the artist’s work, and then be totally surprised when the artist doesn’t leap at the opportunity to do business with the person who has just insulted their work.
Interestingly, artist alleys are the one of the main places I’ve seen where I’ve seen people successfully negotiate using the reverse practice: rather than demeaning and devaluing the item being sold, the buyer will spend time praising the artwork, telling the artist how much they like it, then sheepishly admit they can’t afford the sticker price and ask for a discount. It doesn’t always work, but I’ve seen it work far more often than the reverse.
I’m sure there are ways in which some people would see this behavior as irrational on the part of the seller. (”After all,” says the straw economist, “if someone expresses that they really like the item you’re selling, doesn’t that mean you should charge more?”) But I think it makes total sense if you consider that part of what people are looking for when they put something out into the world is for that thing to be valued and appreciated. (Reddit upvotes and AO3 kudos can’t be exchanged for currency, and yet people value them all the same.) That desire for their work to be valued and appreciated can sometimes be one of the biggest reasons an artist is resistant to offering a discount. After all, if someone isn’t willing to buy your poster for $20 (but is willing to buy it for $15), that says something about how much they value it. However, when a buyer goes out of their way to note to the artist that they do value and appreciate the artist’s work (and might simply be lacking in funds), many artists are much more inclined to offer them a discount.
There are lots of negotiations where one party is way more concerned with how good a fit the buyer is above anything that they personally stand to gain from the transaction. (Consider everything implied by the phrase “free to a good home.”)
Makers are not middlemen. The salesman at the car lot only cares about whether the car is going to a “good home” insofar as “good home” translates into “good credit score.” It would be a mistake to assume that you can talk to all sellers the same way you’d talk to a car salesmen.
This is also part of why some industries intentionally introduce a middleman. Consider any industry where “agents” exist: agents are professional negotiators, and aside from offering the client their experience and connections, they also serve two important roles during the negotiation: they can act like a jerk on behalf of the client during negotiations (saving the client from having to act like a jerk toward their counterparty by saying “Your offer sucks and you need to give up way more if you want me to consider this deal”), and alternately they also insulate the client from the studio/publisher/label who is telling the actor/author/musician the opposite (“Your work is second-rate at best and you should feel lucky that we’re willing to offer you this much”).