About pricing one’s work

17 04 2009

I was listening to the Ninja Mountain podcast of this week, a very interesting topic was brought up, and it is about pricing one’s work. This is a topic that comes over and again in the art community, because it is not easy for a beginner artist to price their work. But this topic also brings a lot of argument about artists that charge close to nothing to our standards for a job done, usually with the remarks “you get what you paid for”. Not always true, sometimes you get really good quality.

I would like to start with an anecdote from the Renaissance, just to make the point that this is not a new argument, and probably will go on for many more years:

Tintoretto was the son of a clothes dyer, he was not a high society guy, and unlike with may of his contemporary colleagues aristocracy was not attracted to his work and he had no patronage from them. He took on the strategy of appealing the less rich middle-class by having a high turn over rate and lower prices. He was widely criticized by other artists because they said it would hurt their work. This does not make him a mediocre artist, he had to eat.

The Deliverance of Arsenoe by Jacopo Tintoretto

The Deliverance of Arsenoe by Jacopo Tintoretto

It is easy to point at those that do what we consider denigrating to the profession from our comfortable position. Yes, I’ve seen those that would go low for a ‘gig’ offering themselves to do a full illustration or logo for $10-20 but then they refuse to give help to a newb without Photoshop and they ask for $15-20 to boost brightness/contrast in a bad scan (unbelievable, I actually have seen that situation!). But I want to talk about something different today, something relatively new for the world, but absolutely prevalent, and it is a globalized market.

I know the financial/economical situation is rough in USA, but I would like to ask the art community to think outside of the USA and Europe for a moment. There are countries in which the currency exchange goes for 50-200 (and more!) respect to the dollar. Yes, I am sure the cost of living might be higher there too, but if you get paid US$10, you might be receiving 2000 of whatever coin that country has. That might be good enough to pay rent that month or to feed the family. Today, with access to internet two people might be interacting from different continents in real time! These people might be really good artists too, and the employer might get a very good end product for much less than what they would pay a USA artist. Is it fair? no, not at all, but it is the reality of the world and one of the consequences of a globalized market.

Internet usage in the world. Map obtained from http://www.ipligence.com/worldmap/

Internet usage in the world. Map obtained from http://www.ipligence.com/worldmap/

This puts us, those who live in the ‘developed countries’ with decent economies in a rough position. What do we do about it? Should we bring our prices down? Not at all. As I once told a potential costumer that wanted to pay me $2.50 per illustration (with commercial and exclusive rights, mind you), that does not even pay for a pound of meat, I cannot put hours of work into something that will not help me to reach the end of the month. And I am talking from a very comfortable position here, I do have a day job, the pay is not crazy good, but I like it and it certainly helps a lot with the bills. So we should not lower our prices, and those artists that are producing excellent work should not bring themselves down.

I have been having very interesting conversations about this with Patrick McEvoy, and earlier with Angela Sasser and I guess my point is that if we don’t know where the artist is coming from, if we don’t know what US$10-20 mean in his or her country, can we then speak of them bringing down the value of art?  Maybe for that person, the rate they would receive in their own country is $0.25, and this is a great opportunity for them. It does not make it easier on us, those that would expect a certainly much higher pay for a work that takes many hours and previously many hours of study, but it would not be fair to look down or criticize those artists that, after all,  are just trying to make a living like the rest of us.

I wonder if this puts the responsibility on the employers. I understand that they will try to get the most of their investment, but they know when they are abusing the system. They know they will be getting thousands from an art piece that cost them several orders of magnitude less.

Obviously there is not an easy answer to this centuries-old problem, obviously we face new challenges, like interet access around the world and different currency rates, and obviously it will take some time for the hole world to addapt to this. In the meanwhile, let’s keep the discussion open, let’s keep searching for the answers, and I would really like to know your thoughts in this particular issue.



3 responses

17 04 2009
Mary Layton

Just to offer another perspective: The fact that we are now so globalised offers those in less-developed countries the opportunity to be competitive in the art market. However, instead of undercutting those of us in more developed countries, why not bring pricing up? I realize that $10 might be someone’s rent for the month in another country, but that person could still be competitive globally by pricing their work closer to what those of us in more developed countries do. I see jobs on the freelance sites going for peanuts to those in other countries, and whilst I do not begrudge them their living, I do wish they’d bring their prices up a bit – they can still win the jobs without devaluing the work (for example: a request for simple line-art that most US and European artists were bidding between $50-$100 for went to someone in a less-developed nation for $1 – that artist could have still won the job if they’d charged even $40 and the commissioner would not be getting the idea that art should be practically free).

17 04 2009

That is an excellent point, Mary, it certainly is true. I think that in the same way that it is hard for a beginner to price their own work, it is also difficult for someone in another country. I have no idea what the industry prices are, really. And ask mature artists, many times you get the cryptic answer “it is worth as much as they are willing to pay for”, I’ve got that answer before, it did not help me a bit to price my work. How is an international artist to know how much the industry pay? Maybe we should have public tariffs so we can use them as guidelines, maybe that could help.
What I perceive is that employers many times abuse the artists by telling them that they will not pay more than (insert ridiculous fee here) and I guess an artist in a country with huge exchange rates still see it as advantageous. I’ve often seen the terrible argument from an employer “it is an easy job it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to do, I’ll pay no more than $10″… If it is that easy, you do it, and do not tell me how long does my own creative process take.
I believe there is not a simple answer, and I think it will take actions coming from different governments to set rules for a globalized economy. We are having the same problem in every industry, there is a reason why clothes are made in Indonesia and shipped here.

17 04 2009

I think you’re both right. It is often the publishers who will tell you how much they will pay when you are beginning. Or you hear a rumor of some supposed “industry standard” to go by. There isn’t much way of knowing what rates should be if you can’t find out from other artists and GAG book doesn’t really cover small press or gaming.

But the person in the in the poor country has an advantage that they probably could charge near what more developed countries do if they are good and aren’t afraid to. They’d have a good chance to do better than they could in their own country.

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