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business philosophy

crippling models

I have spent a good deal of time in the past week speaking with artists about an upcoming book project. After finding a dozen or so artists and designers I liked, I sent inquiries along with specifications. The responses were things like:

  • “I only sell rights for 1-2 years, and after that you must renew in order to keep using the image.”
  • “You must know that I am only a digital artist, I do not design art for covers.”
  • “You must read my terms, and then if you sign my terms agreement, we can move forward to discussing how many revisions and deadlines you will need.”

These are actually portions of responses that I received.

If these methods actually work, it is all well and good. But I suspect things aren’t working quite so well for these artists.

It puzzles me why you would make it harder for someone to work with you. Why do you require someone to sign that you agree with your terms before discussing the project? If your art cannot be used for covers, what can it be used for? If you are a cover artist that only licenses images for 1-2 years, do you not expect any of your client’s books to last longer than that?

I don’t really understand the business model behind these demands.

Nobody is trying to pay less money in this scenario. I was actually surprised at how cheap some of the prices were – the initial quotes ranged from $340 to $800 for a week or two of work.

I was expecting to pay much more. I will be paying more, but only if I can find someone without such strange strings attached.

I’m not entirely sure if these demands are tied to ego (I am an artist and you have the privilege of working with me?) or if they’re actually a smart business model within the creative world.

Years back, I was a creative. And when I jumped into the game, doing videography and documentary filmmaking, I had a lot of advice handed down to me by sage veterans of the industry. Most was good. Some was not:

  • I was told to license my work, not sell it.
  • I was told to charge day rates, not flat fees.
  • I was told to not under-cut the norms, because that cheapened the industry.

These rules, I began to realize, were put there to protect the old boy’s club. It felt a little bit like bootlicking to me, especially since we’re talking about photography here, not engineering.

I broke all of these rules, and I did well at it, too. I broke into an industry by undercutting prices, working as needed instead of charging day rates, and granting eternal rights for everything I created.

Saying I made it rich as a creative would be a laughable lie, but I still eked out a higher than average American income, and got flown around to a couple dozen countries along the way.

Rules and models that are based on ego, or on protecting a dying/changing industry, are crippling to growth.

When rules are arbitrary, you really know something’s fishy. These are the rules to break.

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