The Cost of Art (or animations, websites, storyboards, etc.)

Oh boy, do I have a story for you. About two years ago, I was approached by an acquaintance of mine that frequented the same community as me. He reached out privately to ask if I’d be willing to help him with a “super secret project” of his, and that it would be very lucrative for us both. You see, he had a dream one night about making his own web community that took the best of all other web communities and put them together in one place, and he’d call it “Nova Online”, because it’d be as hot as a supernova (I’m not making this shit up). My role in this was to create the back-end of the website; he was a pro at CSS and he could design the site. He just needed me to make all of the features he wanted and also create a database bridge between this custom platform and a third-party e-commerce suite (why?), while also writing documentation on everything so he could go back and change things if he wanted to. Now, I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m a shitty web developer; I have no false illusions of my skillset. But I actually considered this project, especially if it was to be something I could get a steady paycheck from. The only catch? This would be a “payless” job; no money would be awarded unless excess revenue was made from the site and he was satisfied with my work. However, the exposure would most definitely put me in view of the big companies and I’d be working for Google in no time at all.

Needless to say, I turned him down. Don’t get me wrong, he never threw a fit and he was very polite, and wished me luck with my future projects, but it’s that classic “I’ll pay you in exposure” that I just couldn’t get behind. (Also, “Nova Online” never came to fruition, and he and I stopped talking well over a year ago.) Thankfully, he’s only one of about three people that have asked me to perform free work, and he at least acknowledged that my work could be worth money (the other two were actually pretty shocked that I’d want to be paid for my work). Most of my commission requests have been pretty nice, even going so far as to offer half of the payment up-front.

Sadly, this isn’t the same for some content creators. It seems that in today’s age of online business exchange, luxury goods (those that you pay for out of a desire and not a need, to include art, or storyboards, or websites, or anything of the sort) just don’t hold much of a value in the mind of the average user. I feel like a lot of this is due to the ease of access of most content. With powerful search engines like Google, it’s almost too easy to find something that fits your needs. Want a cute drawing of your favorite TV character for your social media profile? Just search it up and you’ll have thousands of results in under a second. But something most people don’t think about is that someone had to spend the time to make that cute drawing. And now you’re taking the image and using it without asking if it’s alright, and without crediting the artist. And for most people, there isn’t any backlash to this. Most image usage like this goes without ever being corrected, which makes it almost impossible to fight when a content creator does try to limit the usage of their work. It seems that a lot of people feel that copyright laws are just a sham, or that they’re somehow exempt from said laws.

But this is just one the issues that content creators face on a regular basis. The largest problem that I can see is the devaluation of one’s work. Have you ever heard someone say that art should be free because it’s a hobby and the artist gets to enjoy making the art? Or that, since it only takes a few minutes to make a sketch, it shouldn’t cost what the artist is charging? It seems that even those who aren’t able to produce artistic content are somehow able to determine an artist’s worth better than the artists themselves.

Here’s the low-down: artists (or any content creators) charge what they charge because that’s what they feel their time is worth, and you (as the client) do not have any say in the matter. And this isn’t to say that you’re being forced to empty your wallet for every penny you own. I can’t speak for all artists (I’m not even an artist myself), but I’m willing to bet my good name that most artists only charge what they feel is necessary, and that you actually are getting the better end of the deal. When you consider the time they spent to perfect their craft, the cost of materials (if any) that your commission will require, and the dedicated time it will take to complete your commission, there’s a reason that luxury goods can seem like a large purchase; because they are a large purchase.

With that being said, here’s a few helpful tips for both content creators and clients.

As a client:

  • DO NOT OFFER TO PAY IN EXPOSURE. Seriously, this is the biggest pet peeve of any artist. Exposure doesn’t pay your bills. Exposure doesn’t keep food on the table. Exposure doesn’t pay the student loan for art school.
  • You have a right to know what you’re paying for. If the cost of a luxury good seems outrageous, ask for a breakdown.
  • If you are unable to afford a content creator’s charge, either (a) thank them for their time and find another content creator that can work within your budget, or (b) hold off on commissioning until you can afford the content you’re wanting. Don’t try to haggle with the artist; they aren’t bazaar merchants.
  • Provide as much information as you can possibly give. This is more of a personal pet peeve, but seriously, the more info you give, the more accurate your resulting content will be. Telling an artist that you want a picture of a dog will reward you with a picture of a generic dog. Telling an artist that you want a picture of a German Shepard frolicking like a rabbit in a wheat field with his tongue sticking out… you get the idea. More info = better content.
  • Don’t insult a content creator for refusing to give you a “freebie”. You aren’t entitled to anything free, no matter how simple it may be. Treat content creators in the same manner that you would treat a business owner.

As a content creator:

  • Never agree to do something for exposure. This perpetuates the idea that such practices are okay. You deserve to be compensated for your time.
  • If a client asks for a breakdown of your costs, oblige. Maintaining transparency is a key business practice and helps to establish trust between creator and client.
  • Don’t argue with bad clients. Nothing is truly won by stooping down to a lower level just to throw insults back and forth.
  • Maintain your boundaries. If someone isn’t willing to cooperate or follow your rules, you have a right to deny service.
  • Always try to maintain transparency in regards to usage rights of your content. I highly recommend assigning a usage license to all of your work (I.E, Creative Commons).

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