We may at times oppose art but when it comes to business it can fetch a fortune.
Years ago, some of the magazines paid huge amount ($ 800 to $ 1,600) to the artists to work on a single page of illustration, movie posters, and complex illustrations for magazines. But now the price charged for illustration has gone down drastically. From the peak amount the prices have slumped to one-fifth of what they were at that time.
Why has this happened? This is a very important question since the answer to this question will give an insight to how much our profession has changed.
Reason #1: The Decline of Print
A few decades ago, we depended on print for information. It was the dominant medium. But now this has changed. Young artists see the world of print as a stepping stone to start their career. Their main eye is on the electronic media. Most of them don’t have any background in print and they don’t take it that seriously. Most of these young artists work under the superiors who consider illustrations as mere filler.
We can do very little to change the role played by the print in society. But we can do many things to improve the attitude of the artists to bring some change.
Reason #2: Antitrust Law
There is one thing that bothers us the most. It is price setting. It is never easy for artists to get together and set price for artworks. It is possible for Conde Nast to put together many magazines and enforce mean contracts to hike the price. But if the same example is followed by two artists to set price for a cover page then it is sure that they will violate the rules. Even if we learn collectively about fixing a price for work and making contracts, each artist must negotiate alone. This shows that no artist is better than his or her reputation.
Corporate companies will give high price to reputed illustrators. But this can do a good amount of damage to the illustrators who are on the verge of starting or building a career. The burden of competition falls on them and this situation is utilised by the corporate companies to reduce prices.
Reason #3: Art Schools
Every year, thousands of students pass out from art schools. But they are given limited information on art and business training. In order to survive an artist should be equipped with both these skills. Students are helpless. They need to pay off the student loans. So instead of saying ‘no’, they would be forced to take up the entry level jobs offered to them even if the salary is quite low. It would be beneficial for the art students if the institutions are ready to give proper training to them on improving their skill in arts and how to sell their skills in the market.
Reason #4: Source Books
During the period when the role of media was less the only way for artists to get exposure in the national market is through competitions juried by veteran artists or experts. The juries scanned each and every work and found the odd ones who are armatures and copycats.
Sourcebooks are a great way to find a good artist. It gives opportunity for the entry-level artists to advertise their work. But this has also put a cap on the prices. If a client cannot afford a top artist he can look in the source book and find the appropriate person that suits his needs.
When the illustrators are unable to fix the prices of their own, then the prices stagnate.
Reason #5: Imitation
Three decades ago, art directors and critics have discouraged clones. They would say “Your work looks like Bob Peak. We can afford Bob Peak. Why should we hire you?”
The situation is different today. Now, they would discourage Bob Peak: “We have a hundred guys who can paint like you. We can’t explain to the client why you’re worth more.”
Reason #6: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines
The guidelines on price published by the Graphic Artists Guild are a valuable resource but it is often misconceived by the clients. Many have the notion that the prices quoted are the maximum fees. But these guidelines are nothing more than a reflection of the current price in the market. So what you need to do is to base your fees depending on the current average. This way you can preserve your status quo.
It’s high time to rethink on these guidelines.
Reason #7: A Semi-Professional Work Force
Without considering that the market is shrinking, art schools over produce and dump the graduates into the market. Thus we are producing illustrators who do part-time jobs too. To succeed in such a competitive environment the young artists needs to have talent and originality. Some may pass the test of time but some fail badly.
But there are many agencies today that offer work to these young artists. But it comes at a price. Sometimes these artists have to copy a bestseller or work against their ethics. These artists too are offered little money. Due to the lack of opportunities the young artist pawn upon anything that comes their way.
Reason #8: Discount Illustration Houses
It is not at all justifiable to blame the discounters for the stagnant prices of illustration for the past three decades. But still they are a part of this situation. They are opportunists who are like a parasitic infection that weakens your immune system. If we don’t take considerable measures to resist them in time then they can even endanger our lives.