Monday, January 28, 2008

If You Give Away Your Cartoons for Free, You Won't Make a Living as a Cartoonist

I've been getting some emails asking how I price my magazine cartoons. Is there a formula based on magazine circulation? Do the magazines set their own price? What about the Web?

The major markets have a set price for their cartoons. If you sell a cartoon to, for instance, The New Yorker, they won't call you up to ask how much you want. They all ready have a price for you. The same with Playboy and other major markets. But, you all ready know all this.

When I began magazine cartooning, it was simple: look at a couple of issues, get a feel for their audience and mail appropriate cartoons.

After a while, I had sold some cartoons, but there were still other cartoons, sitting in a pile, unsold. They had done the rounds, and been rejected. How do you turn them into money?

I went to a big newsstand and looked at the magazines. I went to the downtown Brooklyn Business Library to see what kind of business publications they had. An amazing selection! There was a magazine for and about board members. I had cartoons about board members. There was a magazine for veterinarians. I had dog and cat cartoons.

So, I started a new challenge for myself: I mailed cartoons to magazines that did not use cartoons at all.

Yeah, most of the time I was wasting my time and postage. (Yeah, I mail my submissions on paper.)

But some of the publications were interested, and some wanted to buy. And the editors asked what I would charge.

What is the value of your cartoon?

Well, of course, decide if you will work for free. Will you give away your cartoons? If so, then you know your answer is that you will work for the exposure.

If you give your cartoons away for free, you will not make a living as a cartoonist. There are many talented people out there who are giving away their work on the Web, and most of them have to work full-time in jobs other than cartooning.

I show my cartoons for free on my Web site. I think this is just normal business. It doesn't bother me if someone wants to copy one of my cartoons for their friends. But it's wrong if a publication (print or Web) thinks they can just grab a cartoon for free content.

So, when editors asked about my rates, I decided I would not work for free. I want to be a real, working cartoonist. I had a minimum set in my head and if they balked, then I would walk away. This isn't posturing, this isn't being unrealistic. This is me making a living.

If an editor says,"We are looking for free content."

I tell them, I can't afford to give away my work for free.

Sometimes, I lose the client. And the client is worth losing, since they do not recognize that cartoons -- along with the freelance writers, the designers, the photographers -- everyone contributing to the content of a publication -- deserves to be paid.


Mark Anderson said...

Hey Mikey, good thoughtful post on this.

I think one of the hardest parts of starting out as a cartoonist is avoiding that "it'll be great exposure for you!" trap.

It's gets easier the more you get published. (When you can confidently say to yourself "I think Reader's Digest is exposure enough, thank you.")

I still get all kinds of requests for free cartoons, but I've found if you ask for it, often you can get a non-profit or a teacher to pay for material.

joshsisk said...

then there is the flip side - people like penny arcade, who gave their comics away for free, and acquired 100,000s of fans out of it... fans who then bought penny arcade t-shirts and stickers and other items. they have a business staff of 7-8 people now, and are very, very well off, all based off of their free comic.

of course, this won't happen to everyone and they did it based on hard work and very good business instincts... but my point is that there are multiple ways of going about things.

now you might say they aren't strictly cartoonists and are instead tshirt salesmen, and maybe you are right... but the cartoons are the basis of their popularity.