Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Monetizing Your Cartoons

I don't like this word "monetize," but it's one of those words that the first time you hear it, you get a good sense of its meaning.

When I began magazine cartooning, it was simple: go to the newsstand, look at a couple of issues, and mail some cartoons they might like. Keep doing it for a couple of months. If they buy, they have a set price they pay.

And, 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 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 sent cartoons to magazines that did not use cartoons at all.

Sure, most of the time I was wasting my time and postage. (Yeah, I mail my submissions on paper. I still do to cold markets.)

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 monetized.

- This is an edited version of a January 28, 2009 entry.


dan reynolds said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Mike.

There's only two things to think about a possible client asking them for free...1. They're either cheap SOBs or they're too dumb or ignorant to know that you don't ask people who are trying to make a living as a cartoonist to work for free.

The only way they can make it worse is when they say, "Well, it'll be good publicity for you."
Usually, the folks that say that are the companies whose business sell some sort nothing that no one is interested in looking at in the first place.

Mike said...

I was a freelancer in the 70s and 80s and an editor in the 'Oughts, and I'm embarrassed by what I was paying when the checkbook was in my hands. But, of course, it wasn't, because I was only the editor, not the publisher.

We were paying our freelancers the same rate I was getting -- granted I was writing for much larger newspapers than I was editing. But I particularly hated the price tag for editorial cartoons. It was embarrassing.

For anyone wondering, I think the way to handle it is to say that it's basically a short, by-lined article. What do you normally pay for a by-lined article?

(If they don't pay for those either, walk away.)