Friday, February 11, 2011

The Value of Your Creativity

Should you give away your work for free?

If you do, then "free" is your price.

Hey, even if you do not want to work for free, there are people out there who have no problem asking you.

For instance: Here's a person who placed an ad on the Web for a cartoonist. It's from one of those services where people post job listings and then the lowest bidder wins. You don't have to read the whole screed , but the point is he isn't shy about telling you why he will only pay 5 cents for a drawing. So, here's the whole thing, as it was posted on a job board, a few weeks back:

Title: 2000 Simple Line Drawings
Project ID: 686564
Budget: Under $250
Category: Illustration & Art
Description: Hi there, I'm working on an education project, and I need around 2000 simple line drawings of a variety of subjects: a dog, a cat, a house, etc. My budget is rather limited, so I am looking for a talented artist in the Philippines, India, or somewhere else where they won't mind working for about $3.00 per hour. When I say simple line drawings, I mean a simple vector drawing like this: or For a talented artist, with a drawing pad, I am sure you could complete each drawing in about a minute, so it works out to about $0.05 a picture. The reason I am asking for one person to complete the drawings is that I would like them to be consistent in style. I realise this is not a lot of money, but I am on a very limited budget and this is the best I can do. The ideal candidate is a natural artist who is super speedy and can plow through many drawings in a row. Working on this for 2 hours a day, it probably would take about 20 days to complete, so I am not going to propose an arbitrary deadline. If you are interested in applying, please respond to this image and include a few sample sketches. If you're quick, this should take less than 10 minutes. - a dog - a tree - a house - a simple landscape with a clock in the foreground showing a specific time (day) - a simple landscape with a clock in the foreground showing a specific time (night) (the final project will probably have about 10 of these, the purpose is showing different times) - a grandmother - a father - a washing machine - a $20 bill and other change - a car - breakfast I'll leave it at that. I'm just looking for super speedy line drawings in white, on a clear background. Obviously you can watermark the samples and I will not use them for any purpose other than evaluating you as a candidate. If you are selected and we come to an agreement, I would like full ownership of the works and a promise that you will not use them for any other purpose. If you think any of this is unreasonable, please get back to me with your thoughts and I will try to work something out that you think is fair. Thank you so much for your time, (I am traveling at the end of this week, so I will leave this posting open until I return on Monday 7 Feb)

You can't make a living (at least in the US and Western Europe) by making 5 cents a drawing.

But, let's say that just once you are going to give away your work. If you do, then you may be stuck "Free" becomes your price.

And that's what we are seeing with the HuffPo/AOL merger.

The Huffington Post, based on a business model of writers working for free, has been bought by AOL for $315 million. The unpaid content providers, the writers, want a piece of that. Ariana Huffington, who started the site, will not share the payday. A memo went out telling the writers that the only change will be that there may be more people reading their work than ever before:

"Your posts will have an even bigger impact on the national and global conversation. That's the only real change you'll notice - more people reading what you wrote."

You know the old saying: But people DIE from exposure!

What's the difference between the person who wants 2000 drawings and Ariana Huffington? Not much. They are both looking for something for nothing.

It's up to you whether your say yes or no to a potential client who asks you to work for free. If the client is from a money-making operation, then they are able to pay you. More than that: they should recognize the value of your work.

If they do not, smile and move on.

Unless you have a day job and can afford to work for free.

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

Related: Working for Free Business Model

And Ted Rall has a good cartoon today about the merger.

So does Matt Bors.

A hat tip to my pal David Jacobson for cutting and pasting that appalling job offer from a job board. I wish it was unique, but those kinda request are out there every day.


Kyle Miller said...

Thank you for your well thought out post, Mike. It is difficult getting a fair price for one's work - especially when you're in a position to accept anything just to survive another day. It's also not so great for one's self-esteem to think that your talent and skills aren't worth that much to anyone else.

KOZY said...

Very important point, Mike. Some people are quite happy having published a piece absolutely for nothing at all. Can I quote just the beginning of your post with your drawing "please take" in my blog "caricaturque" to give a link to the complete post?

Mike Lynch said...

kozyurt, you're welcome to repost this. No problem.

Fritz said...

Mike, Since our phone conversation several months ago, I've increased my confidence on asking for the price I deserve. I find I'm winning better jobs when asking for the price I want and I avoid bad clients that make my life miserable when asking for fair market value.

Thanks again for your time and advice. I really enjoy your blog too.


Dan Reynolds said...

Hi Mike
Of course this subject is always close to the cartoonist's heart and wallet/pocketbook.

Regarding selling what you have for 5 cents. Bottom line is such a person dosen't think their work is work a nickel (okay, JUST a nickel).

If you think your work is worth a nickel, your wish will be granted.
Re: Huff Post...anyone who would provide free creative power knowing that their efforts are going to fatten the bank accounts of people whose creative energy is limited to JUST making money, they may have creative minds but the other half of their brains are dead.
THen again, there are people who just want to be noticed. It's less about money (because they most likely have 3 hots and a cot), and it's more about having some sort of spotlight.

I have a simple policy when it comes to how much to charge. If I'm not happy with what's being offered, I say "NO". Sometimes this is hard to do. When I have a BIG job and I'm offered what actually is a decent amount of money (but not REALLY what you SHOULD be paid), I still say NO.

If I don't feel my work is worth a certain amount, no one else will.

Mike said...

Part of the problem with the HuffPo situation is that her unpaid bloggers seem to fall into two categories: Politicians and celebrities who really DO benefit from exposure, and self-promoting "experts" whose self-invented job titles are usually more amusing than their blog entries. This fellow is the first person I've heard speak up and say he wants money.

Squeaking wheel gets the grease, gang. Or at least adds to the conversation.