Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Free Exposure as Payment for Services

Ever had someone offer you the deal of a lifetime? Free exposure in return for your own time as a cartoonist? You're not alone. Is it acceptable to be offered exposure instead of money for your services? That's for you to decide based on each individual case. Just remember though, exposure doesn't pay the bills and unless you're getting free national advertising during prime time peak periods which will actually attract paying customers, it's really not worth the time and effort you put into each drawing that they use for free.

Way back in 1993, I developed a newspaper comic strip that revolved around four brothers who shared a house together. At the time I was also in the middle of a part-time, evening TAFE course on cartooning being taught by political cartoonist Harry Bruce, who shook my hand at the end of it all and sincerely apologised for not being able to teach me anything that I hadn't already mastered on my own. After seeing my new comic strip concept, Harry encouraged me to approach some newspaper editors to see if any were interested in taking the strip on full-time. Unfortunately none were interested, but one editor of a local newspaper did say she'd be interested in a weekly political cartoon if I could come up with a few ideas and show her that I could get the job done. So the next day I turned up with a couple of finished drawings and was very pleased when she said she'd like for me to draw one every week as the new political cartoonist. The magic of the moment was deadened a bit when the editor offered a regular payment of just $5. Still, it was a foot in the door and some much needed exposure. Perhaps some other newspaper editors would eventually start using my weekly cartoons as well or it could lead to other work. I was told to rock up for my first pay cheque on a certain day every month as everyone was paid on a monthly basis. As I'd just missed out on the last pay-date, it was about 4 weeks later when I turned up for my first payment. The editor took me in to her office, told me how much everyone had liked my first four cartoons and how she looked forward to seeing my next one, then handed me a crisp $5 note from petty-cash. Apparently she had taken me on not for the bargain price of $5 per drawing, but for the even cheaper price of $5 per month. She just hadn't made herself clear about it all when she first told me how much I could expect for my work. Needless to say, I chose not to draw for her ever again after telling her what I thought of her "more than generous" offer.

It's very hard to become a cartoonist for a living when people don't think you actually deserve to be paid for the time you invest in each and every drawing. Even now, as a freelance cartoonist with my own registered Australian Business Number, I still get the occasion where people who ask for a quote are horrified that I'd be asking for more than a few dollars for a job that will take many hours to complete from concept drawing, to finished product with revision time in-between if they change their mind on how it should look somewhere along the way. I have been known to donate my time for charitable events and causes, but for a regular caricature portrait either for personal or business purposes, my time and my skills as an artist are going to cost you a fee, which I will set based on what the drawing consists of, and what the drawing will be used for. If you intend to use the drawing to help sell or promote a product or service then the fee will be higher than if you're just having a special caricature portrait made up for your dear old mother. Unless you specifically arrange to purchase the copyright from me, which in itself is a more expensive option, then you are paying for my time and my skills and the right to use the art I produce for you in the manner that is agreed upon before the drawing process even commences. If you don't like the price, we can always negotiate a different fee by adjusting the drawing and/or the usage rights. If you still don't think my time and skills as an artist are worth the dollars, you can always look for someone else to try and rip off, or attempt to do the drawing yourself seeing as you think it's so easy to do that it's not worth paying a fair price for.

Today was an interesting day for me in that I got to witness how different artists react to being asked to provide their time and skills for free or as in this case, for exposure. A young lady posted the following to the Facebook page of The Australian Cartoonists Association.

My initial response was to diplomatically say thanks, but no thanks.

Others weren't so gentle. After being asked to provide work for free some artists simply tell it like it is, which naturally prompted the young lady in question, who probably had no idea she was being offensive with her question, to answer back.

While the above post was being typed, I was busily typing up an offer to provide my services for a fee, so I didn't see the previously posted comment until I posted mine which became the next comment.

Others joined in with their own responses to the initial request.

Being cartoonists, some injected a little humour into their comments.

We also heard from the voice of reason. By the time I'd taken this screenshot the young lady had already deleted her original post, so there was no way for me to be able to expand this particular post to show you the rest of it. It was all just lingering in a previously opened tab in my web browser.

Not everyone was interested in reason though. Everyone reacts in their own unique ways.

Finally, after being ridiculed and given a hard time, the young lady wrote what she thought of us all, before deleting the post from the ACA's Facebook wall altogether. Even though I had not been one to give her a telling off, my first comment was referenced in her parting words when she typed, "Good luck paying your bills."

In the aftermath discussion thread, the voice of reason shone through once more.

So what did we achieve today? Not a lot. A person asked a group of people to provide their services for free, got told in varying ways that she needs to actually pay for these services or bugger off for being rude enough to want something for nothing from them, and then left none-the-wiser because she was too angry to listen to the reasons given because people were angry with her that someone could be rude enough to undermine their skills and talents as artists. Could it have been handled better? Not really. There are so many people out there who think cartooning isn't a legitimate profession or isn't worth paying for that there are a lot of cartoonists who have just had enough of it when these people come along and offer no real compensation for the time and skill that goes into each individual's work. You wouldn't ask a group of journalists to give you a weekly column in return for exposure, so what makes you think it's OK to ask a group of cartoonists to provide their services for the same lousy deal? When I was presented with that $5 note for four political cartoons in four weeks it was one of the biggest insults I've ever been given. If you want a professional drawing, it's going to cost money. If you want it for free though, go right ahead and draw it yourself. Exposure is not legal tender and doesn't pay for my time nor for my skills as a cartoonist. While I won't go as far as telling you to go and stick it where the sun doesn't shine, I will let you know why it's unacceptable and how you can go about contacting me if you ever want to pay for my services.

There's a drawing that was created by the folks from Cyanide and Happiness that more or less sums it all up for artists when it comes to free exposure. Rather than breach their copyright by posting the drawing here, I'll provide a link to the comic on their own website and you can view it from there.

UPDATE: 6th November 2015
Apparently there is another way that some people use to try and get something for nothing. Mark Parisi who is the brilliant cartoonist behind Off The Mark has recently posted the following to his Facebook wall:

So this person would normally charge the cartoonist a fee to use his or her cartoons because it's a form of advertising??? So they're doing the cartoonist a big favour by waiving the fee??? Wow!!!!!!!
Judging by the comments on Mark's post, it's a pretty common occurance too. Not today Zurg.... not any day. Pay the fee to use the cartoon or simply don't use it. It's as simple as that.