Monday, May 4, 2009

Just what are we worth?

I'm not one for web responses. Or jumping on bandwagons. I don't even know what a bandwagon is. Is it an ancient name for a tour bus? Is it that U2 gets a tour bus but Deep Purple would have taken a bandwagon? I don't know.

Don't for one minute think I'd put U2 up there with Deep Purple. I only used them as an example because a two-letter name meant less typing. Or, more accurately, a one-letter and one-number name.
But there's a bandwagon I'm going to jump on right now. Gary Taxali, illustrator, posted on his site here about what it's like for illustrators at the moment. I'm not an illustrator. I used to do storyboards and mock-ups for poxy ads and have, way back in the old days, done some actual advertising illustrations and magazine illustrations but the truth is my drawings just aren't good enough for me to have ever called myself an illustrator.

But there are common symptoms here that apply to animation and possibly many other creative businesses. Gary Taxali writes that "clients' fees are getting even lower and the rights they're demanding are even higher". Well, in animation, you can forget about holding on to any rights. That's nothing new unfortunately. "Editorial clients are slashing 1999's fees almost in half and citing the bad economy as an excuse" says Mr. Taxali. Now I'm already hearing that one in animation right now. The poor economy is being used all across the board to shaft people.

The fact is, and this applies to the people just starting out as much as it does us old-timers, if they value your work, they should pay for it.

Any talk of reduced payment, any suggestion that work should be free, no matter what stage in your career you are at, is an insult.

An insult.

They may as well just come straight out and call you a dick.

To accept less can often be quite tempting. For a start, those of you just starting out need a break and doing work for free can get you that break. I understand that. I've been there. Those not starting out know the competition can be fierce and there is a temptation to undercut your competitors.

But this leads to the same position we are in with Flash animation.

You see, many people herald Flash animation as a great thing because the massive reduction in cost means less outsourcing. It gets studios work they otherwise wouldn't have got. And that's true. But what's already happening now? The very countries that work was outsourced to are now delivering Flash animation even cheaper.

It was a very temporary fix and all it is doing is devaluing the craft.

Soon, no animators, Flash or no Flash, will be able to afford to live on an animator's salary. The only ones working will be those in preproduction.

And doing work at a reduced cost or for free has that exact same effect. It sets a new price for the work being commissioned. A lower price that someone else will then try to undercut. It is self-destructive.

There isn't a creative among you who doesn't deliver something unique. Sure, you can look at blog sites, art sites on the web and think, as I do, holy crap those artists are amazing and I can never compete with that. And still, what you offer is unique. A viewpoint. A style. It's unique.

With that in mind, aren't we worth more?


susan said...


Agreed. But it's tough for everyone. I worked my way up from Fact Checker to Reporter- granted I was writing puff pieces about the Entertainment Industry- but being paid good money to write. I hate being unemployed. Too much sitting around the house, and eating cheezy poofs while my rear end expands.

I cannot help but wonder how DreamWorks, Disney, and other studios keep chugging out animated movies. Are all the jobs in California?

Maybe the problem is paying ten dollars for a movie, add either a drink and/or popcorn, and right there, it's almost 20 a person. Cheaper to belong to Netflix, and the studios are crying about that. And meanwhile my government is spending money like a drunk sailor or shore leave preventing GM and Chrysler from going broke, and people like Bernie Madoff cheating people out of all their hard earned money.

I'm crawling back to bed now. Too depressed. Do you know you cannot even get a job at Micky D's or Starbucks- now? Sigh.

Andy Latham said...

I think the problem lies in us being the type of people who WANT to do our jobs. That's why we'll do them for next to nothing.

The trouble is, is it up to people outside the artform to put value on the thing we do, or is it our own duty to value ourselves? Perhaps the artistic industries need to somehow be a little less competitive. If someone is offering to do a job for a reasonable price, maybe it should be thought of as immoral for another person to undercut them. Maybe that other person should think about how they are contruibuting to the economic problems in the industry by undercutting. By doing the immoral thing, they may well be putting food on the table for another month, but they will be making it that much harder for themselves and everyone else in the future.

Red Pill Junkie said...

What you write about relates to all creative industries I think.

You wouldn't believe what the salaries are for designers & architects here in Mexico. Without diminishing the importance of that work, a truck driver in the US earns more than I do.

Retirement plans or Pension funds? My retirement plan will be to purchase a revolver and blow my head off when I get too old or sick to work.

The only consolation I get is that the education system in Mexico is so terrible, that I will always be more useful than any 20-something fresh out of college who migh know more about AutoCad, but only reads a book a year.

OK, let's be more constructive here...

The problem, as you say, is that there are rookies out there always willing to sell their work cheaper than you; it's seen as a necessary step in everyone's career (at least here in Mexico).

And employers and clients are always looking forward to take advantage of that; to the point that even if I'm giving away my work as a designer when doing a furniture comission, the client can always axe me and find a carpenter to make the furniture I designed —it will not be the same furniture of course, but people can be incredibly cheap.

If only there were some sort of Union that could regulate salaries. But then I guess we'll be then complaining aout the corrupt union leaders and how high the union fees are :-/

allen mez said...

Very thought provoking post. We should all be talking about this much more than we do.


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