A recent tweet of mine got re-tweeted quite a few times, here it is: 'Young illustrators! don't be afraid to ask for more $$ - This would benefit not just you but everyone in the industry.' The fact that so many people found this relevant made me think that I should really write a blog entry about pricing for illustrators. Now I don't pretend to be an expert on this, and neither am I a super savvy businessman, but I'll try to share some advice just the same:
1. The State of the Industry
Ok, so you've chosen to be an illustrator, you're coming out of school all starry eyed and ready for a world of exciting assignments. But once you start getting work you realize pretty quickly, illustration, for the most part, doesn't pay very well. Magazines are shutting down left and right, newspapers are cutting their editorial budgets and book publishers are walking on thin ice. I remember proudly showing one of my first full page illustrations in BusinessWeek to my former teacher at SVA, and he asked me, so how much did you get for that? I told him: $1,500 his answer was: 'Back in 1982 you would have gotten $1,400'. so this is it? 30 years have passed and fees have increased by such a measly percentage? yes. it's true. cost of living has skyrocketed, but our fees for illustrations have barely changed. So what should you do? give up and become an investment banker?
When an art director writes to you interested in commissioning an illustration, they usually include the size and budget they have for an assignment. If you're not sure if the price is right, you can look up the Graphic Artists Guild handbook - This book would give you an idea of pricing for different types of assignments as an illustrator, although bear in mind that prices in the book are somewhat inflated, in order to help push general pricing up for freelancers.
3. Setting the Bar
It's important to know what you're worth, and not to accept jobs for unresonably low prices, you're not just undercutting yourself but the whole industry. Be sure to set the bar for yourself - for instance, tell yourself: I will not accept any work below this amount of $, since it would not be worth my time. No matter how desperate you are for recognition, there's really no justification for you doing a job for next to nothing. The staff in the magazine gets paid salaries that are up to date with the current payroll in the market - why is it that you should accept a job for a humiliating fee? I have gotten offers to make illustrations for as low as $50. I find these emails somewhat unnerving, yet I will always politely decline.
4. Raising the Fee
I would encourage you to try and raise the fee of the assignments you receive, that is unless you find the budget totally reasonable. You can lose absolutely nothing by requesting a higher fee, the art director will not resent you - if anything they will respect you for knowing the worth and quality of your time and work. Here's an example of an email I would receive from an imaginary art director*:
* (sometimes I do get jobs from non imaginary art directors as well)
I'm checking to see your availablity for an illustration assignment. We have an article coming up in our next issue which I think you're work will be great for.
Size: Full Page
Budget is: $1,100
I would need sketches - Monday 19th PM / Final - Monday 26th AM next week
Let me know if you're available and we can go from there with a bit more of a brief
Senior Art Director
And here is my reply:
Thanks for reaching out and having me in mind for your upcoming issue, I'm a fan of the work you do in 'Untitled' and it would be an honor to have my illustration published in the magazine.
I should be able to take on this assignment in the schedule provided.
I was wondering if there's any chance you could push the budget up - my fee for a full page is usually around $1,500.
Looking forward to hearing from you and working together.
At this point the art director will either agree to raise the fee or reply that he is unable to shift the price due to budget constrains, I find that in more than half the cases the AD will agree to increase the fee moderately (usually from $100-$300). At this point you must decide if the price is right for you, and either accept or decline the job. Again, don't be shy! its really easy to ask for budgetary changes over email. Even when you get a call, you should still try and raise the fee. If you're really shy you can tell the art director you need to consider the offer, and get back to him via email with your reply. Don't get put on the spot and accept a job for a low fee, later regretting it, you will feel really bad about the whole ordeal, I guarantee it. If you're a young illustrator and accept a job for next to nothing - you will be undercutting not just yourself but other illustrators. The publishers will be quite content sitting on their untouched art budget and continue to offer low fees to everyone.
This is a whole universe upon itself, I will just give you one small pointer here: add a disclaimer at the bottom of your invoices, clarifying that the rights are for one time use only, and any further use of your art will require permission from you - the artist. If someone wants to re-use your illustration - charge them for it!
I hope this has helped some of you, again, dont be afraid to ask for more $$, and don't sell yourself short! when you fight to increase your fee your not just fighting for yourself but for the industry as a whole - ideally, you will be helping raise fees for everyone.