Let's Start A New Illustration Industry
Illustration, Writing, Design
A study into the culture of working for free.
- Let's Start A New Illustration Industry
or 'How to not work for free'
- Let’s do it! Come on illustrators! Grab your pencils and macs and stuff, let’s go start a new industry! It’ll be like Detroit in the 1950s, where industry is king, we’re talking Boomtown here! It’s going to be ace, and we’re all going to be professional illustrators on professional wages. Are you with me? We’ll have to leave some people behind though, they won’t be allowed into the new industry. Here’s a little history lesson about what happened and why we need to do this…
Back in the olden days illustrators always used to do their work and then really predictably their client would pay them for it, it used to work like when a plumber comes round, fixes your tap then you pay him for his service, or if you want a haircut, and a professional spends some time cutting your hair, then you just pay them the agreed amount in full. But more recently, a bunch of companies have started up and they’ve been using voodoo to persuade illustrators that our profession is not a real job and that our time isn’t actually worth very much. Some of these companies hypnotised us or, in some cases, bullied us into creating artwork for their magazines, for free, and some of them said that they would really love to take our artwork and put it on a t-shirt, for free. This era of FreeBusiness™ was supposed to give us so many more opportunities, because outside of our boring old paid work these new companies were far more groundbreaking. They all had this idea that even though you ‘worked’ on an illustration for a day or two, they weren’t going to pay anyone a day’s wage, because that would be an old-fashioned professional approach, instead of money, they somehow thought they’d pay us in ‘exposure’. In the minds of the FreeBusiness™ staff ‘exposure’ is worth as much as real money. In their minds and in their worlds your local electric company will allow you to pay your bills using some of the ‘exposure’ commodity you’ve built up; and every Friday, food at all supermarkets will be free to anyone with plenty of ‘exposure’ in their wallet. History lesson over, now, does this approach to business sound a little unrealistic to you?
* If, at this point, you are thinking “Yes Ben, yes! It is unrealistic” then you will be welcomed into the new illustration industry with open arms. FreeBusiness™ and ‘exposure’ being a valuable commodity are hugely unrealistic and irresponsible ideas, in fact a shorter word for it all would be ‘sh*t’.
So, back to the present and I think it really is time we started a new illustration industry, we’ll take most of the old industry with us; all the brilliant magazines and newspapers that have commissioned and paid good money for illustration for decades, all the advertising agencies and publishers who understand the value of our time and skills and make our job such a pleasure, all the agents who work tirelessly to keep their artists earning a fair amount and keeping their careers credible. However, we’ve got to leave some people behind; the magazines who promise that an 8pt credit below your illustration is worth 3 days work, the tshirt companies who’s payment for a design (that they will profit from) could be counted up in coins by my 1 year old son (he can count to 10), the digital companies who want you to design their new game artwork, for free, right now, but they’ll see how well it sells and then think about payments, perhaps, next year.
Shall we do it then? All the hard-working illustrators and responsible clients join hands and we’ll march onwards to a new industry based on respect and professionalism. We won’t fall for the voodoo trickery of people taking our time and skills without a worthy payment, we’ll only do favours for actual friends, because friends are the only ones to return favours, not greedy businesses, and ‘exposure’ will always be recognised as a commodity which is no longer accepted, only cash and cheque. We’ll leave the naive, selfish, irresponsible, greedy profiteers on their own to feed off each other until extinction, outside of the illustration industry, alongside sweatshops and old fashioned slavery markets. Let’s do it, let’s bring some respect back to our trade, let’s earn a healthy wage from our time and talent. Let’s do it.
- Part 2 : Since I posted this article I had a huge and 100% positive response, I was psyched to have so many people agree, spread the word and get in touch, it is always good to hear from people. Thank you to anyone who liked, tweeted or reblogged it.
However a lot of people have asked how to ‘start a new illustration industry’, people have suggested badges and banners, societies and unions, but to be honest the answer really is simple. There is one simple step you can take to move our industry into a new era, where we can start assuring that everyone gets paid a fair rate, from new college graduates to wise old masters; there is one simple thing you can start doing to help stamp out the culture of businesses expecting creatives to work for free; there is just one rule to introduce to your business to assure you that you work for payments and not false, unhelpful ‘exposure’… here’s what we all need to start doing…
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