Friday, April 3, 2009

The High Cost of Cheap Art - How Much is Stock Hurting Us?

[ reprinted - © Illustrators’ Partnership of America - by/credit and with respect to Mr. Brad Holland, legendary illustrator... one of my all-time favorites ]

At the IPA’s Stock Roundtable, Alexis Scott of Workbook quoted these figures: Yearly global stock illustration sales total 30-60 million dollars, of which 12-15 million are spent on royalty-free clip art.

We don’t have research on how much these sales are costing us, but we can draw certain conclusions:

Let’s exclude clip art sales because I can’t think of a way to calculate the commission fees they might replace. That leaves us with 18-45 million dollars spent on traditional stock alone.

If stock houses are discounting commission fees by even 50 percent, then twice the sum Alexis quoted—at least 36-90 million dollars—has been reduced by half, then halved again by fees and commissions, leaving less than 9-22 million bucks to ever find its way back into the hands of artists.

This means that at least 27-68 million dollars, which once went to all of us to make a living, has been lost— perhaps permanently—through these discounted sales.

And if stock house discounts are even steeper than 50 percent (as they most certainly are), then our total losses, including clip art sales, are even greater. Are we losing double that figure, 50-130 million dollars or more each year? It may seem incredible. But do the math and the question is inescapable.

You cannot take that much money out of a small fragile economy like ours without doing irreparable damage to thousands of careers. With less money to go around, competition will intensify. And in the end, the least competitive artists—often the same artists who signed stock house contracts to make "a little extra money"— will be the most vulnerable.

There’s no way to put a happy face on this. There are people in our business right now who will not be here in 5 years.

We don’t need to blame anybody for what’s past. But if we, as an industry, don’t begin to take some responsibility for steering out of this skid, we can all blame ourselves.

Until 4 years ago, opinion about stock house sales was mixed. Art schools ignored the issue, and our professional organizations either stayed "neutral" or, actually endorsed stock house sales as a good way for members to earn extra income, or break into the business.

But since 1997, a grassroots movement has reversed that conventional wisdom. Now the damage done by stock house sales should be self-evident.

About one month ago, we posted the draft for an IPA "Stock Advisory" on several websites. We invited others to suggest improvements to our draft and we hope that schools and organizations will adopt this statement (or one like it), to publicize as a warning to students and professionals alike.

Neither the authors of the statement nor the IPA need be credited. Schools and other trade groups can simply substitute their own name for ours.

Isn’t it time for schools and professional organizations to join us in taking a stand on the most serious threat to illustration in the history of our field?

[ originally posted in June 2001... still extremely relevant today ]

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