The Million Dollar Question (sort of)

  • Nicki Field

The first of two articles, Jelly’s Head of Illustration Nicki Field does the un-British thing and talks about money and pricing for illustrators in 2019.

New Year, same dilemmas. Every day as agents we deal with the million dollar question – ‘How much?’ However, rarely is a million dollars the answer.
The AOI announced that they will no longer be able to offer pricing advice or their annual pricing survey after taking legal advice. As of yet, the reasons are unclear – but knowing this lot and their unflinching passion for the industry as a whole – it will be a much considered and deliberated decision.
In many industries there isn’t much dialogue about pay. I’d go so far to say it’s an intrinsically British and ‘polite’ thing that employees don’t discuss pay and much the same in any freelance profession, knowing what rates to charge can be a dark art.
And – I’ll say it – illustrators generally have a hard time. Not only is pay not talked about enough but their chosen career is creative. God knows how many times people ask for free work from creatives, something they’d never dream of asking of their plumber or if they are out shopping. ‘Please can you fit my washing machine for free?’ or ‘Please can I just have this loaf of bread?’, ‘Think of the exposure’. LOL.
It’s also a hard-born fact that when it comes to the Ad world, illustration isn’t always valued as highly in terms of hard bucks as photography and when it moves into animation, it’s the same story versus live action.
But the most mysterious element of all is the usage fee. This is the currency of an artist from day dot but often the most misunderstood or exploited part of a budget – it’s intangibility allows it to be a flexible cost, easier to negotiate, easier to strike though as line item or to be simply unaware of the need to charge it.
Outside of working with an agent, the AOI are invaluable – and their members know it – this is the upset, clear all over Twitter. For many freelance artists the lifeline to their profession and access to knowledge about how they value themselves has been removed – the reason this is such a marked decision is because it’s a resource so valued and needed by all creators.
There definitely should be more visibility as a whole over fees across the industry but with such disparity and range, how do you harness that? And as a freelancer where do you start? Ask for help. Talk to each other. Ask us, ask other agents. Do a sense check on it. There’s a gap now and it needs to be filled. It’s not price fixing, it’s sharing advice and knowledge and having a responsibility to keeping our industry alive and kicking.
And don’t forget – that yes pricing advice is valuable – but the AOI supports us all in so many ways. As a trade association it represents illustrators as a whole, gives a unity and vehicle for us to come together and talk more openly. So even if they can’t give bespoke cost advice – there’s still a community they anchor together, to share experiences and ask the advice of. With support on rights, advice on contracts, awards, showcasing work, talks and workshops, portfolio reviews, career advice – there’s still much to learn, so don’t run away too quickly.

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