Fair Pricing: Why It's Important To Pay Artists

A subject that is very near and dear to my heart is fair payment for artists.  Obviously, because I am one. (DUH) But also because artists in general get a cheap deal when it comes to their goods or skills being unfairly compensated, undervalued, and otherwise passed over for cheaper and more poorly produced products. Let me explain...

As an artist and maker, pricing is an area I have consistently struggled with.  Do I price for what a piece's value is to me, or for what is more likely to sell?  Do I price by similar industry models, or by desired clientele? You can learn a lot about the business end of creative careers by trial and error and through reading articles and books, but one thing that no one has a concrete model for is pricing. Whether you are a student, a budding artist, or a seasoned pro, pricing jobs can be one of the most frustrating parts of the creative process because so much of what makes creative work WORK is purely subjective. Basically, art varies in value from person to person.

 That's totally ok.

Now, we all know creatives are really meant to suffer through life and die destitute (I kid), but it’s incredibly important for young artists to learn how to quote respectable prices. This is something I wish had been emphasized to me by my professors in college, before I produced years worth of material under cost out of fear of losing business. It can be very tempting to create artwork for very little pay with the promise of exposure and/or an incredible portfolio piece.  Trust me.  I'm pretty sure just about every successful artist, illustrator, musician, you name it has at one point succumbed to the siren song of the "cool" industries or clients.... and has probably since regretted it, at least a little bit.  When you are starting your career as a creative, it will be incredibly tempting to take on any work that comes along, no matter how unfairly clients are trying to compensate you. Remember that you are talented and that your talent has value.  Ultimately, it is up to you to determine how much people value your talent.  By keeping your own pricing standards high, you not only help yourself by avoiding the title of "The Poor Man’s Marian Bantjes" (essentially the creative equivalent of a knock-off handbag), you also help every other young creative struggling to get paid out there, and in turn help every artist that came before you to continue making a living doing what they love.

I know you’re all dying for me to get down to the nitty gritty and explain how to price for each and every creative situation, but this won’t be anywhere close to a definitive guide. Rather, it's just some of my own opinions and words of wisdom on how to avoid screwing yourself and the rest of us creatives over by doing too much work for too little pay. We are in charge of assigning value to what we do, after all, and undervaluing your prices undervalues your work, keeping you from profiting, all the while taking business away from artists who are actually charging to make a living.

But that's hard.  A mantra I once heard, but still struggle to embrace, is this:

"If you like what I do, this is what I charge. If you don’t want to pay it, you don’t have to buy it. Period."

When someone challenges your pricing, your impulse may be to want to justify why you charge what you do (If so, you’re not alone! I still deal with this!).  The problem with justifying your prices is that it takes away from the time you could be be creating, or spending with your family, or sky diving, or whatever it is you like to do. Not only is this a bad business practice, but it devalues your work. In order for other people to take you, your work, and your business seriously, you have to take yourself seriously. While it’s obviously important to consider your clients in pricing, (especially when you’re pricing yourself to attract a certain type of client) it’s even more important to consider what you need to charge in order to keep your business running and receive an income. It’s a business - it’s okay to make money! 

Here's what it all boils down to:  As an artist you create value by conjuring up magnificent things from the ether, which you then proceed to use your skill, experience, energy, unique perspective and training to turn into a reality.

You are an artist. You create value. And you deserve to get paid. However, when you're in a dynamic, evolving relationship with something, as you are with your creative process and the lovely thing it is that you make, trying to see it as a commodity can feel highly unnatural.  Let me make it a little easier for you to see how much worth you actually are creating, besides the value of the product itself.  Here is a list of things you likely do (and should get paid for) as a creative that most people won't even consider when they see your prices:

  • any training that went into honing this skill, be it art school, Juliard, private lessons, you name it
  • product design
  • labor
  • sourcing and purchase of raw materials
  • prototype development
  • product manufacture
  • branding
  • packaging design
  • copy writing
  • photography
  • sales
  • customer service
  • web design
  • social media marketing
  • email and print marketing
  • accountancy
  • advertising
  • inventory management and dispatch
  • administration
  • cleaning of materials and work area
  • IT support (fixing that gosh darn printer / phone / website)
  • continuing professional development

Holy shit that's a lot.  You are a jack of all trades!  The sad thing is, non-artists are often oblivious to this list.  They don't know that not only are you producing the thing they are interested in, but you are also balancing a thousand separate tasks and making the whole show happen at the same time.

Creative business is hard.  Sometimes it's depressing.  You put in crazy hours, sacrifice time, relationships, and money, and then reinvest most of what you make right back into it.  But it can be so worth it if you are truly doing what you love.  That's why fair pricing is so important. Because the world needs more people like you.  People who have a unique vision or skill or talent and who are able to apply that to make the world more beautiful. 

I urge you to stand by your prices, and to charge fairly for the true value of your work. Hopefully, with more of us creatives embracing this, fewer and fewer of us will get raked over the coals (so to speak) and more of us can continue to afford to make and do what we love and are so great at.  If you're not an artist but are a buyer wondering WHY THE HELL IS THIS STUPID SCULPTER/PAINTER/VIOLINIST/DANCER CHARGING SO DAMN MUCH?, please consider all that has gone into this amazing good or service that is being made available to you.  If it's not worth it to you, move on.  It will be worth it to someone who can better appreciate it.