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The commercial nature of webcomics

 
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Marscaleb



Joined: 28 Aug 2012
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 24, 2013 5:27 am    Post subject: The commercial nature of webcomics Reply with quote

So recently I've been looking around for artists, trying to find someone I could pay to create an image for my comic that I wanted in a particular style. While asking around for some prices from folks who do commissions, I started thinking about the division between regular commissions and commercial commissions.

Since the piece I am looking for would be used in my comic, it counts as a commercial commission. And I was thinking about it, and I started thinking that's really not fair.

The way I see it, there's really only two reasons why we would actually have a division in pricing between drawing something for commercial and non-commercial uses.

One way to think about it is that the commercial price is actually the honest and fair price for the work. Here, non-commercial products are given a (hefty) discount basically out of respect for the fact that no one's turning a profit out of this, but just doing it for fun.

The other way to think of it would be that the non-commercial price is really the fair price for the work. But for the commercial work, the artist is being commissioned more-or-less by a business, and as part of that business the artist is due their wages for their work; their role in the business.

In either respect, a humble webcomicer falls under the non-commercial jurisdiction. I am not making a profit; I'm not running a business and I'm not doing this as a profession or even for extra cash. I am doing this as a hobby because it is something love doing (or otherwise want to do.) I am losing money on this endeavour.
In that respect, how am I any different from the guy who commissions a picture of Goku fighting Superman because he wants to see it? I am using my money and time on this comic because I want to see it happen.

But since I am running ads and selling copies of my comic (well, not personally at this time, but even so,) then I am considered commercial, just because I bring in some cash. It's only to help cover the costs that I am putting into this work, and it is not a profit, but it is still incoming money.

That doesn't really sound fair to me.

Now if I was supporting myself from my comic, that would be a different story, and I should be paying the full commercial rate. If I was even earning some extra cash I could understand paying a commercial rate, although a reduced commercial rate would sound more fair.

I suppose one could argue that one day I might be earning a profit from my comic, and then this piece I used to get myself to this point will be part of a commercial endeavor. But that's a gamble at best, and even if that days comes, at that day I'll be making a profit off of my new content. I don't think it's fair to charge someone over something that may never happen.

Well that's what I was thinking about. I am curious what others would say on the matter.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 24, 2013 11:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my experience, the difference between commercial and non-commercial work-for-hire art (discounting webcomic and other electronic media commissions) is likely to be attributable to the quality (either of materials or of final outlay) of the art, or at least the prestige of the artist. As an example, Calvin Kline hires specific, well-known photographers to photograph 12-year-olds to sell their sex-based perfumes, and not the guy at the Sears Photo Studio.

Another difference I've noted (again, outside of the internet) is that while commercial works remain true works-for-hire, most non-commercial works are single-used licenses to the image. That is, while McDonald's owns every photo ever shot of a "Big Mac", the family photo you had taken at Miles Kimball for your Christmas Card last year is the property of Miles Kimball, and your Christmas card, if not purchased as part of their package is a violation of their copyright on your family's image.

In writing, the disparity is entirely based on rights and licenses. I can expect more from my B2B technical writing and editing clients because my work for them is uncredited and becomes the client's property. Publishers (who, you may note, are also businesses, so can be considered "commercial") pay much less, because they generally only purchase a limited series of rights (1st serial and 1-3 non-exclusive reprint, is the general standard) and not the full rights to the work.

If I was forced to guess about the price disparity (if one exists) on the internet, I would attribute it to amateurs recognizing the difference between commercial and consumer rates in other venues, but not being fully cognizant of the reasons for those rate variances.
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smbhax.com
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Joined: 10 Apr 2009
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not sure what the OP's point is. It sounds like you want someone to work for you, but you want to pay them as if they were your buddy who was doing it for you as a favor. But if it's someone you don't really know and who doesn't owe you a favor, and who doesn't either expect to get a really tangible benefit from "exposure" for this work, or to be doing work that is somehow so near and dear to their heart that they'd do it voluntarily, you're going to have to pay them what their work is worth, otherwise they'll look elsewhere.

Expecting artists to shortchange themselves just because you view your business as small or amateur is ridiculous. If you only want to pay amateur rates, you'll probably have to be content with hiring--and exploiting--amateur artists.
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Marscaleb



Joined: 28 Aug 2012
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not making a point; I'm expressing an opinion and I'm curious about the opinions of others.

An amature price should yield amature work; that's fair. But what about commercial versus non-commercial? That's what I'm really asking about. Do you think it's fair to charge different prices for that factor? And of course, why?
And would you consider something someone is doing for a hobby to really be commercial, even if they are losing money on it?
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Lavenderbard
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Joined: 12 Sep 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think I would charge a commercial versus an uncommercial rate, unless I was offering something different in those different cases. Like whether or not the copyright is being sold along with the image, for example.

I am more likely to not charge at all if it's "uncommercial", though, and in such cases... a webcomic is a very questionable "uncommercial" venue/product. Even if it's making no money now, It might start doing so later, and what then? What if you put my artwork that I have done for you for nothing into a book and start selling the book? I deserve my 1/300th or whatever cut, don't I?

So basically, in order to claim a status of "non-commercial" you need to be able to promise that you will never in the future attempt to make money off of it.
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vaslittlecrow



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I feel it's absolutely fair to charge comparable or higher rates for non-commercial where I have absolutely no hope for future royalties or residuals, and possibly retain all copyright if it's not a work for hire job. In most industries like brewing, construction, beauty or textiles, professional/industry wholesale prices are universally lower than rates for non-commercial/hobby retail customers. Artists should not have to put up with a separate set of rules from the real world.

The only way I would charge lesser rate for my work would involve me:

- Voluntarily working on fan/fun art for my own pleasure.
- Owing someone a favor.
- Seeing a serious artistic, financial or professional advantage for doing so.
- Finding a tax break opportunity.

In any other circumstance, I want enough money to cover my time and expenses. If that money is not there, then I am not doing it, period. I have to pay my bills, and my time is too valuable to indulge someone else's hobby at a discount.
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Duskglass



Joined: 03 Feb 2012
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 12:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's not about who the commissioner is, but what they intend to do with it.

Marscaleb wrote:
Since the piece I am looking for would be used in my comic, it counts as a commercial commission. And I was thinking about it, and I started thinking that's really not fair.

Marscaleb wrote:
But since I am running ads and selling copies of my comic (well, not personally at this time, but even so,) then I am considered commercial, just because I bring in some cash. It's only to help cover the costs that I am putting into this work, and it is not a profit, but it is still incoming money.

(emphasis mine)

If you are including the work in your comic, and are planning to sell copies, whether or not you make a net profit is irrelevant. You are still distributing copies of the commissioned artwork, thus indirectly making money off that work.

The rates artists charge for private commissions don't apply to something you will be distributing or using for personal gain/exposure, such as advertising or promoting your work. The artist has a right to charge what they consider to be a fair price based on the commissioner's intent. If a 15-year-old kid wanted to commission a drawing of their OC so they could copy the artwork and sell prints of it, they would be charged a commercial rate to cover the rights to the artwork. The fact that they are just a kid is irrelevant. (Likewise, the person who wanted a picture of Superman fighting Goku to hang on their bedroom wall would be charged a private rate for that image, because they only intend to use it privately.)

You have a right to think it is 'unfair', but that does not entitle you to demand a discount. Would you ask a plumber or a doctor or a chef to give you a discount just because you thought the price was 'unfair'? Artists are providing a service, and they deserve the same respect as any other profession. If you're not willing to pay the price they ask based on your intent, then don't commission them.
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Marscaleb



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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 7:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

@Lavenderbard:
The common difference between a commercial and non-commercial image is so vast; it seems a bit presumptuous to demand three or four times the price over something that *might* happen, especially considering the statistical unlikelihood. The seller could offer a median cut, basically saying they'd charge 150% of the non-commercial price instead of 300%.

It's all a fair part of capitalism; the two parties exchange for the agreed upon price. But I'm a bit surprised how little thought many of these artists give toward offering a lower cost to lower-profit commercial uses. If they were approached by some huge Hollywood company and asked to make a poster for the next summer blockbuster, how many people would stick to their rates and only charge them $300 for the work?

It's all theoretical of course; I'm not making accusations but I'm demonstrating a point. If who the customer is and what they are using it for is really the heart of the price difference, then how fair is it to only offer one division in pricing? The more you get toward one extreme, the more someone would be getting a raw deal. But if each job thoughtfully considered those things and gave a custom price to each customer, there is no injustice.

This is why most major business offers don't give flat rates or even advertise rates. When one company hires an animation studio to make something for them, they discuss the price individually.
It ought to be the same with individual artists. A flat rate would make sense for non-commercial uses, but a flat rate for commercial uses would be bad for everyone in the long run.

After all, if the difference in price is because you are selling the work AND the rights, then you really need to ask what those rights are worth.

Duskglass wrote:

You have a right to think it is 'unfair', but that does not entitle you to demand a discount. Would you ask a plumber or a doctor or a chef to give you a discount just because you thought the price was 'unfair'? Artists are providing a service, and they deserve the same respect as any other profession. If you're not willing to pay the price they ask based on your intent, then don't commission them.


Your tone sounds very accusing. I never said I was demanding a discount. I never said the prices were unfair or that I was entitled to a discount. I only examined the why's of differing rates, and proposed a different way to look at it.

*I didn't say the prices were unfair, but I said that the definition between commercial and non-commercial was unfair.
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ttallan
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm going to take a stab in the dark, since I have no idea which artists' webpages you've been looking at, but I feel safe in concluding that these are artists who aren't in the habit of receiving contracts from Hollywood or Starbucks or any other large commercial business. (Or else they probably wouldn't be advertising for work in this way.) You, as a creator of webcomics looking to hire an artist, are not being lumped in as "commercial" with businesses who are going to turn a fabulous profit with their commissioned piece of art. You are being lumped in with other people who are planning a similar thing-- you're purchasing their art to put on your website or in a book intended to generate revenue.

It doesn't matter that your the revenue you generate may not be very much. If I'm buying a table at a convention (as a random example), the organizers don't care if I don't make as much money as Scott Kurtz, they're still going to charge me the same amount for a table. And they won't be giving me one of those free tables that they offer to non-profit organizations, even if I don't in the end make a profit.

Since you were looking for opinions, here's mine: the distinction is totally fair. In fact, seeing the prices up front makes negotiation easier, since you don't have to wonder if you're being undercharged or overcharged relative to their next customer.
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Metruis
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 30, 2013 1:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do five dollar commissions that, if I'd been approached on a different site, I'd have charged many times more for. Sometimes I do work that I get paid far more for, because someone's come up to me with a budget and said, hey, can I get this done for around 100 dollars. And sometimes I do work for many, many times that because it's for something corporate and that's my wages.

This is how I make my living now.

If you're a friend of mine, I might very well do some work for free. If you're someone I know will very likely not turn a profit, I'll charge you less than I'm going to charge the realtor I'm doing work for who will almost certainly profit from it.

I admit I will do webcomic work for cheap because I know how little a webcomicker gets paid for their work, but I can definitely see how some people would class it as commercial work.

I have a distinction in my pricing range because I am a nice person and want other indy creators to have the opportunity to get half decent art for a low price. Simple as that.
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Lo (Aquapunk)



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 7:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is a bare minimum that I require for a job to be worth my time to do. ($10/hr.) I generally make an educated guess at how much that might come out to be by the time I'm done, and that's about it for non-commercial freelance jobs. Beyond a certain time, like 5 hours, that $/hr figure generally goes up because the longer I spend on a piece, the more taxing it becomes for me to complete.

If it's more than that--there's a business entity involved, the employer's intellectual property's involved, or other forms of compensation are being negotiated--then the price is probably going to go up. Why? Either because you can probably afford it (and if not, there's no lack of desperate artists who are more than willing to work for peanuts), the gig is mentally painful to do for one reason or another, deadlines are extremely tight, you have specific rights to the finished work that have the potential to aid in securing a continual revenue stream for you and not me, you're 1099ing me, and so on.

There's a million things that can impact the price of a work-for-hire piece (and a million ways an artist can get shortchanged). You might benefit from taking a glance at a freelancer's workbook to give you an idea of all the variables.
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mcmasters



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 11:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I contract out my art at 1000 bucks per panel. Unless you're a friend, then you get a 90% discount.

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