Less is not always more, especially in illustration

I have noticed a serious decline with budgets in illustration lately and I firmly believe it’s not always the client’s fault. I mean it would be a whole lot easier to blame them but I have other ideas. Yes, we could always blame the economy or the Republicans for that matter. Personally I point my finger at the illustrators themselves.

Yes, even though this is not probably the most popular stance for me to take it is what I think. I believe that if we were really honest about it, the illustrators themselves would have to take most of the blame.

Recently, I quoted on an illustration for an advertising campaign that was quite big. I was dealing with one of the largest advertising agencies in the USA and the usage for the illustration was unlimited usage, all media for one year, internationally. So of course I quoted accordingly. I found out that my quote was the highest. The other two illustrators in the bid quoted 50% less then me. I am a by the book kind of gal and often refer to the Graphic Artists Guild Pricing & Ethical Guidelines for “inspiration”. Obviously this was not the case for the other two illustrators involved. I mean of course there is always a difference in quotes when quoting on a large job but I can assure you that the price that the other’s quoted was pathetically low. Even the art buyer in her confidence to me was quite surprise buy the other numbers. Since the agency was supplying the quotes with the pitch, the decision as to who was going to be selected for the mandate was strongly influenced by the cost. Remember that the client had no budget to give and asked all of us quoting to come up with a price. Had we all quote numbers that better reflected the value of the job then that is what would have been presented to the client. But no, if my illustrators had any chance at all at getting the job I would have to give in. I had to do something that I hate doing and that was lower my price. Yes, to stay in the game I did lower it a bit but not to the extent of the others. In the end we got the contract, but I am confident that we could have gotten a much bigger budget had the others not low balled it. To protect the client, I would prefer to not go into detail. This is not about them but about us. Had the others quoted the real value of the job and not under cut the budget then whoever got it would have been paid rewarded accordingly. If we had all quoted the real value of the job then the art buyer would have presented all the budgets to the client and the client would have chosen the illustrator that that they prefer and without only looking at the numbers.

This is why I blame the illustrators.Another reason for the drop in budget is of course Stock Illustration or Royalty Free Illustration. Well who do you think supplied these stock houses in the first place? Illustrators have to start taking the blame and responsibility for what is happening to our industry. They are also the ones that could make things change. When you quote on a job remember to respect yourself and the work you are doing and put a real value on that. Please don’t under quote. If you have a rep that is quoting on your behalf then encourage them to do the same. Market value is market value and we are the ones determining that value. If you don’t already have a good pricing guide to refer to then get one and try to stick to the budgets that are suggested. They are pretty flexible and will give you a good idea what to charge for your work. Remember that in the end you are only cheating yourself. If you keep bidding lower and lower then the budgets will effectively get smaller and smaller. If you are sick and tire of the big monster stock houses eating away at your profits then stop selling your work to them. You never know when you might be quoting against one of them.

In ending, I was approached by a very talented illustrator not to long ago that I was very enthusiastic about representing. She had told me that several years back she had sold many of her illustrations to a very small and un-intimidating stock agency when she was just starting out and needed some money. It turned out that several years later that very small stock house was bought up by a larger stock house that was later bought by one of the biggest stock houses in the world today. She told me she sold outright for a minimum fee at the time since the stock house was very small and she didn’t think it would be a problem. Well before taking her on, I Googled her name and found her work all over there web in stock and royalty free sites. It goes against AGM’s policy to take on anyone who has sold their images to these company and therefore, there was no way that I could take her on . She never imagine that by selling her illustrations to that small agency it could have snowballed like it did. When you sign over your rights to someone else, they own them and therefore can sell them over and over again.

The moral of the story, Respect yourself, respect your work and never sell your illustrations for less than their value. The more we all do that, the more we can ask and the more we will get.

Anna Goodson is president of Anna Goodson Management, an innovative, boutique-style agency serving the global marketing needs of the visual arts community. Drawing on a proven track record of vision, insight and ingenuity. AGM represents some of the most celebrated illustrators from around the world. For more information visit – www.agoodson.com


19 thoughts on “Less is not always more, especially in illustration

  1. this is an interesting moral, as in America and so in Italy, Value is really a big issue and surely I’ll take this chance to go into this matter with you.


  2. “There was no way that I could take her on…”

    Really no way? That seems a little extreme. You would say that an illustrator’s work appearing on a stock illustration library is a total deal-breaker in representing them? Or is there more to it than that?


  3. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for the comments and questions.
    Yes, in fact there is more to it than that.
    In this particular case, the illustrators work was to exposed in stock and royalty free imagery for me.
    It is our policy here at AGM not to take on any illustrators who’s work is available in stock or royalty free.
    I will edit my blog and make that clear.
    Thanks for posting these questions.

    Anna Goodson


  4. Hi Anna,

    very insightful article. The point about stock is bang on the money (no pun intended). I heard Brad Holland make those same points as far back as 2001. Illustrators were handing over their rights for peanuts & promises (and a lot of those ‘mom&pop’ stock agencies knew exactly what they were doing in building up a desirable folio – eventually selling on to Getty – all the time putting themselves about as the ‘artists friend’). The crux of the matter IMHO, is a lack of business skills training for illustrators (or a lack of recognition by illustrators of how necessary those skills are). For a professional agent like yourself, that’s a mandatory part of your job description. For artists themselves, however, it is usually not a natural strength – and a difficult set of skills for rightsidebrainers to get on top of, along with all the other pressures of creative self-employment?


  5. Hi Anna,

    I totally understand your frustration with illustrators under cutting each other. Many times I’ve quoted the going rate for jobs only to be told I was over charging because some part timer had put in a shamefully low quote. I think a lot of it has to do with the rise of the amateur and the decline in actual art direction skills.


  6. Bonjour Anna
    Je suis heureux de n’avoir jamais fait parti d’un stock image et avoir vendu mon âme de la sorte! J’aurais une question à propos du guide de prix (Graphic Artists Guild Pricing & Ethical Guidelines), est-ce seulement pour un marché international ou s’il est valable aussi pour le marché québécois? Au Québec, avons-nous ce genre de guide (je sais qu’il s’en forge un avec les designers graphiques).

    Disons qu’au Québec, je trouve qu’il manque un peu de ressource pour ce genre de détails sur l’illustration. Comme si le tout était un peu tabou et que le marché et ses prix, devaient rester secrets. Je trouve ça dommage pour ceux qui débutent comme moi…


  7. Hi Anna,
    I also agree with everything you say- I have found myself often at the wrong end of a client`s budget because part timers or amateurs are pitching against me. I wish it was more about the quality of the work rather than how low we can go. As a colleague once said “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.


  8. I have seen the decline of budgets in my 15 years in the business.
    I have bid on jobs using the Graphic Artist’s Guild pricing guide. I’m sure I lost out sometimes b/c my bid was high. With magazines, they tend to dictate what they will pay and with so many younger illustrator’s willing to work for peanuts, those budgets have been going down. We used to be asked for an estimate by magazines but they now know they can dictate cost.
    Never sell your rights to your work, ever. If the client demands all rights, walk away.
    I have dealt with stock houses but never sold complete rights and have pulled out of all but one. The one I still deal with is actually a good one and they fight for higher prices of stock believing it to have value. I believe they are suffering because of their view.
    Photographers have done the same thing to their industry with stock images and continue to do so. We illustrators saw this and blindly followed.
    It is a shame that the value of illustration has be devalued.
    Another issue is with clients developing contracts that ask for more rights but offer no more money. They are concerned with paying more for using images on their web sites and any other technology developed in the future. The devaluing of illustration means that they believe they can ask for more and not pay more.
    Illustrators – read the contracts you sign. Ask if they can be amended. I just did that with the client. They changed the contract. We met in the middle.


  9. I totally agree about the devaluing of work by amatuers and artists with bad business sense, but if we all went by the GAG handbook wouldn’t it put a severe handicap on new illustrators? I mean, I’m a fairly inexperienced illustrator…if I’m charging as much as a more established artist like Stephen Ledwidge or Kim Rosen, what reason does an Art Director have to hire me over them? Is there a way for emerging illustrators to level the playing field without devaluing or undercutting their competition?


  10. Hi John,
    That is a really great question.
    I have represented many many up and coming illustrators, in fact Kim Rosen is a great example of an illustrator that was fresh our of school when I took her on some years ago.
    My personal belief is that the work regardless who does it needs to be evaluated by what is involved.
    For example if a full page for editorial purposes is $1000 dollars then that is the budget regardless of who the illustrator is. Yes, some “well known” illustrators might refuse that amount and ask for more but the budgets for editorial are often dictated by the magazine.
    If a publisher has a certain budget for a book to be illustrated then regardless of “who” illustrates it, that is the budget.
    When negotiating an advertising budget its up to the illustrator or agent to come up with a price. I represent many illustrators from all over the world and to be quite honest some of them are well known and some of them just starting out. I never charge less for someone just starting out.
    hope that helps you out!
    Anna Goodson


  11. Yes. A similar situation when contributing to stock art at art galleries and fine art dealers here in New Zealand. What appears to be a generous offer for your work is actually worth less to you than the legal minimum hourly working wage when their commission and your tax liability is deducted.


  12. Anna,

    Great blog and posts all around. I’m an illustrator and part-time Illustration Professor at SCAD-Atlanta. I teach a variety of technique classes, book, advertising, and self-promotion classes. It is my job to teaching them all the things that you are talking about her. I will definitely refer them to your blog. Thanks for all that you do for the Illustration industry.


  13. What a great post. This needs to be spread throughout the industry. I have been losing jobs to both stock and low-balling illustrators when quoting enough to just feed my family.

    It is getting really competitive out there and I don’t know if we will be able to escape it. Some of the outsourcing companies are coming in very inexpensive, but because of where they are located in the world it is a really great profit for them. I think this is going to get even worse before it gets better.


  14. Thank you, Anna! We all think of selling ourselves short, from time to time in order to make a buck. God knows, sometimes we are desperate. But, selling ourselves short can cost more in the long run.

    Thanks so much for the post!


  15. THANK you, Anna, for this invaluable bit of information !
    Would you mind if I posted this column on my blog to remind us illustrators at all times ? Thanks for letting me know.


  16. I think most of the problem is the lack of information freely available about the fair rates for illustration. It would be great if every designer and illustrator would purchase a copy of the GAG book, but lets face it they won’t and they’re charge what they think will get them the job with out thought to the implication to the rest of the industry because they don’t know what the standard is for the rest of the industry. If it was well known to both the client and to new or non-GAG affiliated illustrators or designers what a fair rate for their services are it would be less of a problem.


  17. Absolutely great post Anna. This is a HUGE issue that needs to be addressed. I do think that many young illustrators have a hard time deciding on and sticking to a good rate, the low prices that I have seen being thrown around for work are damaging to the serious professionals out there. And unfortunately there are people out there ready to take advantage of this. Artists must always think of the industry before they quote a price. P.s. I’m totally sharing this 😉


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