Friday, March 17, 2017

Pay, Pay, Pay to Play

I don’t like to fight on twitter, but when somebody told me that, unlike scientists, artists and writers never publish their work for free, I had no choice.  Ahem. 

YES THEY DO, YOU IDIOT. ALL THE TIME.

I’ve been a professional artist for over 15 years. Here’s how I make money: I put my work in gallery shows and art festivals and I sell it online. The first two, and to some extent all three, are emphatically pay-to-play.

With very rare exceptions, an artist who shows in any type of gallery gets no pay for actually making the work. She buys all the supplies, paints or sculpts, frames and mounts, and delivers ready-to-display work to the gallery. In many cases, the artist also pays for photography of her work, postcards to advertise the show, and even the food and wine for the opening.  In return, the gallery provides display space, hanging, publicity, back-office functions and, ideally, buyers, in exchange for a commission (usually 50%) on sold works. But of course, there is no guarantee that any work will sell, so many artists end up thousands of dollars in the hole for gallery shows.

Artists who show at festivals also pay upfront in hopes of making money. Most shows charge application fees ranging from $25-50, and booth fees ranging from $100-1,000, depending on the size and prestige of the show. Artists generally have to provide a display system, a payment system, and a bunch of finished work (not to mention tools, bags, business cards and usually a tent). If you don’t earn back your booth fee, do you get your money back? Hahahahahahahaha.

Even Etsy, where I make most of my money, requires upfront investment by the artist in terms of making, photographing and listing work for sale. Their fees are pretty low, but again, if your stuff doesn’t sell, you’ll be out some time, money and listing fees.

Now let’s do writers. Hey, maybe you wrote a great short story and you want to publish it. Say you’re already well-known and The New Yorker wants to publish your story. Sure, they’ll pay. But if you’re not an established writer, chances are you’ll be publishing that story in a literary journal for nothing.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

Just a note on the science side. Most scientists in academia who are publishing in journals are getting paid to do science. They get a salary or at least a grad-school stipend. Most science research is funded by grants. Part of the grant money is usually set aside for the publishing fees. Are the economics of scientific journal publishing profoundly tilted to the benefit of the publishers vis-à-vis the scientists? Probably! Does this mean that scientists who publish are working for free? Not really. 

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant and articulate. Crazy that you had to explain that to anyone. Guess it shows how many separate little worlds we all live in nowadays -- this is just a well known and aggravating fact of life so far as I knew, and it was extremely educational to find out that there are people who haven't a clue (furthermore, people who are considered "intelligent").

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  2. Omg I can't believe someone said that. How many places does that guy think are paying writers/artists/musicians for their work because LOLOLOLOL we are all desperately trying to get someone to pay us for our work.

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