Do you think artists charge too much?
Are you worried about whether you're undervaluing your work?
How in the world do artists figure out their rates?
Where can you go for help?
I have a couple of topics and resources to share that might help.
If you follow me on Twitter (@Kate_Trish), you may have caught a few feelings about this in recent months. Since I realize the folks who follow my art include early-career artists and art appreciators alike, I figured it may be handy to compile some topics related to pricing and the considerations behind it, along with resources you can browse to learn more. Let's dive in!
What goes into pricing artwork?
A disclaimer: This is somewhat American-centric, as I can only comment from the perspective of an artist based in the US. Pricing is also something that artists approach in different ways, depending on their unique circumstances and the type of work they create. Graphic designers and fine artists, for example, have to contend with different industry standards and practices, which is reflected in their pricing/rates. This is intended as an overview, for artists thinking about how to adjust their rates and for buyers who want to learn more about where the numbers come from.
Cost of living
An artist based in Los Angeles likely charges more than an artist based in the south. Why? Their rent/mortgage is higher. Their district sales taxes are through the roof. They need to make more money to live, which means they probably charge more for their services. Remember: They may not have a salary, and art may be their primary source of income. Their rates may be higher for the same reasons that salaries or hourly rates in their location are higher in general. Artists may also be basing their rates on the cost of health insurance, their car payment, childcare, etc.
Artists are often factoring the cost of materials into the prices of what they're selling, even if they're selling digital goods. What's the cost of their software? Do they need to recoup the cost of ink purchased upfront for printing? Do they need to make money to replace materials that will run out (e.g. pens/pencils)?
Overhead and business expenses
An artist's rates/prices may also be based on considerations related to storage, studio space, accounting software, website fees, business lawyers, etc.
FYI for American folks who think artists charge too much: They lose about ¼ of that “profit” to taxes. $100 is more like $75. If you have sales tax in your area and you're purchasing tangible goods from an artist, that artist may have the sales tax included in the price, but it may be in addition to the price. The artist may need to pay taxes to their state, county, and/or city, on top of federal taxes.
Value to the client
The project fee for a large corporation is probably much higher than one for an individual. Why? Because that big business client's project is probably much more involved and the value of the work is much higher to that client. If the project doesn't go well, they might need to do a lot of reprinting, for example. They should be paying more for high-quality work they can depend on, and they have the money to do it. They're probably also going to be charged fees for licensing and rights that aren't transferred to someone purchasing a portrait for their friend's birthday.
Artists/designers may be charging fees for the transfer of various rights outlined in a contract. Why? Because that transfer of rights usually means profit for the client and fewer opportunities for the artist to profit off their work. If the client is being given exclusive rights to print the work in North America for 5 years before the rights return to the artist and the artist can license that work again-- Hopefully you get the idea.
Artists who are especially skilled or sought after can and should charge more for their work. When a client hires them for a project, they're tying up time that could be spent on other projects. The price/fee for that work may be contributing to past or future training. Experienced professionals make more than newbies, just as they would in other professions.
If you're an artist just starting out:
Please don’t undervalue your work. $20 per hour may be more like $15 net, after tax. There’s no easy formula for figuring out what to charge, but I hope you can trust that you are worth more than pocket change per hour. You are. You deserve to be compensated, whether you’re worried about keeping a roof over your head or not. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort and money to hone your craft, you’re spending a lot more to continue working, and you deserve to profit instead of taking a loss. I don’t care if you see someone online selling 3hr worth of beautiful work for $15. You don’t have to do this, and you shouldn’t.
It’s disappointing to find that sometimes you can’t afford art that you’d love to have. It isn’t always a reasonable expense, no matter how much you would like to support an artist. If you truly love and respect an artist’s work, be kind and try to understand why they must or should charge as much as- if not more than- they do. Consider sharing the work that they’ve posted online (always ethically, with credit), to support their hobby/profession and make it financially possible for them to offer more of what they love to make. That could- in turn- make their work more accessible to you.
Want to learn more?
I’m not the top expert by any means, but I’m happy to share any expertise I have that may be helpful to you. Here are a couple of resources that may help:
- http://www.yourrate.co/ - A simple rate calculator with handy tips
- https://www.graphicartistsguild.org/ - Their handbook includes contract, pricing, industry standard, and other information I consult regularly. Their site also has a ton of great online resources and tools.
- (US only) IRS information for self-employed individuals: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/self-employed