Ugh. So, whatever and ever, I was taking a break from typing up my new novel, poking around on the web, on Twitter, on Plurk, and I was reading a blog post by someone I know (actually know, in person; not just some internet friend, but someone I’ve actually spoken to, more than once, face to face), and I got nauseous and had to go lay down for a few minutes. First I tried just sitting down, away from the computer, but I felt really sick, and it wasn’t enough; I had to lay down in the cool of my bed and close my eyes and try to recover.
The blog post itself, its subject, wasn’t the problem. Tyson Crosbie, a local photographer, made this blog post about some trouble he’d had with a potential client. The client claimed to have business experience, but wasn’t familiar with professional photographers’ practices and rates (apparently), and tried to negotiate a significantly lower price in a somewhat dishonest way (read the post for all the details), and Tyson was letting his community know as a sort of warning about not just that particular client, but dishonest negotiating tactics to keep an eye out for, generally. To make the situation clear, Tyson provided both a link to his standard pricing schedule, and gave a detailed account of the specifics of what was being negotiated. (Again, follow the links for all the details.)
Now, I’m aware I’m not familiar with what professional photographers charge for their services, especially with regards to the purchasing of the rights to a particular image, so just looking at things like the first two items on his pricing page, setting the value of a single image at upwards of $300-$500, already made me a little queasy. This is not something I’ve ever looked into, partially because I knew it was more than I felt was reasonable, and I didn’t find it worthwhile to bother to investigate any more than my doing price-comparisons between various models of Ferrari would be. It’s out of my financial range, there’s no point to look. But, it was a friend’s blog post, a friend’s business, so I went ahead and looked, so I could follow along with the post. The numbers in the pricing schedule made me feel a little worse. But I read the rest of the post, anyway.
And that’s where I really started to get sick. Apparently Tyson earns, in a single day working for a “National” client, a multiple of my business’s year-to-date Gross Revenue. That includes all art sales (several times what I’ve earned in previous years), and book sales through all channels. Even at significantly discounted rates on time and on the price per product shot, the proposed amount Tyson would have earned for a week of work (I don’t know, maybe there’s more time involved than the number of days he’s listing, but even if it were two weeks’ worth of work, or a month’s, the comparison I’m about to make is still a very strong one) for that client would be enough money that (combined with my wife’s salary) all our expenses would be met for well over a year, without my having to earn another penny in that time. Now, I don’t know how much business Tyson is getting right now, how much work at these rates he’s able to draw in consistently, but if he worked just four weeks like that, it would replace my wife’s salary, too. Which is to say that theoretically his earning power individually is perhaps as much as twelve times that of my dual-income family. Practicably, he probably isn’t working 5 days a week, 50+ weeks a year, but it’s still an about order of magnitude more income, if he’s working half as hard as I know I am.
I had no idea. Well, I knew that this society allowed vast disparity in income (which equates directly to quality of life below a certain threshold) between the richest and the poorest of its members, but I know I’m not the poorest, and I know he’s not (quite) the richest. Ethically, though, I have trouble understanding how such disparities can be allowed to persist. How can one person be allowed to have enough income to comfortably support a dozen families, while there are families struggling to simply have their basic needs met? It isn’t just. Thinking about it literally made me feel so sick I had to lay down and shut my eyes to this world.
Yes, I have my art “underpriced” right now. Yes, I’m not as established as Tyson is, as a creative professional. I’m fiercely independent, striving to create art for its own sake and to share it however I can with people the who love it. He’s fiercely commercial, trying to earn money by leveraging his artistic abilities, and to make a business out of being seen as the best. Knowing the cost of living in the Phoenix area, I would find it unconscionable to charge $500 for a single image unless I’d spent at least a couple of days working to produce that image. The man is literally selling data; not prints, not hand-crafted originals, but simple IP. Most of my art is currently priced 60% to 80% under what I ought to charge, simply for my time at subsistence living wages, and without regard for the cost of materials that go into them (except for this one, which contains enough hardware in it to eat almost 40% of my normal retail price for a piece of its size) – and that’s largely because I want to be able to sell my art to people who love it, rather than to swindle rich art collectors who like it because it’s expensive. Or to pander to corporate money for the sake of money itself.
Me, I want the economy to recover so I can bump my art prices back up to Pre-Bush levels. To levels where my making my art and selling it to people who like it –without a thought to what the “art world” or the corporate world or the rich art collectors think is important– provides enough income that my family isn’t living hand to mouth. Me, I have no real interest in increasing my income level an order of magnitude or more over what it takes to have a decent quality of life. Me, I want to be able to stand by my ideals, to not “sell out” or “give in” or otherwise commercialize my work for the sake of money itself. If I could earn in a month what Tyson charges for a day, I’d be satisfied. Part of what makes me sick is that right now I earn less gross revenue in a month than he charges for an hour of work. Part of what makes me sick is that at the hourly rate he listed in his blog post, at the value of his time, the cost of writing this blog post is more than I took in in the last 90 days. That’s indecent.