Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much any more. Resist!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Art Can't Hurt You...

But prostituting art hurts everyone.

I try not to overthink the scrapbooking thing. Overthinking it always makes my head hurt almost as much as my heart. What I really want is for all scrapbook artists and writers and suppliers and manufacturers to come together in perfect harmony, spread the money and the joy around, and introduce the remaining 8 dozen stragglers (who haven't glommed onto the croppin' bandwagon) to the craft.

Did you ever wonder why scrapbooking is the fastest growing craft in the history of the organized crafting industry? It's a no-brainer, y'all. Everyone has snapshots. Everyone loves looking at their snapshots. And everyone -- absolutely everyone on this continent -- has played with paper and scissors and glue at one time or another.

The basic components of scrapbooking are not a vast mystery. Therefore, even the most unartful and least crafty people look at the craft and think, "I can do this. I must do this! Think of the wee bairns!"

But if you get a group of people together, all interested in this one craft, it becomes immediately apparent that some people want to get their artwork published. And some people think that publishing is, in and of itself, prostitution.

I've written about this before. No big surprise.

So to cut through the muck, here's the latest scandal in Happy No-Crappy Scrapbooky Land: Some members of some "design teams" are compensated more generously than other members of the same teams.

Shock! Horror! I can hear the cries of outrage filling up the land!

While some people -- who, like me, love all artists -- are quick to reassure the wounded, under-compensated, less-published scrapbookers, still quite a few justifiably point out that, gosh darn it, those wealthier team members get more goodies because, well, they get more stuff published. And after all, these "design teams" exist merely to advertise the products made by the manufacturers who sponsor those teams.

It just makes solid economic sense to send four times as much cardstock and ink to Publisher's Darling Polly. Little Lonely Loulou only gets one tenth of her layouts picked up. Polly is a guaranteed box-office draw, the scrapbooking equivalent to Julia Roberts, while Loulou is another Kathy Bates. Of course Loulou's work is sublime. But no one is going to pay Loulou/Kathy as much as they will pay Polly/Julia.

By now you've gleaned my position on the matter. I am afraid that as much as I empathize with Loulou, I understand why the money men save the biggest rewards for Polly. Polly's a star, and she brings in the customers. In truckloads.

But -- and this is a big but -- I must offer a third viewpoint.

The fact is that the scrapbooking manufacturers are taking horrible advantage of even Polly. They are not paying her the same amount that they should pay a qualified, educated, experienced, reliable, professional graphic designer.

I did a quick search at, and pretended I was an educated graphic designer seeking employment in the Chicago area. The payscale that this website kicked back to me -- with at least three viable job offers currently on the market -- was from $36K to $56K per year.

Oooo, those are big numbers. For the writers in the group, allow me to write those babies out for you. Thirty-six thousand dollars per year, and up to fifty-six thousand dollars per year. And that's just for doing what we published scrapbookers already do -- we use products to create art that makes readers say, "I must buy that paper!"

Forget Loulou's outrage at her measly reward package of about $500 worth of product per year. (That's retail, folks, not wholesale.) Forget that Polly gets to travel five or six times a year plus, let's just guess, $1300 of yummy new product per year. Neither of them are earning fair wages for the oodles of free advertising that the sponsoring manufacturer enjoys when both of those talented scrapbookers get that XYZ Scrappin' Widgets product sourced and listed in the big trade magazines every other month.

I propose, dear fellow scrapbookers in search of publishing glory and recompense commensurate with our talents, that we are nearly all being ripped off. I can count on one hand the number of "average" scrapbookers who went on to buy their dream home and build the perfect craft room solely in thanks to their ability to create artwork that sells a product to the average scrapbooking consumer.

A few years ago, I told a small group of friends that it was my opinion that the only way to earn a decent living in this industry was to start your own manufacturing business. Or to publish a magazine. Since the trade is already burdened with too many periodicals (as proven by the recent bankruptcy of one fine, established magazine), and the loathed Mega-Conglomerates are gobbling up all the small manufacturers and boutique producers in all directions, I think it's safe to say that the time to actually, individually profit from this craft has passed.

The only course of action which will help the individual artists now is to demand fair pay for our creations, whether they're the artwork that sell the papers, stamps, inks, stickers, rub-ons, and minutiae of the scrapbook craft, or the articles that tell the consumer how to use them.

And to be honest, there is no reason to think that we can begin to compete with the established, trained, educated, and experienced artists and writers who already existed in the world of advertising agencies that have actively worked to hone their product-selling skills. We have only one advantage: We Are Already Here. And they aren't.

Here is my cry, to both Publishers' Darling Polly and Little Lonely Loulou: Stop working for a pittance. If we stand together, we have a chance to actually earn a living doing what we love to do -- a tiny, minute, little, puny chance, but a chance nonetheless.

If we prostitute together, we all fail.


At 16/1/06 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're singing my song! [whether the Methodist or the Baptist version - the message is the same!] Thanks for your Bay Words!!!!

At 16/1/06 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have an interesting viewpoint. And you bring up some valid points. As a manufacturer in this industry, with a design team, I would like to highlight a few things in your blog entry and address a few of your issues.

Yes, different freelance designers are being compensated in different ways, sometimes even those who work for the same company. But you admit yourself that those same people have different skill levels. Bringing this down to a more basic level, let's take your local department store as an example. Walk in there and poll the employees. How many of them earn the exact same wage? Probably none. That's because their job duties differ (buyer, sales associate, dept manager, perfume tester, etc), their skill levels aren't the same, and their length of experience and employment with the company are different. This is true of every company on the planet, and it should be true in the case of scrapbook page design as well. I would suggest that $x.xx across the board for a design/service/skill is not the norm in most industries. So why would anyone expect it in this one?

Secondly, you mention graphic designers in the Chicago area earning $36k to $56k. Chicago is a large metropolitan area with much competition, high cost of living, commute issues, etc. I actually think $36k is pretty low wages for that kind of job in that area. Our company graphic designer, who handles such things as ad copy, catalog design, product packaging and so on, makes considerably more than this.

So why shouldn't freelance scrapbook/papercraft designers? When they can show me that they are (your words) a "qualified, educated, experienced, reliable, professional graphic designer", then perhaps they will make that kind of money. In the meantime, most freelance designers are amatuers (not qualified), self-trained (not educated), raw talent (not experienced), won't make deadlines consistently (not reliable), don't know the needs of the company they work for (not professional), and by most standards would not be considered a true "graphic designer". So why do they expect "graphic designer" pay?

It only makes sense that those with experience (prior publishing), credentials (CK HOF, MMM, PKPT, etc), training (education), or celebrity status (Julia Roberts vs Kathy Bates), would get paid more than those without those resumes. So why do designers in this industry expect standardized pay? Yes, fairness is important. But there is more involved in fairness than "Layout ABC gets compensation of $XYX".

Back to the well-paid graphic designer: Yes, our graphic designer is well-compensated. He's professional, has a portfolio, has a business name, a business license, and a tax id number, provides professional invoices, has standard fees based on type of work performed and time needed for the job. He is also well-trained (degree), experienced (previous prominent positions at major magazines), highly skilled (fast, can lay out an ad in 30 minutes), equipped (provides all of his own camera equipment, software, printers, etc), reliable (makes deadlines), I could go on but I think you see my point. His qualifications make him worthy of his "graphic designer" pay. How many freelance scrapbook designers have these same qualifications? Very few. But those that do, are probably well-compensated. Do others aspire to be like "Polly" (Julia Roberts)? Yes. But there's only one Oscar winner for lead actress per year and not every actress makes $20 million per picture. Scrapbook designers shouldn't expect standard pay any more than actresses or any other employee in the country. Some people call this the American way.

And while we're on the subject, our graphic designer isn't scouting out jobs with our competitors, unlike scrapbook designers who are hunting down every design team search available, some belonging to as many as 5 or more at a time. Maybe showing a little company loyalty would help in the quest for better pay.

Everybody, regardless of their job, wants fair compensation for the work they do. But please keep in mind that there are many factors that go into determining what "fair compensation" really is. Pay should be commensurate with ability and experience. Few companies publish what is above their minimum pay scale for a posted position, choosing to reveal actual pay in a confidential environment. Why do scrapbook designers expect confidential pay information to be out in the open? What makes this industry different?

If you're a free-lancer, you choose your pay scale and live with it. If you're employed by a company, that implies acceptance of their compensation package.

Scrapbook designers talk a lot these days about being taken seriously, being treated as professionals, but many of them forget what serious professionals provide that they may not. And don't forget that today's high-paid graphic designers put in years of grunt work to get where they are today.

At 16/1/06 12:45 PM, Blogger Bay in TN said...

Dear Artists,

As you can tell by Anonymous's post, you *can* post anonymously on my blog. You don't have to sign your name, unless you're feeling really brave and the courage of your convictions to do so.

Simply click the Anonymous box before you do the Word Verification.

I will, of course, be posting a lengthy response to the dissenting Anonymous. She/he makes my point for me -- she expects loyalty to come before pay, which is, well, ridiculous.

But in the meantime, this post was meant for the artists. Not the manufacturers. It's still safe to be an artist and expect to be treated well. This is, after all, the American way of life we're discussing.

I'm much more interested in the thoughts of fellow artists than I am in the justifications of our oppressors.


At 16/1/06 1:22 PM, Blogger Gwyn Calvetti said...

I'm a lowly artist, one who has decided to just have my fun and put my efforts into other arenas.

That said, I know there are those out there who have the talent--self-taught or professionally trained--hoping to make some kind of living from their talent. It's not really any different than any other field of artistic endeavor. We pay our dues, and in this case, the dues are often the unpaid or underpaid pubs. That said, once we reach a point of wanting to be seen as "legitimate," there is that fine balance between work for pay and "selling out."

An analogy. My energies go into my storytelling. Although there are a couple universities offering certification under "folklore" or "education," there currently exists no clear identification of "professional storyteller." Believe me when I say this is an ongoing debate in that world, as in this.

One area of agreement, however, is that in order to be taken seriously as artists, we can't afford to always give it away. In my experience, telling for free results in treatment that relates to "cheap." I don't do it anymore. I've paid my dues and have enough credentials that I don't need to "pad" that I can say, "No, I need to receive X to do your show." No one balks at paying the magician or juggler, but you can't believe how many folks think I should do this for free or maybe $10.

There are parallels here. Storytelling and paper arts as they are practiced now are in a state of flux and definition. Bay's post is suggesting that for those who wish to be taken seriously, we can't work for free. It is harder when so many are anxious to be recognized that they *will* work for free.

I understand the comments of "anonymous manufacturer," but I'd also like to suggest that just because one does not have formal training, doesn't mean their work is of no value. I'd hate to see Georgia O'Keefe's work devalued, or Grandma Moses, simply because they, like many artists, were self-taught.

At 16/1/06 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess in the opinion of the manufacturer who posted, slavery is really not totally out of the question. After all, not LOs are created equal. Interesting, but really not legal.
A designer

At 16/1/06 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think slavery is taking it a little too far. All you have to do is look at any of the message boards to see how many people will jump to do things for free, without even having any knowledge of the company asking for it.

At 16/1/06 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think several interesting, excellent and thought provoking points are made here and I believe, that in some fundamental ways, your positions agree. To a point.

"Professionals" should be treated, compensated and respected as professionals. In all fields. Scrapbooking is no exception. What constitutes a "professional" is another matter entirely.

I believe those who call themselves "professionals" after having a few pages published are delusional. Being "professional", as stated by the anonymous manufacturer, is so much more complex and detailed than simply being published or belonging to a design team.

However, after an artist has demonstrated and proven that (s)he is a "professional" then yes, (s)he should be treated as such. And that includes compensation.

That said, defining what constitutes a professional scrapbook artist is not an easy task. This industry is new enough that the "professional" standards that have been established in other fields do not yet exist here.

Bottom line, I believe both sides are right. Hobbyists and beginning artists should and do need to prove themselves before being treated and accepted as professionals. They should expect varying degrees of pay, product and responsibilities (assignments) based on their overall worth to the company. Professional scrap artists should stand together and accept only what they are worth, thus raising the bar and creating acceptable standards or treatment and compensation within this industry.

One other side note. Loyalty. It is ridiculous for a manufacturer to expect "loyalty" from a freelance designer or design team member unless it has been earned through relationship, experience and shared respect. If your particular expectations include designer exclusivity, then you as a manufacturer need to make that clear up front and you need to compensate accordingly. I believe that the current list of trendy designers belong to several design teams because it is necessary in order to earn enough to justify their "employment". If you as a manufacturer want and expect exclusivity and loyalty, you have to make that clear. And you have to pay for it.

At 17/1/06 1:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bay-be, I love you. I love the way you think. I love the way that you see things in black and white. I love your passion and your conviction. It is what makes you a great person with a gigantic heart.

I will have to say that I see some grey here. Cori is right--professionalism in this field is hard to define, but I suppose the place to start defining that professionalism is in whether or not the manufacturers (or magazines) USE the end result of someone's effort.

The anonymous manufactuer sure has a lot of respect for graphic designers, but doesn't seem to have much of that respect for their company's design team! Heck, if the *layout* is good enough for a company to inclue in their ad, then that artist should be compensated on the level with the graphic artist. If the *photograph* is good enough for a company's ad, then that photographer ought to be compensated on the same level as a stock photographer.

Do I ever work for free? From time to time. When I am doing a favor for a friend, I am not above slaving over my cutting mat. When I produce work for a company's catalog, advertisement, or a magazine's editorial? Nope. I expect to be compensating for my time AND ability.

Bay, if you keep putting the idea in folks' heads that they are worthy, maybe they will believe it some day.

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