Wednesday, April 7, 2010

For What It's Worth No. 16

There was a brouhaha going on on Drawger yesterday that every illustrator, designer or photographer should take note. A writer working on the web for a mega-media corporation lifted a piece by Chris Buzelli without permission. Upon getting caught his first reply was "No one is going to take a 200-pixel reproduction of a larger piece and call it art. No one is using it as anything but eye candy, and those who like it are going to use links to seek it, and the artist, out." And this was not a first instance by the writer to use art without permission, he went on to explain, "I get paid for what I write, not for the illustrations accompanying them. If I had to get permission for every illustration I used I wouldn't have time to get any illustrations on my articles and would likely not make any money. So I developed this policy, which usually works. I seek to give credit. When I can find one, I even seek a place where the illustration's being sold, and link to that."

There are two problems here: one is the value has decreased so much for art that is less than three-inches that it is considered free? You can certainly follow the logic in that a cover is more expensive than a full-page which is more expensive than a spot illustration. The problem we have is that we are judging things on size and not exposure. As we know not every publication pays the same fees for illustration or photography, it depends on their circulation—the larger it is the more it can budget for content. So taking something that's going to reproduce 200-pixels will not see the same value compared to something being seen as a spot or full-page—we've just trained ourselves to think along those lines. We must get back to the "reach aspect": how many people are going to see this article and art? Thus art on the web is priced on the same scale as print, the more people that may see it the more value it has and therefore the more it should cost. We need to start thinking of budgeting and pricing in these terms and get away from how large or small the art is being used.

The other problem that the writer and illustrators face is that no one wants to pay for content. His complaint about not having time is probably true—he's making his money on volume, no single article is going to pay the rent because the content is not being paid for at a premium in the first place. And we're all to blame for that. We think nothing of going online daily and reading any newspaper without paying a single cent. We're paying pennies for downloads for music or a per-movie cost of cents not dollars to view almost any film we want to see. We are not valuing content at all, we're all looking for the cheapest route to go without regard to those who have prepared what we're watching or reading or to the companies that employ those that produce the content. We as consumers have been schooled that a subscription of four to twelve dollars is about all we're willing to pay for a year's worth of content, so advertising is the engine that affords us printed content. At the moment a banner ad is dollars not thousands or millions of dollars so any company trying to budget for content on the web is faced with a very steep hill to climb. How do you pay for content when the revenues aren't there?

So it's a problem for us as well as writers and photographers. We all love technology but you must admit that it's shrinking the size we look at objects. And the value of what we see has decreased exponentially and since for the most part it's free we place no value on it at all or at least not a monetary value.

The writer's heart was in the right place when he selected an illustration over nothing, he saw the value of adding art to the article he's written but what he's asking us to do is to join him in down-valuing content. I wonder what would have been the result if he'd have asked any of the artists he's used if he could "borrow" the art and give credit along with a link to the site? Are we amenable to that? To me the text and the art are the content of the article, one reinforces the other as any really good illustration must do.

There is no way we can police the internet. The web is an open door to expose the good and the bad. But we should try to protect ourselves. What I've noticed in my own exploration of artist's sites is that they are more likely outside of the US to use Flash on their sites to show their art which takes a lot more effort to "borrow" than to Control, click the image. I also notice that many of these sites are very explicit about not using any part of the site without the express written permission of the artist, another good step to hinder the "borrowing". It's like a burglar alarm, it won't stop the thief that is intent on breaking into your house but it is a dissuader. It's time to protect ourselves in every way possible but collectively we must resolve the value issue for illustration in an ever increasing smaller world.


  1. I followed this a bit online, but appreciate the insight here. I do agree that we are all to share in the blame for the devaluing of content.

    After thinking this over, I realize I would actually not mind paying a higher price for a subscription that had less ad content...

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