This is by far the largest and most prominent crime committed against freelance artists. It's absolutely disgusting to see some people even attempt to get away with this. I get these offers all the time, and these offers always, ALWAYS, get immediately deleted. I don't keep track of them, I don't respond, and I immediately purge it from my memory.
Working for free, expecting royalties as compensation.
To a new freelance artist, the opportunity sounds amazing. What if you're the guy who creates the next Batman? Imagine, having a promised twenty percent stake in the whole franchise? Do this with enough stuff, and inevitably you'll land upon a runaway success that brings freight trains of gold straight to your doorstep, right?
Every artist makes this mistake at least once. I did it. You probably did it. Every big name artist I know has done this. They've worked for free on something that wasn't guaranteed to earn revenue, and paid dearly for it. Luckily for me, it was just a week's work, but I know people who contributed to projects for several months and haven't gotten a single check out of it.
This is why "royalties as compensation" doesn't work, and why any aspiring producer should be publicly shamed and immediately IP Blocked from all job boards should they be so insulting to the craft as to suggest it a valid means of payment.
Say for example I were to agree to a 10% cut of a comic. Or 20%. Heck, let's make them super generous, I get 80% of net profits on a comic. I could make up any percentage I want, actually, and I'll still get the same amount in the end.
Here's how. I complete the comic. Let's even give these guys some credit. It doesn't immediately crash and burn in sales like 95% of all unfunded ventures go. Let's glance over the fact they were unprofessional enough to resort to "royalties as compensation" which implies a lack of professionalism regarding other matters like advertising and distribution. Forget all that, they defy all laws of physics and their comic sells an impressive 2,000 issues at five bucks apiece over the course of three months, meaning a gross income of $10,000 in a single fiscal quarter.
Awesome job! 80% of that would land me $8,000! Right? Told you these dapper blokes were generous at 80%! But how generous are they really
Economics lesson, kids. Take a seat, because this joke gets pretty funny. Let's say that they printed a total of 3,000 issues. Printing cost for that would run about $4,000. Therefore, the $10,000 gross you made is now $6,000. Still, 80% of that is $4800 just for you, still not bad for an 80% cut (did I emphasize how unrealistically generous these guys are? I know, right!).
Now let's talk about how
they sold all those copies. Like most independent sellers, they got their money through conventions. Over the course of three months, they could attend up to six different comic conventions. Boothing at each one runs about $500, so that's $3,000 when divied up between six conventions. Oh, did I mention that with "royalties on net profits," business expenses like attending conventions to sell product cut into your own chunk of money you're owed? Should've clarified that earlier. Because now you realize, they're not paying you a whole lot at this point. In fact, the work you did on that book, the money you're supposed to be receiving, is now being used to pay for its printing and distribution.
Let's also not forget, these guys are seasoned comic distributors seeing as they're going to so many conventions. So they also know to write off everything else as a business expense. Now your "royalties on net profits" are going towards paying their gas. You're now paying their lodging. You're paying for their food. You're paying for the late night binge kareoke session they got hopelessly sloshed at after picking up two underage Adventure Time cosplayers at the adjascent Burger King.
And when all is said and done, guess what. There are no net profits left. You get 80% of zero. In fact, they're probably in the hole at this point. Technically, as 80% shareholder of the venture, you owe THEM money to make up how far into the red they went after blacking out and regaining consciousness nine hours later covered in a pile of Monster High merchandise in aisle seven of a Walmart eighty-nine miles south in Fullerton California.
Oh, when I said earlier that this joke gets funnier? I lied. There is no punchline, actually. It's just one gigantic tragedy, like some glorious opening sequence to The Final Destination
except it's not happening to people we're championing gratuitous misfortune upon.
Compensation via royalties is an absolute sham, a dingy scheme to swindle well-meaning hard-working artists into giving them product they can peddle unto others to satiate their own ravenous appetite for raucous parties and free trips to see the voice cast of Futurama.
And worst of all, I wish I thought of it first. Crafty jerks.
CHARGE A REAL WAGE OR CHARGE NOTHING AT ALL
Protip: If you don't value your time...nobody will.
I knew an awesome character artist. She was in high school, loved what she did, and certainly had an amazing talent in regards to imagination, creativity, color theory, and manifesting the emotional attributes of a character in their physical attire. She was amazing.
Then, she opened herself up for commissions. I will draw your character. I will make you comics. I will give you full poster resolution scenes. And I will do it for between $2 and $5.
She means well, she really does. What she doesn't realize was she took my workhorse, and clipped off its legs with a pair of garden shears.
There are a lot of professional artists out there who make their living solely through the generous patronage of others. They have to make their own prices, and they have to find the right balance between something that's agreeable to a casual audience (we know you're not a super corporation like Fox or Disney, so we'll charge a reasonable faire), and something we can still live off of. We need to pay bills, pay for gas, pay for food, and if the wallet permits, stake a claim in the latest Steam sale.
Hey. Priorities, man.
But when a young girl who still lives with her parents and aspires to venture down other professional avenues opens up her invaluable talent at a rate that sinks the rest of us, problems arise. Again, she didn't mean any harm in it, but harm is exactly what she did. She single-handedly dropped the pay grade curve a few notches forcing professional artists in her circle to adjust their prices accordingly.
Think from a producer's standpoint. They want great work at a cheap price. This girl was their golden goose. Screw the rest of us, they go to her. She gets all the work, we get lots of days off instead.
Sure, it works for her, because she doesn't suffer any major consequences in working borderline for free. But on the same token, she wouldn't be much worse off if she did work for free. Producers also prefer to purchase their work, and will usually insist on a price if "free" is the only answer they get, even though labor laws demand at least some compensation of sorts. And ya know, she'd be hugely surprised to see a handsome check grace her PayPal account that she never even expected in the first place!
The point is, we freelance artists have to stand together and work together. We have to compare our own rates amongst eachother, and try to be as consistent as possible. Otherwise, we throw off our own economy, we force a lot of artists out so they can find a more stable economic engine, the talent pool thins out, we get crappier artwork in the long run, and the producers suddenly get this new luxurious power where they can get all the artwork they want for criminally low prices.
Don't enable them.
Charge a real price. Or don't charge at all.