Monday, June 16, 2008
A lot of small presses cater to niche markets. Their sales are measured in hundreds not thousands. They have to keep down costs; I get that. But I still think there is a saving too far. For example: not paying for cover art. Oh dear, yes I am going on about this again. But I have been given some very nice cover art of the years, and I expect that the people who made it were properly compensated--as they should be.
Notice this from Vanilla Heart: 1) Hidden Passages cover, 2) totally free photo stock. (This and another example noticed by a sharp-eyed Absolute Write forum member)
It's a nice photo, does it matter that it is free? I guess it's a matter of opinion. My opinion is that the editors should be paid, in money. Also the photographer, the cover designer, the interior designer and everyone who contributes to the work. It fits into my issue with offering 'publication', and nothing else, as a prize. Even when amateurs are recruited by large presses, such as the Harlequin "real men" covers--those that got the job, got paid for it at the standard rate. The only people who might not get paid for the first few years (or longer) might be the owners, that's the down side of being the boss.
Now this amount may not be high, but it should be reasonably proportional. I don't really know but would estimate a cover artist might get paid about 1% of what a book normally makes with that press (Writer's Exchange thinks 10% but I reckon that's a bit steep). In the case of many small presses that would often be less than a dollar, but stock photos can be had for that amount. Or perhaps I have it wring and the 'free' photos are used under license but a fair amount is paid to the photographer when the book starts earning? Because that would be a gracious approach to respecting the artist but living within the companies means.
I also recognise the dangers of paying, but not very much. I think that is because it blurs the amateur/professional boundary to be paid, but at an effectively below-minimum-wage level. Back in the days when I thought it was a good idea to run a zine (OMG what a disaster) I offered a token honorarium. The end result was that I got panned for paying small amounts (around $5) whilst the 99% of zines that don't pay at all escaped criticism. The zine closed at a distinct pecuniary loss and I retired to the sideline to live out the maxim 'those who can't do, blog'.
Perhaps that 'low pay' backlash is why presses that can't really afford pro rates prefer to offer "fame" rather than a pittance. But it really shouldn't be that way. After all artists and writers set their own rates, and work at their own level. With the small press that sometimes means working for small change. And yes, some choose to offer their work for free, maybe I should respect that too. I can't know for sure that they didn't have this kind of exploitation in mind.
I know plenty of people don't agree with me on this, but I think that a professional product should be a collaboration of professionals. Amateur is amateur, professional is professional, but mixing the two hardly seems fair to those put in the non-paying category. Yes, no? Throw me a reality check here. As a former stock photographer I am hardly unbiased.