Angry Artist Alley: My Art is worth TOO MUCH!

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This is a topic I don’t have any proof except for walking around and buying peoples’ art every year, and mass amounts of artists agreeing on it and telling me their stories. I don’t really talk about it straight to an artist unless I feel REALLY confident about it. I know it pisses some people off, but I just want to speak my mind. Well, since I’ve already made this series and few have denied the problem, I want to warn you that this article may offend innocent pure-hearted people who do art solely because they love it. Mines was once very pure. After trying to live as a freelance illustrator, my eyes on these subjects have definitely changed. Still happy and proud about it, but have seen the dark side of business as well.

Brace yourselves, this is a LONG article. 

It’s quite obvious with the economy these days, things are getting more expensive, and people are trying to earn more money to catch up with that. Heck, even artist alley table costs have risen.  But you know, people are used to paying a specific price for this stuff. But why should you work MORE to get paid LESS? America sucks that way. Just consider minimum wage here. Doesn’t mean you need to completely bow your head down even further than the rest of the people.

Even though my work improves every year, I earn less as well. I manage better artwork, way better quality stuff from many years before. But why earn less every year for the past four years? Hard to believe, but prices for work have dropped significantly year after year. Materials cost more, but we still sell the same. Consumers may just be consumers, but I still have dignity for my own artwork. There are more people at cons every year, how come you’re not earning as much?

It could be that people want to spend less money, or think your work is overpriced. Or maybe you think your work isn’t worth that amount of money, and that you should charge less because of it.

Here’s some factors regarding this issue:

1. When faced with two pieces of art, the consumer usually go towards the one that costs less–face it, the cheaper it is, the more you want to point your eyes to it even if the art isn’t as cool. As long as it has that chibi fanart, yes? Most consumers (especially at anime conventions) mostly buy things as cheap gifts or because they like the character, not really because of the skill and effort you stick into it.  No guarantee the one you spent so long making would sell at all. When they see the cheaper price, then they go for it. That is usually why artists at conventions can get away with more cash selling things for cheaper (although have to work harder and longer for it). The factor is price.

2. The one that has significantly “cooler” art- “Cooler” does NOT mean that the artwork looks better or had some skill and effort put into it. What I mean by that is that the consumer usually looks it in another way and considers it cool. They don’t see that I spent and entire week hand inking and coloring a 14×17 piece of marker, all they see is the character on the page. Say…if you had a print of Kirito that the artist spent 10 minutes on, and a print of kirito you spent one week on, they don’t see the time you spent on it. They’re not paying attention to the effort, they are looking for the result. The factor could be fanservice.

3. The content is popular. When you’ve got work involving a character you know and like, you’d point more towards this. When the art is some sort of parody or joke, people think that’s interesting. For this specific reason, this is why original art doesn’t sell as well as fanart. I’m not saying you won’t make sales, I’m saying that you could make more selling fanart. Sad, but true. The factor is popularity.

Flashback to the Past:

About 8 years ago, commissions and prints were more expensive than nowadays…which I believe this system is really messed up–even in this economy, a large part of our income comes from these things (especially comic artists). At anime conventions, most 8.5 x 11 prints were about $10 and up (I know some of you are shocked right now). And it would be normal to get an 11×17 for $20. Buttons were your usual $1, and so on. Walking around conventions in the past year, I can see prices have DROPPED. 8.5 x 11 prints are selling around the average of $3-5, and I’ve seen 11×17 prints sell at $6-10. I’ve seen buttons cost 50 cents. And etc. I’m not saying every convention is like this, but it does happen more often than it used to.

What happened? How did it happen?

I am not pointing names, because I know for a fact that I’ve met a TON of people who have experienced or did it before (hell I did it a few times)–a never ending struggle of trying to keep up with pricing compared to other extreme tables. When one table decides to sell something significantly less, the competition balance changes. The rest of the tables need to catch up with that one table by LOWERING all their prices. But what if another table decides to sell the same thing even cheaper after everyone else lowers it? The fact that a lot of artists draw the same fanart from the same series makes it even thougher. I’m not talking about if their art was a masterpiece or not, I’m just saying that the struggle hits all of us, no matter where you are on the food chain.

Awareness:

I graduated in the California College of the Arts in Illustration. I learned the financial difficulties as an illustrator, and through the life of real comic artists that have to maintain their own business as well. Freelancing is a very difficult thing, and some of us whip out our own calculator and calculate cost, time, supplies, etc for every thing we do. Stephen Silver says it like a boss, but I hope this makes sense when I say it. Check out all of his videos about living as a real artist.

1. Time is money: Just because you spent six hours on it doesn’t mean you spent six hours working on it. It means you spent six hours drawing it/making it, and what may have been a lifetime of training to do it, PLUS the time it took for you to get the materials as well. Remember, the consumer does NOT know how much time and effort it took for you to do your work (unless they ask). Therefore, you do not have to undersell because you spent less time on something. The people who DO pay attention to that are usually artists, and they respect you. But consumers are not all artists.

2. Your stuff doesn’t cost the amount of money you spent buying the supplies. It costs more. WAY more. You spent time, blood, and money to work on a piece, it doesn’t mean you should just bow down to your sellers and give them the bare minimum of cash needed to pay for your table and supplies. If that was the case, you could manage your time better by NOT buying a table, and spread 300dpi printable versions of your artwork for free everywhere. In fact, if all you wanted to do was pay back for your table, wouldn’t the wiser thing be to just not buy the table in the first place?

3. Selling something cheaper vs. selling something more expensive: The concept is that you can sell 10 buttons for $10, or 1 print for $10. Or you could sell 2 prints for $5. Each one of these products you spent time at home making separate versions of it. What are the odds of all of them? You can sell things for cheaper and they sell, but you’d need to sell more to make up for something that someone might buy for more. Think about this concept. You can take advantage of this by spending less time and effort on something and selling it more (although I do lose respect for some people who do this). It can also be your downfall.

4. We’re All In This Together: Selling for profit may be a battlefield in artist alley, but one thing you may not know is that we’re all supporting each other too. When you break the balance of selling something super duper cheap, how the hell do you think the rest of our tables are going to support ourselves? So please, by having everyone keep a somewhat consistent price on their work, we’re able to maintain a balance of profit for everyone.

 *note: if you don’t know where I got that term from, it was from a hilarious comic by e1n: http://waittcomics.com/

Fact of the matter is: This took me a bit of understanding. If you walked into a gallery (or even art museum), you will find that prints that are about 8.5″x11″/11″x17″ is at a regular price of about $25-$75 each, sometimes with a backing board and mat. Heck, I once sold two prints at a gallery, for $60 each. Even if the gallery sometimes takes a 40% cut from it, that is still completely normal–cut or no cut in a gallery. Is it a rip off? No, people just find more worth in your art there compared to other places. But at a convention, it’s absurd to have it over $15.

5. I’m just a beginner: For those who have this mentality, you may be thinking a bit too low of yourself. You already had the courage and money to get a table, why are you doubting yourself? Do you think the consumers would really know that if they look at your art? Do they know if you went to art school or that you have been practicing only a year ago? Stand up for yourself. You’re this far ahead, you bought a table, you’re a novice, but you can’t look at yourself as being lower than everyone else who has had a table. You are a confident artist who just started sitting behind artist alley. You are no a kid who is trying to tell the whole world that you THINK you suck. This entire blog is so your mind isn’t set on this problem. Don’t charge significantly less because of this idea. Be proud, stand up straight, and know that every artist in artist alley started out just like you, and look at them now–everyone is a role model for you. 

Personal Opinion Blurb: I never buy a commission that’s under $20. On a personal level, I feel anyone charging under that is doubting their skills. It takes a lot of courage to finally feel that your work isn’t worth a Subway sandwich, but instead a nice dinner at a sushi restaurant. I’m not a big supporter of $1 commissions, it just doesn’t feel ‘worth it’ for me.

6. It’s just an experiment to see if people buy it: So you made something brand new, and want to see if people buy it, so you charge less for it. Kiddo, nice thinking, but nope. If you do that, then people will think that it will normally cost that price. What I mean is that people might just be buying your ‘experiment’ just because it’s cheaper, not because they’ve fallen in love with it.  Of course I’ll buy a cute little origami pin for 10 cents! But not if it’s 25 cents, because I thought it was normally 10 cents last convention. If you really want to test out this experiment, price it normally. And if no one buys it, figure out why, and either fix it or lower it a little then. But not your first try.

Pacific Rim

This is a Pacific Rim fanart print. The original was a marker and ink piece with just a hint of white ink. It is 14×17 inch total (you heard me right). I spent approximately three days straight(from 7:30am to 11pm with food break), had to cool my hand down from arm stress, and another day. I made prints of it. How much do you think that print would be worth, personally? How much do you think the original costs? And lastly, how much do you think it was sold at for a convention? 

[EDIT (added May 16)]7. But they buy my stuff anyways: If this is what you’re thinking, you’re missing the entire point of this article. So you’re making a profit selling it? Congrats, but how much more did you need to print and how much more time did you need to work to get that far? Metaphorically speaking, it is faster to scrub the floor clean with a towel than it is with a toothbrush.
If you feel it’s unfair to print your drawings and charge ten dollars if the printing cost $1.50, consider that the burger you ordered at the joint cost about the same to make, but they charge you ten dollars too. Craftsmanship, time, service, and many other things are put into the materials as well.

[EDIT (added May 16)]–8. I just want to be showered with compliments, I love it!Don’t we all? But let me tell you a secret: THEY WILL COMPLIMENT YOUR ARTWORK REGARDLESS OF THE PRICE TAG. Whether or not someone would actually buy that kickass piece of art, that’s not up to me, you, or anyone else but that person. In my honest opinion, I feel happier when a customer says ‘oh wow, I love your work!’ instead of ‘oh wow, it’s so cheap!’, even if the person walks away from my table after saying one or the other.

What should we do?
Just price your work wisely. One thing I’d like to add is to stop lowering your prices lower and lower..and lower. It’s getting way out of hand at the past few times I’ve walked by these things. When one person sees work that’s significantly cheaper than the rest of ours, it sometimes makes us look like we’re the ‘bad guys’. None of us are the bad guys here, but it does drag us ALL down a lot. Like I said, if you spent money on a table to sell your work, and selling your stuff at almost the bare minimum, it’s like you don’t even know what the purpose of ‘buying an artist alley table to sell your artwork’ means whatsoever. Why should we have to work till 3am on a project knowing that selling it would only give you the chance of earning ten bucks? Trust me, if you want exposure, give it out for free to people walking buy, they’ll love it. If you need money to pay for something you really dream to have, please help everyone out at artist alley. Many of us sitting behind artist alley have goals we want to achieve which is why we sit behind the tables selling our art. Let’s work together!

Well, how much should I price them?
Unfortunately, this is an age old question that even I cannot comprehend. All I can say is to look around the tables, see how much they price them, and that should be your estimate. And never make your price lower than the lowest price of anyone’s work at the convention. That will just build to the already existing fire for the future. Keep it uniform, and it will help everyone. You can make it the same as the lowest price if you want, or you can choose the most popular/average price range, but never under the cheapest price at conventions.

[EDIT (added June 17)]
People are complaining my work is TOO expensive!
I’m going to assume a few things. I am assuming the person thinks their art is ‘better’ than your work, and envy the fact that you’re making money off of what they think is more inferior. And I’m assuming the person who has the ‘expensive’ art is making some amount of profit on it. And they want you to lower your price because of that. Or maybe you’re the one thinking that to someone else. Here’s the much more positive way of thinking–instead of telling someone to LOWER their prices because their work isn’t as good as yours (or so they claim) and they make money, and you could do better, why not RAISE your own prices and see what happens?  Problem solved, everyone is happy. Yea?

This is an excerpt I wrote when I responded to a facebook post about artist alley, about overpricing vs. underpricing:

“Let me give you an example/explanation about peoples’ expectations regarding underpricing and overpricing, based on real life experiences:

Say you have a commission, and you charge it $20 and profit from it. Then people are complaining it’s ‘too high’ for that quality of work, implying their work is superior. If they’re complaining about me making that much money off of drawn commissions, why don’t they just higher their commission prices if they think their work ‘is better’ and make a more reasonable price for their time?

But imagine me underpricing my work. People would complain that I don’t value my work, I have to work longer and harder to get a profit, and I’m pretty much doing more harm for myself than good. People may have to make the choice of lowering their prices just so they can match this one person’s ridiculously cheap prices. AND the customers who have seen this one person who underpriced their work would also consider everyone else’s prices a ‘ripoff’, and have lower standards.”

If you would like to flame me about this, don’t. This whole article represents my own opinion, and I do not plan to change sides. And nor will you, if you want to argue with me about this. It won’t solve anything. If you want to speak your opinion, do it at a facebook group, where you’ll get multiple opinions from multiple people. However, if you want something clarified, I bet I have some sort of life story/experience that goes along with any of these topics I listed. 

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12 thoughts on “Angry Artist Alley: My Art is worth TOO MUCH!

  1. Good blog. You make a lot of good points. And your right about most young anime con attendees not wanting to spend money on prints or items that are over 10 bucks.

    At Fanime my buddy and I did really well.But at the last 3 anime cons we’ve been too we walked out with some cash but not as much compared to the artists who sold a crap load stickers,key chains, and pins. I’m not hating on the artists who sell this type of merchandise.But it does make it harder for others like myself who want to compete and make some money .

    • haha…yea I might be one of those people who sell buttons and stickers. But I always have prints and drawings behind me..just hard to avert their eyes there when they’re glued to the table.

  2. Hi there! I just wanted to tell you that I absolutely LOVE your Angry Artist Alley series. What you have to say has been on my mind for years! I’ve been selling at artist alleys for about 8 years, and in response to this particular entry:

    I too have noticed that for the past few years, competition has gotten so much bigger, and artists need to price their artwork for a lot less if they hope to sell it. When I first started, I got away with selling large prints for $10—$15, because people would buy them! And now, I can barely sell chibi keychains and magnets for $4, because people just don’t have the money or are very choosy about what they want to spend it on. And I can’t even tell you the prints that are now being sold for $5 and how I can barely get people to buy them. 8\

    My personal theory, which is borrowed from a few people I’ve talked to, is that the reason things are getting harder for artists is, ironically, because there are so many more conventions popping up. 10 years ago, you’d have maybe 1 or 2 cons in your home state, and every last die hard anime fan who lived there HAD to attend, or else they would miss out till next year. So people saved up their money AND looked forward to spending it all on dealers and artists (yay!).

    Fast forward 10 years, and it looks like there’s 1 or more cons per month now! Which sounds great when you first look at it (hey, I don’t have to spend so much money getting to the ones out of state!), but then what that means is, there are now more chances for fans to attend another con if they miss out on one. Meaning, they save up a lot less since they’ll be attending more conventions, so they’ll SPEND less per con.

    Oh wow, this got really long! I apologize! But please continue this series. With each post I read, I keep going “Yes! That’s EXACTLY what I experience!”

    Take care!

    • Whoa didn’t think of that theory 0_0
      I will ask my other buddies about this too, it sounds interesting and it was never on my mind. It’s coincidence that there are more conventions that happen on the same weekends too, making competition for which place to go even trickier.
      Well, I started selling eight years ago too, and the way I see it, people just aren’t aware of how much stuff was once being sold at. Yesterday at Kraken Con some guy behind me gave me a dirty look when I said ‘dang this place has such underpriced stuff I don’t even want to bother with it’ (well that IS a really rough comment too). It was a dirty look because that was a ‘professional’ guy who either 1. Did not like my comment, 2.did not want to admit it, or 3. didn’t even know his work was worth selling any higher. I say professional because his skill was definitely decent, his table had REALLY high pvc pipes hooked on and raining with tons of prints, but they were sold at about 8 dollars or less. I put both my hands on another girl’s table, and just straight out told her “hey, you know what? You are looking down on yourself–your art is worth much more than you think”. I hope those words gave a spark of hope to her.

  3. Hi. Just wanted to say that I just discovered your blog and I’m in the process of reading through every single one of your Angry Artist Alley posts. Even though I’ve never really had much motivation to actually try to get a table, I still like to read up on things like this on the off chance that I’ll follow my whim and just go for it. (Just as soon as I figure out what I want to sell).

    Normally, I’d just lurk, but Natalie’s theory really got to me. When I think back to the first con I ever went to (Anime Mid-Atlantic), I was still in high school and the only reason I went was because it was about 45 minutes away from where I lived. My parents would take me, drop me off around 8-9 am, do some shopping, visit friends, etc., pick me up around 8-9 pm, and go home.

    This meant that I could come back to the comfort of my own home every night instead of sharing a hotel room with 8-15 other people. For two years I went, before they moved away, I would only go to this one con and so I made sure to save up at least $300-$400 by the time it rolled around the next year. Even though the circumstances are a bit different from that theory, the point was, it was THE ONLY con I went to and thus I had a whole lot more money to spend for it.

    Another thing to think about is price inflation. Most people are going to hit the dealer’s room first and however much they have after that would go towards Artist Alley things. When I went to AMA in 2007/2008, a PVC Anime keychain cost $5 at almost every booth. And there was tax-free Sunday for people selling in the Dealer’s Room. I spent $25 for 5 of them. When I went in 2012, they didn’t have that tax-free Sunday anymore and the same keychain I bought 5 years ago now cost $7-8 everywhere. So now I’m spending $35-45 for the same amount of keychains when I could have bought a print for that extra few bucks.

    As for your post, while I don’t draw/paint myself, I have plenty of friends who do and I tend to dabble in bits of everything crafty from cross-stitch to papercraft to jewelry to perler beads myself. So I know that the time, sweat, tears, blood, pain(especially the last three if you’re working with needles and sharp cutting implements and paper- ’cause papercuts can be worse than shots XP) is rarely factored in to the cost that you see in artist alley prices as its worth be insanely expensive otherwise. Not to mention all the ‘failed’ projects and experiments you have to go through when you are trying a new technique/craft/medium. I don’t know how much money I’ve shelled out on projects that I plotted out on paper only to realize that it’s not going to work out the way I had hoped.

    I think there should be a panel or room or something where con-goers/future customers can try their hand at doing something, anything artsy just to give them an idea about how much work goes into a product. Or at least a panel where artist can show off their work and explain “Yes this is expensive, but you know what? This took me a while to do and cost me XXX amount of dollars/sleep/time/years of practice and research and odds are if you tried this too, it’ll take and cost you just as much so you’re actually getting a piece of my heart and soul for a very good deal.”

    On a side note, I’m guilty of only buying buttons because they’re cheap, they’re small, and I can put them on everything to show them off to everyone everywhere unlike prints which would just sit in a protective album in my room. However, I’m willing to shell out a little more and make exceptions if I see artwork that is particularly stunning and manages to grab my heart at first sight.

    • Lately I’ve noticed that a LOT of conventions go around the same time, but in different places. So you’d get three conventions on the same day, people are trying to figure out where to go, and it just gets hectic. Imagine a convention every week, and nowadays, at least once a month somewhere. I think if people had more recordings of them working on their pieces, you can really see how much effort we stick in them :(
      Also, don’t feel guilty about the pins thing. It’s like the most popular thing people buy. I almost never buy pins anymore, they just don’t feel as sentimental nowadays when you see people have the same design but drawn slightly differently. Also, I make my own if I needed to.

      I DID have a panel about artist alley, and all its wonders and grievances. The recent updates I’ve been putting on this blog are based off some of the topics I talked about at the panel. Your idea about the panel thing, I might consider it for Fanime, if I don’t get a table at the convention (it’s REALLY hard nowadays). That, and panels=discounted ticket + faster way to get through the crappy line at that con.

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  6. This is a really good blog. I am unfortunately one of those artists that sell stickers (chibi fan art) for $1 and my 11×17 for $10. of course a ton of people buy my stickers, they are the most popular things at my table. Half of my prints are original and he other half fan art ( well some of my original are a combination of both). I price them at $10 a print tho becasue when i first started and when reading articles on artist alley 101 and stuffs they read that prints are around that price so i stuck with it. I also sold commission and things and I didnt know i was underpricing things until people were actually saying my art is worth more. I’ve had countless peeps saying that i should charge more. so this year i actually rose my prices. sticker will still be a dollar, but i’m definitely charging more for commissions (I’m not doing any over $20 because most of the commissions I’m offering are just small headshot sketches and chibis and they are faster to do, if i did a $20 commission it would be a bigger picture with full color and I don’t have time to draw that with other commissions waiting and trying to sell at my booth at the time)
    But you are right, cheaper prices do pull people in, whenever i advertise my stickers they are like really? A dollar??? *buys 5-10 stickers* lol
    I’m still thinking tho on whether i should price my prints at $15 and sticker $2??

    If you want to look at my art and see how much my art is worth that would nice :)
    http://www.kazumimai.deviantart.com

    • your work is so colorful! Nice linework too. I’m gonna agree with everyone who told you to bump your art prices, because one glimpse and I can tell you must have spent a lot of time making each one.

      Usually 11×15 prints are priced at $12, $15, or $20, so I guess you can make your decision on that (and you can always change the number if you feel sales feels different). I often see them for $15 each/2 for $25, but if you want to go on the lower side, $12 each/2 for $20 is something i also see, and still hits your $10/print with more incentive to buy multiple ones. I’d say you should try the $15 ea one, and move down if you honestly feel you need to.

      Remember, you might not grab as many customers with the price bump, but that’s okay because your profits will make up for it. For example, selling 1 thing for $5 vs. selling the same thing for $10–you might not get ALL the customers, but you will be making twice as much per-item. Some things also sell better at a higher/reasonable price. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true for some things. I used to sell stickers at $1.50, but when I realized how tedious it was to cut them, and considered the size, i bumped it up to $2/ 3 for $5 and business was just as good w/ more profit too. Same with 4×6″ prints. You’d think that selling them for $3 would be a steal, but for many, it’s easier to sell them at $5, just because the number is more appealing to customers.

      If you feel it’s not working, it doesn’t hurt to lower the price a bit. And also, listen to your peers. I don’t know where you’re located, but depending on where you sell your art or which convention/event you’re selling at, it might be better to bump up or lower the cost. Hope this advice helps!

  7. I am not sure about conventions in other areas but here in the upper Midwest people are solo tight on their money.. I sell my work for 5$ for letter size cardstock prints… mostly cause they only cost me like .40 cents to print.. my little stickers are hand drawn and colored traditionally but I charge more than others do for stickers like $3 or even 5$ even though they are usually kinda small .. I felt bad for the guys next to us this last convention.. I loved their work.. but they hardly sold anything.. and they sold higher quality large actual posters for like 25$ I think it was .. definitely higher quality prints than what we had.. if I had the room for that sort of thing I would have gotten one… yet I think we sold way more of our smaller .40c card stock prints then they did anything and their art was their only attraction really… where our main attraction isn’t really our drawings..
    That convention though .. people were unusually even tighter on their wallets.. even actual dealers were feeling it.. we talked to a few tables.. a couple ppl we kinda know on the dealer side too.. ppl are spending less.. are more selective than ever before… I have also noticed some ppl like to try and phtograph ppl art.. I hate that.. but in my area cons happen more often then they use to.. just with in a 4 to 5 hour drive in any direction from where I live you can go to conventions probably every two months.. so I think ppl now have less time to save..and there for less to spend.. our last con was on the same weekend as renaissance fair.. and I have my suspicions..

    • I think it’s good to be suspicious and aware of how sales are at conventions, because then you’ll know what to sell, when to prepare, and if you should even sell there in the first place. There’s at least one convention almost every single month here in the Bay Area, and many times, conventions overlap with other ones a few cities away. I’ve actually tabled a lot less when I realized that people are tighter on their wallet because of how frequent conventions are, and choose to table on specific conventions that don’t overlap with any other events on that weekend. Because I table less frequently, people are more eager to check out my table and buy stuff. The circumstances are really different for everyone, everywhere.

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