A couple of weeks ago our Editor-In-Chief wrote about a recent trip to the Dragon where Scott Chantler was charging for sketches at a store signing. This generated some discussion on why and when artists may charge for sketches and Scott was kind enough to reply and give his reasons. Lethargic artist Greg Hyland also weighed in and explained why and when he charges for sketches, but Greg also noted that autographs should always be free. I asked him why and Greg gave the short answer that they are easy to do.
Here is my take: artists and writers should charge whatever they can, whenever they can.
I am not saying that they should take advantage of fans but I do think that they are able to use the basic economic theory of supply and demand to their advantage. And I am not saying that I like paying for things (because I love getting free stuff) but I understand that in life when someone can produce a product in which you have interest you might need to pay a fee. You are then able to assess whether the fee is acceptable or not. But choosing to charge a fee doesn’t automatically make an artist a jerk.
An artist or writer is paid by a company to work on a book. They may or may not create new characters that they may or may not maintain the rights to. They also may or may not have some extra payment for sales of collected editions. The original work is their base salary anything else they do (conventions, appearances) is selling themselves as a brand.
So if as an artist I decide that I want to sign for free or sketch for free that would be up to me. If I decide that I will charge a fee for sketch or autograph and no one makes a purchase or every fan complains about the cost while making a purchase I have set my price too high.
Writers get the short end of the stick on this. They can’t really write a story for me in the same way that artists can sketch (although I guess they could sell their original notes or script pages). So really all they have is autographs. But if autographs are always free or free if someone has something to sign then writers really don’t have the same opportunity for extra income despite the fact that they are an equally integral part of the creative process.
Furthermore, what if the work is several years old and the parent company is the one making all the money from the original work? In Boston this year I got Neal Adams to sign my hardcover copy of Superman VS Muhammad Ali. He charged $10. At first I was outraged but as I thought about it more and more how much is he making off of the re-release of Supes/Ali? $10 seems a small price to pay for the signature of one of the industry giants.
I am happy that paying to get a book signed is not an industry norm, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t pay. Every book you buy doesn’t come with an invisible coupon for a free signature.
Sometimes fees are added to curtail abuse of the system. We have talked about flippers quite a bit on the site and we also have noted that many creative types give the first signature for free and charge for subsequent ones. So if you were planning on getting 100 things signed to sell on eBay you need to think twice.
It is great when an artist or writer decides to give back to the fans and sketches or signs for free. I appreciate it; fanboys everywhere appreciate it, but we are not owed anything from artists and writers simply because we bought their books.