At the last TCAF Scott and I got a chance to chat with Darwyn Cooke. We talked about a number of things, but one of the topics was people getting sketches from artists at conventions for the sole purpose of selling them online for a profit. I must confess that was unaware that such a practice took place (although it did not surprise me) nor was I aware that some of these “resellers” are well-known by the artist community. This practice has actually contributed to the current pricing for sketches and arguably is a large factor in the increase in prices the last few years.
Suffice to say, the artist community is not terribly excited about these individuals. From what I gather in speaking with artists, and seeing various discussions on the topic, objection primarily seems to be for either artistic or financial reasons.
I can understand the artistic objection. A direct request is made of an artist and they are creating a unique piece of art specifically for a fan. The relationship between artist and work can be quite personal and the artist enters into a creative contract for what they think is for the personal enjoyment of a fan. When they see the same work of art on eBay a day later it demonstrates that their “fan” did not want the piece for their own love of the medium but for their own personal gain.
The financial objection is harder to defend. Artists may sell a full body sketch for $200 and then a day later they see the same sketch online selling for $800. The aggravation seems to come from a reseller making such a profit for very little work. However, is this really a problem? The artist and buyer have agreed upon an original price; what the buyer does with the product afterwards is really up to the buyer. Time, energy, and effort does go into making the resale and if an artist really wanted to they could spend the time and effort selling more work online. They don’t, because they are too busy actually creating work, but the possibility exists. I have heard more than one artist mention that they would love to sell their sketches for less but these resellers are forcing them to raise prices to weed out the real fans from the resellers and to reduce the resellers’ profit margin.
I can’t say that I agree with this thinking. An artist should always set what they feel is a fair price for their work. But that price is ostensibly set by material cost, time, and effort involved in creation. The additional price would be created by supply and demand; if an artist is popular their work would be in high demand and thus an artist would need to work harder to meet that demand and so the price would go up accordingly. However, a popular artist is often working on another book and not in a North Korean animation studio, churning out sketch after sketch.
The difference then with the reseller is that they are obtaining the item for less than the market will pay for the product and effectively exploiting the fact that an artist does not have the time or the inclination to sell the sketch at market value. This, however, is simply capitalism and I cannot say that I really disagree with it.
What I do disagree with is the duplicity on the part of the reseller in obtaining the item. In a normal production ladder the manufacturer (artist) sets a price and sells it to a retailer (reseller) who then sells it to the customer. The manufacturer is aware that the retailer is going to sell the item and make a profit and in many cases will have a suggested retail price. In our artist/reseller example the artist is unaware that the reseller is going to use the item for profit. Thus they are unable to set a price which they feel is fair for both them and for the customer.
I do feel that an artist should be adequately compensated for their work. Both Marcos Martin and I can draw Spider-Man but even my mother wouldn’t pay for an Anthony Falcone original. Talent and years of honing one’s craft must be acknowledged. Artists can charge more for a sketch because their Spider-Man looks good. But if adequate compensation has been given, and if an artist is aware that a resale is taking place, what is wrong with someone making a profit?
What are your thoughts on the topic? The topic got some pretty heated discussion at the CBD offices so comment below and join in on the fun.