ArtId Art Blog
Let's talk about publishing. If you think you're interested in licensing your art, this is probably the most logical place to start. After all, the end product hangs on a wall in a frame, not unlike your originals.
The World of Publishing - it sounds important, doesn't it? And a little intimidating. To tell the truth, that's part of the appeal. When it's done well, publishing can impress your public and extend your reach. Terms like Recently Published Works and Limited Edition are designed to attract attention and respect. But that's only part of the story. There are many aspects of the art publishing industry with which you need to familiarize yourself. Posters vs. prints, lithography vs. giclee, limited edition vs. open edition, wholesale vs. retail. There's a lot to take in.
The bulk of the industry is made up of publishers who specialize in open edition prints ____" what you and I call posters. These are the Picasso posters you buy from museum shops or the framed Impressionist "prints" you see in catalogs. As a rule, they are high quality off set lithographs produced in initial quantities of 1,000 which can then go into reprint as the need arises. Publishers sell these prints to galleries, gift shops, department stores, catalog companies, corporate art buyers and to yet another retail sub-category referred to as framers who buy the prints, mat and frame them, and then market them as complete, ready to hang product.
The artist's take on all of this moving of inventory is based solely on the publisher's sales ____" NOT the framer's sales, NOT the galleries' sales ____" and the vast majority of publisher's sales are WHOLESALE not retail, or wholesale with a DEEP discount to their preferred customers. It's all totally legal and spelled out in any contract you would sign, but it comes as quite a shock, so that's why I'm telling you now. An artist's payment is often, but not always, an up front advance ( which is then subtracted from future income ) followed by a royalty based on sales which is typically between 5% and 15%. Remember, that's wholesale sales. So, if you have an image which has been published as a 24"×36" poster and that poster's list retail price is $30, the wholesale price would be $15, and 10% of that would be $1.50. Which means that in order for you, the artist, to make $1500, they would have to sell out a run of 1,000 prints, the entire first run, and you know what? That's a lot of prints!
Most artists get really bummed the first time they hear royalty percentages. I know I did. But look at it this way. The publisher prints your work and printing is expensive; they store your work and warehousing is expensive; they promote your work in advertising and at trade shows, both of which are way beyond expensive; and they sell to customers that you don't even know exist. So there's the trade off. You supplied the art. Now, let them do their thing. But don't be shy about checking up on their side of the business. If you don't think you're being represented well, say so. Conversely, if you think they're doing a bang up job, thank them graciously.
That's why choosing the publisher with whom you want to work is so important. Don't just hook up with the first publisher that shows interest in your work. Check them out. Contact the Better Business Bureau and see if they pay their bills. Talk to other artists in their catalog and find out if they're pleased with their relationship. Don't be arrogant and abrasive, but don't be a doormat either. Remember, as much as you need them, that's how much they need you. After all, a poster without an image on it is just a blank piece of paper.