If you are an illustrator (particularly in the fantasy/sci-fi, gaming, videogame, comics or book publishing industry) or aspire to be, this is for you.
I've spent 19 years working as a professional illustrator (Magic, D&D being among my more notable clients). The sad fact is that, industry-wide, over those 19 years I have in general seen wages freeze--even decline--over that same period. Yes, you read that right: in some cases, wages have fallen over what could be made 19 years ago. In most cases they have simply not improved.
To put that in perspective, a $500 commission in 1994 when I started would need to be $785 in today's dollars to have the same buying power. But that same commission is generally still $500 (or LESS) today. Put another way, that $500 commission today has the same buying power as $318 in 1994. So, if wages haven't increased, then they have de facto fallen.
This is an awful trend for anyone who hopes to one day make a living at illustration.
Art school costs have only increased in that time. Nearly everything else has increased in cost as well. This means your odds of earning a living as an illustrator are falling. Every year.
How has this happened?
Let's face it, companies have no motivation to pay more if they don't have to. That goes for big corporations and even for small start-ups with the best intentions. The "dream" of working in these fields means that mostly younger or just-starting illustrators are tempted to undercut on pricing as a way to get a foot in the door. And even working professionals feel forced to simply take what they can get.
This is the wrong approach for many reasons which could be an entire thread.
Of course, once fees are undercut, there is still the problem of nefarious business practices (late or never-paying clients, clients who request far more copyright than they need and don't themselves understand this). Nefarious business practices could be another entire thread.
What to do? Organize. Not a union: in an international market, that's just not feasable. Rather, what if clients had a known reputation and were ranked by it? What if clients had to compete? Illustrators will always go where the grass is greenest: but where is that grass? Is that new company green grass, or weeds?
We believe that when clients are forced to compete with one another, standards will begin to improve. When artists learn that there are better clients, they will leave to work with those clients. The companies left behind will then have to bump up their standards.
Beyond this, we believe that educating illustrators on business-practices also gives them tools for the fight.
Along with artists Todd Lockwood, Jim Pavelec, Aaron Miller and Mike Sass, we are building this tool: PACT (the Professional Artist-Client Toolkit).
PACT is an inexpensive membership-driven system for rating clients, seeing who the good guys are and learning to beware of the bad guys. Learning best practices and getting industry news.
In my 19 years I have not seen an initiative start up with as good a chance at helping the illustration community lift itself up as PACT is. If it doesn't happen, I don't expect to see another one any time soon, and I expect conditions to continue to decline. This is bad for me, and bad for you.
We've consulted with programmers and lawyers to build this thing right. But programmers and lawyers have not deflated their fees the way illustrators have. So we need your help.
Join us. If you can't join us, then consider grabbing some cool art mostly donated for the cause of raising funds. There's a podcast there from 2012's Illuxcon art event where you can learn more.
Help PACT become a reality.