A few notes on signing fees, artists, and GPs
My price sign at GP Bologna kicked off a bit of online discussion on signing fees for artists at GPs and I wanted to address a few points. And by that I mean, “rant like a madman about it.” I’ve been meaning to talk about this stuff for a while now.
It seems like as good a time as any, particularly since my signing fee is going up to $3/card in DC next month.
You, as a player or fan, know what a signing fee means from your side of the table, but here’s a little glimpse of what GPs mean for us, the artists.
We (mostly) pay for our own travel and accommodation.
We almost never have anything paid for us any more. The lucky artists will get their hotels paid for, but never their travels. I’m not getting my hotel paid for in DC, but I will be getting it for GP Richmond.
If an artist flies to a GP, they pay for the tickets. There are a few exceptions with the bigger name artists, but I’m sure as hell not famous enough. Trust me, I’ve tried.
If we drive and accommodation is cheap, then this might mean we only spend about, say $400 (DC will cost me $500 for accommodation, plus gas to get there). If we fly and the only accommodation options are expensive, it’s not surprising for this to hit $1000.
We have to bring quite a lot of product to bring and sell, so flying is a further pain/expense.
There is a huge cost to not painting for 5+ days.
3 days of GP and 2 days of travel and that’s a large chunk of time taken out of our working life. There ain’t no paid vacation in the freelancer life, so for me to attend a GP, I need to earn a week’s income. If I don’t earn at least as much as I could from painting during that time, I should (and will) just stay at home and do my job that I love.
My income is always directly tied to the time I put into it. If I’m not working, I’m not making money.
This applies on a smaller scale at a GP, too: if I take a break to go to lunch, I’m not making money during that time. It’s part of the reason I almost never take a lunch break at a GP. Yes, if you have an assistant you can have them sell while you’re gone–but it’s not free to have someone else there taking care of things. Nor is it free to provide them with travel and accommodation expenses.
Buying inventory is a pain.
Inventory is expensive. It is not uncommon for us to buy $1k+ worth of prints, playmats, and canvas prints for a show.
We have to appropriately estimate and then purchase the inventory we need for every show. Too little inventory of the right pieces, and we lose out on sales (it’s rare that people want to buy any ol’ print–they want to buy that print).
Too much inventory, and we have this next problem.
We sit on unsold inventory.
We buy product before we know it will sell. And guess what? Sometimes it never does! Sometimes a piece is incredibly unpopular for whatever reason and nobody wants print/playmats of it. There ain’t no returning that stuff. It’s just a loss for us. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on products that will very likely never sell.
And before someone suggests it: sure, I could mark the prices down to something incredibly low in an effort to get rid of them. But if I market myself as the Wal-mart of the artist world, why would people bother paying the higher prices of my other work? I don’t really want people showing up at my table looking for a bargain. I’d rather them be there looking for me and my work because they like it.
Sharpies are not free.
Those little fuckers die fast.
We pay higher taxes.
There’s this great thing known as “self-employment tax” which is a nice way of the government saying “fuck the self-employed.” It’s a tax tacked onto the top of my annual bill that makes sure I pay just a little bit more since I did the insulting thing of not having a full time job at a corporation. It’s super fun.
I can get great health insurance if I pay for it.
But no, no one will provide that for me.
We pay credit card processing fees.
It is a 2.5% + $.10 fee on all transactions. So if you buy $100 worth of product, I pay about $2.60 to make that happen. No, it’s not much, but hey, it’s an expense and it does add up.
Sometimes there will be a dud GP for an artist.
The universe conspires against us and decides that at a particular GP we will make less than half of what we usually do. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It just happens.
Many artists are barely breaking even at events.
These are the artists still smiling when you come to their table, despite being deep in the red for the event. They’ve lost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be there and are doing their best to put on a good show for the fans.
The one guy you’re not incredibly nice to will be the one who tells everyone on the internet.
Three long days of yelling over speakers in a convention center to have conversations with hundreds of strangers isn’t relaxing for the stereotypically introverted artist.
And trust me: that one time you slip up, let go, and go a little quieter than usual? That one time you’re not too talkative or give them short answers? They’re going to make sure everyone hears their tale of woe. They’re going to do what they can to let everyone know “how much of a dick _____ is because when I saw him he _______.”
The strain of busting our asses to make fans happy all day only to hop on reddit and see the only comment about our attendance be “I don’t know, he seemed pretty rude to me” really sucks.
Your ideas for how to improve our business at GPs are probably wrong.
You’re welcome to share them, but try to realize that we do this for a living and we’re not particularly dumb. I know it seems like maybe if I signed for free I would sell so many more prints and playmats that I would have more money! But I won’t. I’ve tried. And trust me, I love having more money and happier customers/fans. That sounds great.
I’ve tried a lot of things and I’ve talked to tons of other artists at events to find out what they do. I’ve heard the failures and successes and the way I do things is the best way I’ve found to make GPs both a fun and profitable experience.
I don’t think I know everything, but I do know a fair bit about this stuff.
Yes, we still love coming to GPs.
Even despite all of these factors and issues, we do our best to overcome them and we do often make a good profit there.
We like being there, we like the fans, we like interacting with y’all, and by and large, GPs are a blast. We all want to keep coming to GPs.
Signing fees are good for artists (and good for fans, too)
When I first introduced my signing fee at GPDC several years ago, I knew I had found something great. It removed the awkwardness of the looming tip box–players never knew how much to tip. It also meant that I didn’t have to stare down a stack of 100 cards with the hope of maybe earning a few bucks (yes, plenty of people did that).
When you remove the awkward, nebulous nature of the interaction, you leave room for both parties to chill out and have a good conversation. Sure, money is changing hands, but nobody needs to be a dick about it.
Since I’ve introduced my signing fee, I’ve enjoyed GPs a lot more. They’re more consistently profitable for me. That makes me happier and less stressed. Here’s how signing fees have been from my experience:
Free/tips – Misery and tendinitis
$1/card – Good
$2/card – Great
$3/card – ?
I don’t need to sign every card in existence.
I know signing fees scare away some people. Hell, I know writing this little rant will scare away some people.
But I’m not in the market to please everyone and sign every damn card with the name “Noah Bradley” on it. I’d rather love signing the cards for people who really like my work and/or the card it’s on.
So there we have it. Just a few things to consider the next time you question why artist’s have signing fees.
I hope you found this enlightening.
I’ll see y’all at GPDC next month.