Why Creativity Shouldn’t Be Cheap

A few days ago, I came across this post on Facebook:

I don’t know where it’s from so I can’t cite sources, but it generated responses when I reposted it. It’s a constant headache among people in the creative industry–graphic artists, writers (especially writers!), photographers, and so on–that they are under-compensated, their work undervalued.

There are two prevailing notions behind this that I know of:

First, non-creatives have the tendency to think that just because anyone can, say, a. write, b. buy a DSLR, and c. take a graphic design class, these are automatically skills that everyone can possess.  Professional writers suffer from this misconception the most because, in theory, even a first grader can string a sentence together and if a seven-year-old can write, then it shouldn’t be a hard skill to master, right?


The second misconception is that creatives work like machines in the manufacturing industry, in the sense that the more work you make them do, the cheaper production gets. Many people think that projects that involve creativity can be bought wholesale, again, like physical products.

Wrong again.

Let me tackle the second point first. Unlike machines, which have moulds and run on continuous power, ensuring (theoretically) quality product all the time, creatives are human beings that use brain power. Contrary to popular belief, thinking is hard work, even if it does not burn many calories. It tires the body and fatigues the mind. The quality of work can diminish without rest. Whether you want to give someone a discount because s/he has given you a lot of work is up to you, but they shouldn’t be able to use ‘buying wholesale’ as an excuse.

Now the first point. Yes, a seven-year-old can fill a notebook with words. And yes, that same seven-year-old can take nice photos (but hopefully not with a DSLR, unless you are very, very wealthy). But what people don’t realise is that what they’re buying isn’t just someone who will do a job that they could do themselves if only they had the time. What they are buying, particularly when they hire a professional, is the time, effort, and experience that person put into honing his or her craft.

What you are buying are words that every client, every investor, loyal or potential, will see, so it is in your best interest to make sure that those words are damn good.

Obviously, this post comes from a personal disappointment. As a young writer, I kept coming across these two arguments, and I didn’t know how to respond to them. I don’t know where I read it, but now I know how to explain why we charge what we charge:

What we charge isn’t really high because when you divide the amount spent on art/ copy by the number of people you want to impress (clients, investors, employees, your mother) and the profit/ morale you will generate from it, then you will realise that what you are paying isn’t expensive at all.

If you ask me, most creatives still aren’t being paid enough for their work. I’m still hoping that this changes someday.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

9 thoughts on “Why Creativity Shouldn’t Be Cheap

  1. In a world where athletes make millions to play meaningless games, a creative talent should never have to justify earning from their art. Charge on!

  2. “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.

    When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that’s all.
    When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

    The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.”

    – John Ruskin

  3. Quote comes from Red Adair an American oil well firefighter. Who was the best in fight fires in oil wells . A lot of companies tried to steal business by bidding lower rates to extinguish the oil fire but in the end the could not do the job and the companies end up calling Red , to which sometimes the less capable companies made a mess rather improving the fire situation .

  4. True to the very last dot! It’s already 2015 and this was posted in 2012. Sadly, nothing has changed.

  5. Hey Yvette,

    this is just a quick note, not to take up much time. i have been in sales for the better part of 20yrs. i have experienced the same troubles (i also think REAL sales is a creative process) within my industry. we however, have trainings to overcome these. as an entrepreneur, self starter, independent, i would suggest you look up how to handle objections… typically for automotive sales, the process is short and sweet, their technique will help in any business when the question comes up “why you vs. the other guy?” why more, why now…

  6. Most budding and even professional photographers encounter this too. If anything changed, I think it went worst as people would go around saying that their mobile phones or their friends could do the work for free. I was flabbergasted one time when a possible client asked me to shoot her wedding for free using my biggest package in exchange for “experience” and “advertisement”.

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