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.
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.