December 2013

Payment for creative work – survey results


Earlier this month, I posted a blog entry that looked briefly into the phenomenon of freelance artists working for ‘exposure.’ Partly to gain a greater understanding of the issue, and partly as research for a campaign I am planning, I also conducted a small survey of 10 questions regarding crowdfunding, the principle of paying creators, and the actual rates of pay for creators.

This article is a write-up of those incredibly interesting results (though the write-up itself is not guaranteed to be interesting).

Please find here links to an Excel file that contains all the responses received, and a PDF file with a summary of the data presented here.

Note: please feel free to link to or republish these results on your blog or website. This data should be as widely read as possible. If you do, I’d appreciate a linkback and credit for the work, though. Thanks!


In this short survey, questions 1-4 dealt with crowdfunding; questions 3-7 dealt with the principle of paying creators; and questions 8-9 dealt with actual pay rates. Question 10 was provided as an open-ended opportunity for respondents to comment on anything they felt was relevant.

As a statistically-valid cross-section of the population, this survey is not gonna cut the mustard. To the best of my knowledge, given this was an anonymous survey, respondents were almost all members of my various social media circles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).

No attempts were made to ensure this was a representative sample of the population, nor any restrictions placed upon respondents to be in the creative industries. There is no data on the geography of respondents, nor on their profession, their level of experience in the world of comics, or anything else that might elevate one opinion above another in terms of reliability (save what respondents chose to volunteer in their comments). No attempts were made to validate or verify the accuracy of the responses.

In all, sixty-one respondents completed enough of this survey to be considered in the analysis. Respondents who skipped questions, but answered a minimum of four out of ten questions were included. Respondents who answered three or fewer questions were excluded.

Note that unless otherwise obvious, the word ‘artist’ is used in a broad sense, to include anyone involved in the creative arts. In short, writers are included.


QUESTION 1: How many crowdfunding projects have you supported in the last twelve months?

Every respondent answered this question.


There was a relatively even spread of responses to this question. Around 23% of respondents had not supported any crowdfunding projects in the last twelve months, and almost 30% had supported four or more.

QUESTION 2: When considering crowdfunding projects, which are you more likely to support?

Every respondent answered this question.


Over 59% of respondents who answered this question claimed to have no bias between lesser known creators and better known individuals/companies.

The below summary of the comments analyses some trends in the reasons provided by respondents. In these results, we can see a very interesting tug-of-war between the independent projects (which are often seen as appealing and original), and the better known projects (whose eventual success is more likely).

Lesser known creators
  • Because they need it more
  • Because I can make a bigger difference
  • More personal/supporting friends
  • Supporting new talent/ideas
  • More originality
  • In hope of reciprocation
  • Because independents have no chance without support

Better known individuals/companies
  • Trust
  • Proven track record
  • End result likely to be of higher quality
  • Risk management: managing a project/budget is hard
  • The devil you know…

No bias
  • Merit is in the project, not the creator (very common response)
  • Depends upon the rewards/perks offered
  • Pros and cons either way
  • QUESTION 3: Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statement: I would be more likely to support a crowdfunding project that intended to use the proceeds solely to pay the contributing artists.* (*This hypothetical scenario assumes that this project would then be published traditionally, and would therefore incur no production costs)

    One respondent skipped this question.


    Now, we’re into the crucial questions. Overall, there is a considerable measure of support for a funding model like this, with 70% of respondents identifying a focus on paying contributors as an important factor in their decision to support the project. This figure includes 33.3% of respondents who would support it solely for this reason, as a matter of principle.

    Around 22% of respondents answered that it would not influence their decision either way.

    No respondents claimed they would refuse to support the project for this reason.

    Around 8% of respondents answered “Other.” Their comments all point to doubts they have about the success of a project that structures its funding this way, that there is nothing left over for production costs or marketing. (One commenter added the rather unusual addendum that they are not a charity, and have their own dreams to support.)

    I see this last is extremely important data, as these doubts will have an impact on the decision of potential supporters of your crowdfunding projects. They might offer less money, or even skip the project entirely, if they see it as a significant risk. When putting together the project proposal, an extensive risk management section is recommended.

    A business plan including marketing strategies, for example, or a letter of interest from a traditional publishing company, a commitment that the success of the project will not be entirely dependent upon funds contributed from backers (e.g. the project planner will contribute funds for fulfilment of perks, etc). As exact a budget as can be provided should be put together and shown to potential backers. For my planned project, I will now attempt to incorporate some or all of these elements into my planning.

    QUESTION 4: Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statement: I would be more likely to encourage my friends, colleagues and family to support a crowdfunding project that intended to use the proceeds solely to pay the contributing artists. (*This hypothetical scenario assumes that this project would then be published traditionally, and would therefore incur no production costs)

    One respondent skipped this question.


    The spread of responses for this question surprised me. When comparing it with the results of the previous question, there’s really only one conclusion to draw from this: that people are willing to invest some money, but not as willing to stake their reputation, on an unorthodox funding model.

    Only around 58% of respondents identified a focus on paying contributors as an important factor in their decision to encourage others to support the project. This figure includes over 28% of respondents who would definitely share this project with friends and family as a matter of principle.

    Almost 37% of respondents stated that it would not influence their decision either way.

    QUESTION 5: Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statement: I think that, as the sole recompense for their work, freelance artists should be paid up front (or upon completion) for the work they do.

    Six respondents skipped this question.


    Over 49% of respondents strongly agree with this statement, and a further 34.5% somewhat agree. This high level of support is probably not surprising data – the principle of paying someone for the work they do is a well-entrenched ideal.

    Interestingly, the comments indicate that several of those respondents who disagree with the statement think that royalties should be paid in addition to the upfront payment, so this should not necessarily be construed as a lack of support for payment.

    There were plenty of comments vehemently advocating for artists to be paid for any and all work they undertake. Several others supported the principle, either as an aspirational measure or as a moral standard, but acknowledged the difficulty of making such ideals work in the real world.

    QUESTION 6: Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statement: I think that, as the sole recompense for their work, ‘exposure’ can sometimes be an acceptable payment for freelance artists.

    Six respondents skipped this question.


    Interestingly, the response to this question was mixed. Although around 64% of respondents disagreed that exposure should be the only recompense for freelance artists (including 20% of respondents who strongly disagreed), almost 30% agreed with it.

    Overall, though, I think it can be reasonably concluded that most respondents believe that exposure is not an adequate substitution for financial compensation.

    Comments on this question were varied, and that’s where I’m going to focus the attention of this analysis, because there were plenty of impassioned opinions that explain the data.

    If they are good enough to publish, they are good enough to pay.

    disagree if there is profit in the project

    In addition to the comments that assert the simple moral position that exposure is unacceptable as the sole form of payment, especially if the project is likely to turn a profit, there were some more in depth comments, including one that stated:

    If you can give exposure to the artist the you are indirectly indicating that your comics is going to sell. And if you are that confident then you should actually pay the artist.

    Several more moderate comments acknowledged that working for exposure can be the artist’s choice, but has strong potential for exploitation. Others stated that exposure can mitigate a low rate of pay, but should not be used to substitute for money entirely.

    There can be instances where this is true, but it is relied upon far too often and leads to exploitation.

    Finally, there was a couple of comments that acknowledged that the promise of ‘exposure’ might well be an empty promise, as it cannot easily be quantified.

    as a writer i know that often leads to nothing

    Actual exposure,not bs promises of it

    QUESTION 7: Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statement: I think that, as the sole recompense for their work, a promise of royalties is an acceptable payment model for freelance artists.

    Five respondents skipped this question.


    This question split the field almost evenly down the middle, with practically equal-sized groups either side of “No strong opinion.”

    This question divided opinions, and shows that, more than any other question in this survey, that there is no strong consensus on how freelance creative artists should be paid for their work.

    Again, we will have to turn to the comments for some explanation.

    Several comments suggested that the market for comics is not strong enough to support a royalties-only model of payment.

    It’s a gamble to accept royalties as payment, especially with something like comic books. Even with a publisher there’s a good chance the artist will never see any money unless the book is optioned for something.

    Comics rarely make a profit from which to pay royalties

    Several comments also made special mention of the need to contractualise such arrangements, which might indicate that a royalties-only model of payment is also vulnerable to exploitative practices. Possibly some of the respondents have been burned in this arena, or at least recognise the legal vulnerability of the artist.

    Not a ‘promise’, but certainly a -guarantee- of royalties (i.e. a signed contract with a legitimate publisher), assuming the royalty rate is sufficient to, given reasonable sales, compensate the loss of upfront payment..

    It must be documented. Verbal promise is not enough.

    That would have to be clearly negotiated & agreed upon before any work was undertaken.

    And a quite common response was that royalties should be paid alongside an up-front payment.

    This is a hollow promise 99.999% of the time, just pay the artists. Royalties should be a plus (if project ever makes a profit)

    This is the nature of the beast for many, particularly in publishing but also in other areas. I can understand the need to cover costs for low income producers, however the promise of royalties should come following some form of upfront payment for contribution – similar to publishing or commission based employment – you get paid, then if it makes more money than expected you get paid again, accordingly.

    A very significant proportion of comments further mentioned that the rate paid would have to be reasonable, or considerable, to compensate for the loss of up-front payment.

    QUESTION 8: Please choose the answer that most accurately reflects your opinion. I think a writer providing a ten page script for an independent anthology should be paid…

    Sixteen respondents skipped this question.


    The spread of responses to this question was considerable. A relatively small proportion of respondents believed that a 10 page script was worth under $40, but the other options all attracted a considerable amount of support.

    Attracting the vote of almost 38% of respondents, the most common response was that writers should be paid between $70-100 for a ten page script for an independent anthology, equating to roughly $7-10 per page. However, a further 35.5% voted for higher amounts, including almost 18% who favoured a pay rate in excess of $300.

    A few comments acknowledged that they didn’t feel confident in their answer, either because the going rate was unknown to them, or because there were too many unknown factors to consider.

    This depends on the ‘exposure’ and ‘prestige’ I suppose. A local up-and-coming publication may not have the capital to pay *any* of their staff, or not much at all. Regardless, I suppose it depends on the financial potential of the anthology. Let’s say “a fair percentage of expected financial return”.

    Ohhhhhhh without knowing the scale of the anthology, its marketability, EVERYTHING else, it’s difficult to say.

    This figure is just a ballpark figure. I honestly have no idea.

    Four comments specifically stated that $10 per page was a reasonable figure, which might indicate that those who voted for “$70-100” tend to favour the higher end of that scale.

    QUESTION 9: Please choose the answer that most accurately reflects your opinion. I think an artist providing ten pages of inked B&W artwork for an independent comics anthology should be paid…

    Thirteen respondents skipped this question.


    This one is more straightforward. Almost 80% of respondents favoured a pay rate in excess of $100, including almost 40% who believe that the artist should be paid more than $300 for their work, a rate of at least $30 per page. No respondents voted for a rate beneath $40.

    These results strongly indicate that respondents tend to recognise that producing artwork is typically considerably more labour-intensive (and otherwise expensive) than writing, and should be paid accordingly. This was borne out in a number of comments that specifically acknowledged this.

    takes much longer than writing, pay should reflect an hourly rate above minimum wage

    Same logic as my answer for writers, but drawn artwork is a more time intensive process and most likely a higher time investment.

    The artist incurs a great deal of expense and should be paid more than the writer.

    A couple of other comments stated that the amount paid should (or tends to) depend upon the skill of the artist:

    Depends on the quality of art. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Problem is, in a commercial project, the beauty that matters most is the beauty the consumer is willing to pay for. Many, many artists are not at that experience level.

    Even without color a lot of work goes in to the pages, and 10-pages of art is a lot of work. Especially if the quality of art is something that would really benefit the anthology.

    Although from these results, I tend to think that most respondents believed that independent publications can get away with paying less than Big Publisher rates for artists, it should be noted that the $300+ category could conceivably cover any range of compensation. One comment stated outright that

    Anything less than $100 per page is a joke

    And others acknowledged that artists are never paid what they are worth, regardless of the pay rates.

    it’s STILL less than what kids in FOXCONN earn making MACS

    Overall, it seems that a reasonable rate of pay is still a matter that requires considerable investigation, that – even with results like this – there is still no strong consensus on what a freelance artist should be paid for their work.

    QUESTION 10: Do you have any other comments, questions, or concerns regarding the issue of creator payment that you feel should be taken into consideration?

    Forty respondents did not leave a comment.

    There was a considerable range of response to this open-ended question. Rather than try to summarise it and dilute some of these great comments, I’m just going to present the most interesting ones, grouped vaguely by subject.


    I think it’s important for creators to retain their copyrights. I got involved with an anthology where the packagers got the advance, paid much of it out to the freelancers who wouldn’t work for free, and, if there were ever any profits, they were the ones to get the royalties, not the contributors. The main guy setting this up was a creator, and he roped in a bunch of other people to produce stories. The anthology was published by Dark Horse. Most of the creators were very excited; I felt like I was being screwed by one of my own. Had I known this was the deal he imagined, I never would’ve written this story, or brought in the artist and letterer. We only got comp copies, and I had to fight for those. I will never contribute to a book again without royalties or enough of a payment to make it worthwhile. Those are my parameters.

    Artists should be paid

    Writers, Artists, Designers and Programmers should all get paid for their work. But they also shouldn’t fool themselves about how skilled they are, or what their pay rate should be.

    Again, if the work is good enough to publish, they deserve to be paid. If a publisher, Indy or otherwise, doesn’t have the money to pay the talent, they have no business being a publisher and are trying to steal the work of others. Exposure my ass.

    I was in the camp of “I don’t care if I ever make money with my comics” and I’m kinda still there. However I’ve met so many starving artists that I now feel that all work should be compensated with cash. It is how we show our appreciation for other’s work. These promises of free exposure and royalties on a project are just a ripoff. If someone has a million dollar idea, then why do I have to do a bunch of art for free and get royalties someday, if ever? If it’s such a good idea, why don’t they invest in paying the people to make it. And that is truly the heart of the issue. If all parties contributed for free and then all parties split the profits, I could see that working. But so many of these deals they want all rights, NDA’s, etc… which puts it back into the realm of hiring the artist, so just pay them!

    While offering exposure can sometimes look good on paper, it doesn’t also work that way. As a writer it’s tempting to follow this trend, but I know there’s no way I can guarantee that, especially if I can’t pay my artist because that means there’s probably not room in the budget for marketing. A lot of writers, I think, don’t really understand how much more work the artists have to do to complete the same pages they did.

    This is a hot topic at the moment (and probably not just at the moment), across many fields: any independent creative freelancer comes up against the same sorts of problems, and there’s a lot of discussion about it. I’ve also done work for free or the promise of payment when ‘things get off the ground’, but there’s one point I’ve seen made a few times which really hit home. Whenever you, as a freelancer, works for free, you’re not only hurting yourself, but every other freelancer in the industry. Working for free perpetuates the belief that it’s somehow okay to get someone to do work for you and not pay them for it. It’s another reason to be very adamant in guaranteeing payment. Good luck!

    All components of a piece of work should be compensated fairly. As mentioned in my last “why?” section, I am unable to say with authority what a fair percentage is, though perhaps it should be modeled on (effort expenditure X experience accrued in past) + (seniority in company X involvement in project). I could be waffling shit, though that seems like a ‘fair’ system (at a glance) that wouldn’t rock the boat per se when it comes to current societal standards and professional expectations. I… hope this makes sense.

    Advice for crowdfunding

    Slightly tangential to this topic but perhaps still relevant — content payment (so to speak), in which the size or features of a product is increased in response to funding received, is a far less appealing concept than simply paying an author/artist what you think they are worth or what they ask for a fixed product. Stephen King did not rewrite or add to Carrie because it sold one million copies in its first year, and that’s not necessarily a weakness of the traditional publishing model but does speak to the integrity of having a fixed scope for a product.

    Importance of creators being business savvy

    I believe that a lot of creatives could benefit from business and commercial training as part of their learnings, especially as they themselves are responsible for selling their work via freelancing. I feel many do themselves a disservice by selling their works at rates that are economically unsustainable. This not only impacts themselves, but also the broader industry, and allows potential employers to continue taking advantage. It is interesting that corporate writers manage to demand far higher rates for their work than an author – why is that? Fundamentally, it’s because they won’t accept less, and the midset of many organisations hiring said contributors equate quality with rate. This needs to be translated to other industries, including but not limited to media, journalism, illustration etc etc. Personally, I don’t believe kickstarter etc are the answer – there will be a crowd funding fatigue setting in, if it hasn’t already begun. Also, it’s unsustainable – you get a one off, but it doesn’t guarantee ongoing success, good business planning, appropriate approaches to selling the product etc. In effect, it in itself is an exercise in gaining exposure. I believe in the creative industry, however, I think there needs to be a fundamental shift in mindset from both those offering and those accepting inadequate compensation for their work.

    Any publisher needs to set out from the get go what the deal is. If they offering a page rate, they should also consider offering a modest up front – say, 30-50%, if they have never worked with the creator they are approaching before, in my view. Up until maybe three years ago I would never have suggested such a thing but many small publishers with delusions of grandeur have turned shark, to the detriment of their staff (who commission in good faith, to find the publisher hasn’t paid) and more importantly, the freelancer. If the publisher is offering a back end deal, like Image, then the terms need to be clear. Always, always, try and create some kind of written contract.

    I think one of the key problems is an inability on the part of creators to promote themselves commercially. There is this artistic ego which unfortunately does not translate. Sadly on the opposite extreme we have commissioned comic work that often plays to more pornographic/fetish imagery, as it is easy money – a constant since the days of Siegel and Shuster. Instead a middle ground of artistic invention and commercial savvy would be ideal, which means greater emphasis on selling a product consumers want to buy and doing so in an interesting way.

    It’s… complicated

    This is not an easy topic to accurately depict in a survey. I think in the independent market up & comers will need to make sacrifices to gain exposure. The artist also needs to be aware that small independent works may make barely enough to cover production costs and must be prepared to make concessions related to that. If anything, what’s required is more open & honest discussion between organisers & contributors so all parties are aware the real costs & likely profit of a publication.

    It’s a very murky area – a perfect world scenario of an established base value for effort in creative areas would be open to abuse and manipulation (thanks to human nature) more than other areas thanks to a lack of measurable ‘value’. Mind you, to digress, the legal profession may actually contain the kind of value model that could be best transferred to creative works, measuring effort by the minute, taking a cut of results, etc. The whole crowdfunding thing of the last two years has got me thinking back to the whole patron system of ye olde times, maybe that was the right way? I certainly don’t have the answers.


    I am loathe to make any definitive conclusions from this survey, as the richness and depth of the data could be compromised or diluted by any attempt to summarise it. This write-up is around 4000 words, and just barely scratches the surface of the issue.

    I think it is actually far more important to acknowledge that this is a very complicated issue, made trickier by a range of real-world factors – including the limited market for independent comics projects, where the creative artist is in terms of their career and skills, and the difficulty of artists finding paid work – and recognise that the threshold for moral indignation varies considerably from person to person.

    It should, however, be acknowledged that even those respondents who support the principle of paying artists for their work realise that sometimes the project is incapable of meeting that standard of payment, and that artists will participate regardless of whether they are receiving fair compensation.

    In some ways, it’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation. It’s unclear whether work for exposure became acceptable because artists were willing to do it, or whether artists are willing to do it because work for exposure is acceptable. Whether practice informs attitudes, or vice versa.

    For my part, I hold to my opinion that artists deserve to be paid fairly for freelance work, and will be doing my very best to uphold that value if and when I launch my proposed anthology crowdfunding campaign.

    I’d also like to say a huge thank you to anyone who participated in the survey. I don’t know who you are, but you do! Thank you very much.

    One last thing…

    Once again, for further reference, you can check out an Excel file that contains all the responses received, and a PDF file with a summary of the data presented here.

    Note: please feel free to link to or republish these results on your blog or website. This data should be as widely read as possible. If you do, I’d appreciate a linkback and credit for the work, though. Thanks!

    Please consider pledging to my Kickstarter campaign. It embodies the principles of fair pay, and aims to strike an important blow against the ‘work for exposure’ model of payment.

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