Working for Exposure: A Vendor’s Perspective

March 4, 2014 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

In the past month, I’ve seen a few artists talk about how they’ve received requests for projects but the person doing the requesting doesn’t offer any compensation beyond “for the exposure” (meaning: do the job for free). Now, granted, there are plenty of times when exposure is good, such as donating artwork to a charitable cause or doing work for a professional organization that could help build your reputation. But most often, these requests come from hobbyists looking for people who will do work for free on their personal projects.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I enjoy getting requests from people. It’s great to hear about their projects and the ideas they come up with. However, the thing that amazes me is how so many people want a model (or multiple models) made for them for free. Instead of payment, they expect other people to make things for them for the “exposure”. Yet when I turn them down, saying I want to be paid for my work, they get upset.

There was an excellent article written about this subject at Deviant Art. In it, the author warns artists about accepting projects for the exposure/ for free, especially if the project is going to take a lot of time and work. He then went on to make a lot of comparisons that sound absurd when the same logic is applied. For example, you never hear about someone going to a heart surgeon, asking for an operation, and then saying he’ll be living proof of the doctor’s good work. Just think of how much exposure the doctor’s work will get and how many people will rush to use him! Or how about going to a car mechanic, asking him to fix your engine, and the fact that the car works will be enough “exposure” for him that you shouldn’t have to pay?

One recent example of mine is a WWII buff who was making a “what-if”-style documentary about what would happen if the Nazis discovered crash-landed alien technology. This sounded very interesting since it was a mixture of history and sci-fi. But as we got to talking about the specifics, it was obvious he would need a lot of models, including: historical aircraft and cars, building exteriors and interiors, and historically-accurate clothing models. If we assume a price of $500 to make each model (which is a little low for custom-made models), how much do you think he was offering for all of these? That’s right- I should do the job “for the exposure”.

As one of my friends pointed out, too many people seem to be living in the “free Internet” society, where they can get whatever they want, for free. This even means asking for and expecting to receive complicated models without offering any kind of compensation (either money or trading some products/ services of their own).

I think there are three main factors when deciding which projects to work on:

1) The cost/ benefit value of the item.
When people request something, I need to decide if it will be a sell-able product (and how much money it will make) or if it will be a good promotional item.

The decision to make a model becomes more complicated when people request very specific or obscure items, such as a “P-61A” WWII fighter aircraft. When I tell people that I already have a P-61 model, the person says that it’s not entirely accurate and that the P-61A has all kinds of variations. So, do I make the P-61A from scratch, even if the P-61 may not be selling very well. And how many people will realistically buy an all-new P-61A if they already have the similar P-61?

Let’s take a quick look at what it takes to make a P-61A aircraft. Let’s suppose that the only reference photo the guy sent (if he sent any) was a grainy WWII photo.

So, it’s your job as the modeller to find some cross-sections or blueprints, then create the model in a modelling program.
As you build the model, you have to keep an eye out for the moving parts: how will the canopy open, will the flaps move, will the landing gear retract, etc?
When you’ve finished making the model, you then bring it into Poser and “rig” the moving parts: you set the “pivot point”, adjust the rotation dials, etc.
Then, you have to “UV map” the model: this means you have to create a map of how the textures will be applied to the model.
And, lastly, you have to make a texture that is historically accurate so the requesting person will approve.

Now, if you work a full-time job and have a family, this process could take weeks. Granted, there are a lot of people who build models for a hobby and would happily do it for free just for the challenge, but to me, it seems presumptuous for someone to ask (sometimes “demand”) a model like this.

2) People don’t buy the items they request.
A few years ago, someone posted a request in a community forum for a car model with opening doors and rotating wheels. I made the model and posted a reply, saying that it was now for sale for $10. The requester posted a message (like so many other people) saying it was “too expensive” and they “couldn’t afford it”.

Now, I can certainly understand how people might be cutting back on their spending, but too many hobbyists will say they “can’t afford” a $10 car model, but then turn around and buy the latest texture or clothing set for the Vicky 4 figure. Some of these people will even claim that $10 is “too expensive”, but later, they’ll post a message about how their purchase of a $34.95 breast-morph product was the best purchase they ever made!

And this is also followed by the euphemistic “I don’t get paid until next week”, which actually means “That looks nice and I’d buy it, but I don’t want to spend my money on your product.”

On a related note, custom-made models can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 (or more), depending on the level of complexity and accuracy. For this price, the client would even own the copyright to the model and I wouldn’t sell it. A price of $10 would be the model’s cost when sold on various websites. This is the difference between making a “one-off” model for a client and a “mass-produced” model meant for sale to everyone. Yet as I said, some requesters aren’t willing to even pay the $10 price.

3) People’s attitude when I turn them down.
When I tell people that I don’t have the time (or the interest) in their project, I sometimes get a nasty reply in return. This amazes me: the person asks me to make them something, without any offer of compensation (beyond the usual “for the exposure”) and then gets mad when I say I’m too busy.

I know it sounds mercenary to some people, but my job as a vendor is to make models that make me money. I need to make sure that the models I make will sell or will help promote other products that sell. Again, if I already have a P-61 aircraft, it makes little sense to spend days or weeks making a P-61A, when I have plenty of other ideas… including other aircraft which would compliment the P-61.

Would these people react the same way if I told them I couldn’t work on their model because I had an office job and that came first? Would they throw a fit because I put the salaried office job before their personal project?

And sometimes I have to turn down jobs from people because I’m busy with a larger client. (Okay, it’s probably my mistake for saying it’s a “larger client” instead of just saying “another client”.) But then these people give me an attitude of, “Well, excuuuuse me, sorry I’m not a corporate client.”

Let’s look at this from my point of view: the larger client is paying my company $2,000 for a model and an animation. Should I work on this project or should I work on the P-61A, which the requester wants for a personal project and which he probably won’t even pay $10 for? It sounds like simple math, but some people get insulted when you put a paying project in front of their request.

What does anyone think? Feel free to post your comments about your experiences working with people who want you to work for them for free.

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Entry filed under: Vendor Advice. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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