Tuesday, June 24, 2008
How does one make a dime from internet exposure?
In the analogy to the music industry, you give away CD's or free downloads of your music. Kids play them, they share with their friends, and then you develop a huge following. So when you have a concert, it's a sellout. Music is made in the concerts and tours now-- not via record sales like in the old days. And strangely enough, when you have the concert, the kids who downloaded your free music still buy your CD at the concert as an impulse buy because they want to hang onto the moment or get an autographed copy.
For illustration, in the old days you beat the path to the art directors, making regular rounds to show your portfolio. If your work was good, they'd spend some time with you, maybe not giving you an assignment right away. But you had established a link with them face-to-face, and the next time you wanted to show your portfolio it would be easier. So you did this over time, and each time you'd get to know them more personally, perhaps sharing a few anecdotes and/or taking them out for coffee or lunch.
After some consistency in this, you might even have done a personal favor for the art director, doing a caricature for a friend of his or for his office at a small fee. What really got you your first job with him was the fact that you'd made a personal bond. Not that your work wasn't good, but more commerce happens between businesses because of friendships than talent or a great product, even though those things are important, too. All you needed was the opportunity to prove yourself, that you could produce on time and on budget, and execute well. But that opportunity only came because, 1) the art director felt like he would enjoy working with you, 2) you gave him something that showed you genuinely cared about him, and 3) you did actually have a good style that was suited for his needs.
Today, with a talented wrist being a dime a dozen, and the demise of far more print outlets to buy your work, the competition is even more fierce and time is precious with the few markets having to compete ever harder to stay alive. And the print markets themselves are gravitating to the internet in droves where the audience is greater, because they know if they don't retain a large audience, advertisers will take their dollars elsewhere, where they know they'll be seen. So the old-fashioned, concrete path to the art director's door is now a virtual electronic highway. How do you, then, establish the rapport in a less-personal era? You do it by making an online portfolio, and by blogging, where you can communicate a little of the personal side of your approach to your work, your philosophy, and maybe even a few personal anecdotes. How, in all of the sea of creative talent, do you get noticed or attract a following? It's basically old-fashioned word-of-mouth, giving people a few things for free that they can download and enjoy, and share with others who say, "How cool! Where did you get that? It was FREE?" You may even offer some free tutorials on how you put together a project, showing the art director your artistic approach, building their confidence in you. You write on a well-known blog where people are accustomed to going, and tie it in to your website with links, offer ways for those who are interested to subscribe to daily or weekly feeds, letting them know when your blog has a new entry. What you also accomplish is displaying a portfolio of your creative thought processes, which is not so much an over-saturated commodity as a talented wrist. So your base of subscribers consists of people who have found something they enjoy in your work and personality, and have taken the time to subscribe with their email address, so they can continue getting free offers and tips from you that might make their work easier. And even for those out there who do not know who you are yet, they may do a Google search with terms related to a project they are developing. And if it's a topic you have blogged about, your entry comes up in their search! What if an art director wants to put together a project with that good old-fashioned Gillott pen look, and you have written a blog entry about your passion for Gillott nibs? Voila! There's a connection!
Sure people can lift your work from your online portfolio for free like PerezHilton did with my illustration yesterday, unless you watermark it or keep the resolution so poor they would have limited use of it. But the kids who do that would not be your clients anyway. They might want to put your art on a t-shirt, or a notebook cover, or on their dorm wall. But you have established a link with future prospective clients in the same way McDonald's does by putting playgrounds in their restaurants. What is vastly more important is having your work seen and stand out in an ocean of talent.
In my particular field of advertising clients, ad agencies are more likely to think of me if I'm a household name over whether I'm talented or not. So the more people who are aware of me the better. Also, the reputable companies who visit my online portfolio are aware my work is copyrighted and are generally honest in asking how much a reprint use of a hi-rez file would be. We also have stock art competing with our wares today. So, it's good to have your portfolio do double-duty as a stock art market. If you sell a widget to one million people for $10 each, you do much better than selling to 100 people at $1000 each.
I have tried to tailor a lot of my high-end illustration today to markets where stock art is not an option, due to the specific needs of the client. Consequently, the better paying assignments I get come from those clients. At the same time, it's nice to have re-use fees from the other assignments where the subject matter is more generic and which might find a place with a client who couldn't afford my services. That doesn't take anything away from my high-end assignments, because the lower budget clients are not competing in the same market. It's simply expanded my outlets.