I was reading some commentary around the story in the NYTimes (here) about illustrators turning down an offer from google to provide free artwork for their new web browser in exchange for exposure (I also posted it on the sidebar yesterday). The commentary follows the usual lines where the tech side argues the value of exposure (links) and the artists argue that you can’t pay the rent with links. Of course it’s much more complicated than that, so when I ran into this very intelligent comment on Tech Dirt I couldn’t resist posting it here:
by Jerry Leichter
Anyone who sells his work – as an artist, writer, consultant – has to face the tradeoff between getting paid what the market will bear, and accepting little or no monetary compensation in trade for visibility. This isn’t new to the Internet era. People starting out in any such business rarely have a good feel for what their own effort is worth. A few think too much of themselves; most undervalue themselves and will all too readily buy into this kind of deal.
The tradeoff is complicated. For one thing, like many tradeoffs in business, it’s about current versus future expense or income. These are always hard, because future expenses/incomes are inherently uncertain, while current expenses/income are certain – and sometimes you just have to pay the rent.
If you look at the actual Times article, the clear impression is that all the artists approached have a significant audience and business already, and certainly the ones who are refusing to let their work be used for free appear to be doing quite well. To stand on the outside and tell them how they should run their businesses – with no knowledge of where they actually stand – is incredibly presumptuous. Some of the artists who are refusing to participate are likely making a mistake. Others who are *agreeing* to participate may well be making a mistake, if the publicity they get ends up garnering only requests for more free work, rather than paying contracts.
Frankly, it seems to me that the biggest mistake here was Google’s. I’m reading between the lines here – I don’t know what Google actually said – but they appear to have been insensitive to how these artists see their businesses. It was only after the fact that they appear to have made it clear that they would be happy with existing work – most artists at the level they were approaching probably assumed they, like most customers, wanted something unique done just for them. Rather than casting this as an honor – a kind of on-the-web art show – they let it look like commerce. Well, if it’s commerce – why shouldn’t the artists expect payment? Perception and setting are essential in determining how people view a request.
The bottom line is this, you can’t estimate the value of exposure, especially for things that haven’t been tried before. We all do stuff for free in hopes of generating future income but when a billionaire comes knocking sometimes it feels good to tell them to take a hike. I would argue that for your everyday consumer most browsers work just fine and choosing one comes down to, if it was bundled with the computer you bought and possibly how it looks. Covering a browser with artwork probably adds more value than people think.