This is an interesting question and one I think deserves some conversation.

Here is the situation that was presented to me:

Art Licensing QuestionsHere’s my dilemma: I get a lot of interest in my work for possible “license” arrangements. I haven’t closed any deals because I am thinking as an art director (X years experience commissioning art and negotiating terms). I think about the fees structure outlined in industry books like AIGA. ..and I take into account everything I read, follow, listen online.

Now I’m a licensee wannabee – I have missed out licensing art to several companies in a variety of categories around the world…
I believe I missed out because I must not answer their question correctly.

All of these initial enquiries had something in common: they were were vague about their business and yet got to the point about asking me “how much “.

I google them to find out who they are before asking for more info, territory, term…and would always include something to suggest that I would work with their budget. I would also ask if there was cross-promo op.

Yesterday I have a new email inquiry about exclusive right for x image for (product category).

What triggered me to ask for expert advice is, once again their opening email is sooo vague and I feel again like I’m asking “too many” questions.

Shouldn’t they supply info like an introduction to who they are? (and maybe loose contract info) upfront?  That’s what I do when I commission art/ design. That’s what I get when a publisher/agency contracts my design. Why is “licensing” enquiries so cryptic? Is this too be expected?

I looked for this topic on your website. Maybe you know have a new topic to expand on. Tara, thank you for this.

Much appreciative.

(I left the artist’s name out so it can’t affect their business)

My response:

It sounds like you might be being approached by companies that don’t do much licensing.  I’ve had that – have one at the moment – I keep explaining how it works and he keeps asking… pain in the neck.

My best advice is try to not feel bad about wanting to know who you are doing business with.  You need to understand who they are, where they sell etc to make sure it’s a fit for both of you.  Sometimes artists are so eager to get a deal they feel like they should just be thankful – not true.  We are in business and we need to know what will be happening with our art.

That said, some of the fees/rates in the AIGA are higher than I’m seeing in the marketplace right now.  Decide how you want to do business and don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that feels weird or a company who won’t tell you any details.  Some companies – especially if they aren’t used to licensing – will ask for your rates.  Others will tell you theirs up front.  But you need to have that info before you send art or commit to working with someone -no blind business dates!

As artists we need to think like a business in situations like this and not feel like the other person holds all the cards.

You are in the business of creating art.  You get to decide if you license it, sell it, give it away or hoard it in a closet.  Just like you get to pick your friends, you get to pick your clients.  It’s a really good idea to know who those clients are before becoming tied to them through a licensing agreement.

  • Is it always easy when you don’t feel like the company is being forthcoming? No.
  • Is it always a comfortable process? No.
  • Is it necessary? Absolutely.  Both for your business and all the other artists trying to make a living.

SO… don’t be afraid to ask questions so you understand who you are talking to, showing your art to and potentially working with.  You are an artist, you are in business, and you deserve to know.

Here’s to your creative, empowered and informed success!

– Tara Reed

P.S.  Looking for more information and confidence when it comes to contracts and negotiating?  Check out How to Understand Art Licensing Contracts by Maria Brophy and myself.  I think EVERY artist exhibiting at SURTEX or the Licensing Expo should have the knowledge or have a copy and artists to the point of discussing terms should too.
How to Understand Art Licensing Contracts - an eBook by Tara Reed and Maria Brophy