I’ve been getting some interesting questions lately that have caused me to really think about what I would do.  An artist recently emailed me with what I consider a very high class problem – they have submitted their portfolio to a few art publishers and agents and now have a few that are interested in signing the artist.  The main question was

Is it better to go with an agent or a publisher/licensor?

First it is important to understand the distinction, especially if you are new to art licensing.

A publisher is a company that publishes art prints – for wall art, canvas, etc.  Many publishers also act as agents for their artists because the majority of those artists have no interest in pursuing licensing themselves but are happy for the added income.  It becomes a  win-win with the publisher not only licensing their work but connecting them with manufacturers in other areas.   You can have a relationship with a publisher and NOT have them act as your agent, but many do both for their artists.

Then there is the more traditional agent.  An agent is a person or company that represents artists and works to connect the art with the manufacturers.  That is all they do – they don’t have the publishing business first and agency aspect second, they are agents.  Agents can connect artists with publishers as well.

Back to our artist’s conundrum –

They are each telling me they are the answer of course, and then within that I have each of them (being the various publishers & agents) saying that THEY are the best choice. Each is making a strong argument for me choosing to work with them.  I don’t know what to do and I just want to give myself the best opportunity to make money. I’ve asked so many people….please help. I can’t tell if a publisher has the same opportunities an agent does….

So publishers are saying going with them as a publisher and an agent is better than just having an agent.  The agents disagree.  Both are quite persuasive and the artist doesn’t know what to do.

Here is the advice I gave to them and how I would handle it if I were faced with the same situation.

First, I congratulated the artist on having so many people interested in their work.  Agents don’t pursue people they don’t think can be successful and make money in licensing so this is a fabulous sign.

Next I asked to artist to be clear that they want to work with an agent and don’t want to market themselves – if they weren’t sure, I thought they should read this post:

http://www.artlicensinginfo.com/2011/11/02/faq-do-i-need-an-agent-to-succeed-in-art-licensing/

As to who will be best and are agents vs publishers better – each artist will have to make that decision – if I did if for you I might as well pick your spouse or life partner while I’m at it. I’m not an art licensing yenta! 😉

When making the decision, you need to look for the best fit in terms of the working relationship – who will you trust with your business and who do you believe is most aligned with what you see for it?  You either go with a publisher who then promotes you elsewhere or you go with an agent who finds you a publisher and other deals.

If it were me I’d be doing a serious comparison of the contracts – what are they asking of you and what are they promising – in writing – to do for you?  How long of a commitment and how can you get out of the contract if you don’t feel it’s going well?  And when – after a year, 3 yrs? etc.

My advice would also be to consider the eBook How to Understand Art Licensing Contracts as well as having someone review your contracts.  My co-author Maria Brophy does contract reviews (and you get $50 off if you buy the book) or you could have an attorney look at it/them.  Make sure the attorney has experience in the industry tho or they won’t catch the nuances.  Here is a link to some attorneys if you don’t know any that work in licensing:  http://www.artlicensinginfo.com/attorneys/

It is one thing to review and negotiate your own contract for a one-design license for a specific product or products for a period of time.  If you make a mistake, it will be a lesson learned but won’t affect your entire business.  When you choose an agent or publisher/agent, it can so I would definitely get a second opinion before signing.

Of course this is just my opinion – if you have other advice or ideas, please add them to the comments!

This is pretty exciting and I hope more artists are faced with this type of decision!  I also hope this helps you think through your strategy for your business.

Wishing you much success –

– Tara Reed

P.S.  Not sure if you want an agent or want to go it alone?  Download the survey to help you figure it out…

P.P.S.  If you aren’t to this point but want help getting ready to find an art licensing agent, be sure to check out How to Find an Art Licensing Agent.