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Syndicates

Image syndicates are essentially, third party agencies controlling, buying and selling the work of creative people for a premium.

It’s a perfectly respectable and highly successful business model but I would argue that in the long term, this relationship crushes a great deal of creative innovation, ensures the business status quo is unchallenged and is not in the long term interests of its customers.

(Can anyone spot the wounded artist in all this? 🙂

I would cite as an example of this what has happened to the work of print photographers whose trade has been decimated by the emergence of the stock picture library. Prices per unit (picture) have been wrecked and it is increasingly rare for independent providers to work in the media at all now.

And as far as I can see, the same thing is now happening to illustration and drawn products.

The trend really started in the UK with the emergence of large scale agencies based on the photographic model – of these the best known one to me is Cartoonstock run by the kind and extremely cartoon friendly Joel Mishon.

He and I have a friendly disagreement about this, he argues that any sale of a cartoon is good – and he has a point, up to a point. Indeed cheap sales of drawn imagery should be encouraged to low level publications, local magazines, newsletters and so forth. However, in doing this, it also allows big businesses to procure high quality content for a relative pittance.

Of course, they aren’t going to refuse that, but this slowly destroys the market for anyone talented, keen (and stupid) enough to try and break into large traditional media markets which used to pay for high quality and original content.

What do you think?

Leave a Comment

  • beau

    A very difficult question.

    I use photographic libraries as most of what I do are ‘mash-ups’ and for paid work I have to make the images squeaky clean copyright-wise.

    Of course mash-ups can’t go into cartoon libraries for a couple of reasons :
    1. They don’t qualify, or many would say they don’t and I suppose I don’t disagree with this.
    2. Usage fees – Anyone buying the mash-up would have to pay a usage fee to the image library again.
    It’s not economical and certainly doesn’t fit the business model.

    Are stock cartoon libraries a good thing ?

    Yes….and no.

    There are plenty people out there with incredible drafting skills who don’t get a look in.
    However, drafting skills don’t make a good cartoon, a great idea makes a great cartoon and it helps if it can be conveyed in a way that is clear and entertaining.

    But, for those that, from time to time, hit the nail on the head, I suppose a cartoon library can provide some much needed (extra) income.

    However, the users of a cartoon library, while trawling around for the right image, have access to many different styles.
    Why should a website or publication that lives off brand consistency, choose to offer its readers a constantly changing variety of styles in its regular cartoon slot.
    If they cherry-pick what is right for the moment, they could be using a host of different cartoonists.
    If the publications decide on continued use of one cartoonist’s work, then surely that cartoonist can choose to renegotiate a direct contract and, say, pay a small proportion of the new fee to the stock library for a set period of time/number of images.
    This would acknowledge the library’s showcasing of the cartoonist’s work (if it is clear that it was the library wot dun it).
    The library benefits for a while financially but, as band managers realise, once a certain level of success is reached, then they have to let go.
    Additionally, the more of these successes, the more the library becomes a destination for clients and users, so it benefits in the long term as well.

  • morten

    You both speak a lot of sense, and as someone with no experience either using or contributing to stock libraries, I don’t feel quite qualified to comment too much on the nature of the beast.

    …but I don’t like it.

    In principle.

    For editorial/political cartooning particularly…
    For gag and strip cartoons it’s slightly different I think.

    I hate the anonymity of syndication more than anything.
    That’s the root of the problem if you ask me, when it comes to political cartoons at least. Take for example American satire in the year or so post 9/11, and the way many syndicated cartoonists were driven into ‘submission’ in order to stay in the business.
    And, the root of it all was the anonymity. The fact that the cartoonist had no editorial or personal link to the paper. Those branded ‘unpatriotic’ were simply not used again.
    And the problem was essentially the anonymity. The fact that the editor, who probably had never met the cartoonists, would not get up on the barricades and shout that this was not the work of a traitor, but that of a concerned American whose patriotism he could vouch for – because he knew the person.

    I have many small battles with my editors about what goes and what doesn’t, but the bottom line is that they’ll work with me to find something we can all live with, instead of simply dropping me for someone else. Which means I don’t go to work primarily trying to please a potential buyer. I go to work trying to say something.

    So that’s that. In a tiny nutshell called ‘my view’.
    There’s all sorts of arguments both for and against syndication and stock libraries, but for me the core problem lies in the facelessness of it.

    I do however think that with the changing nature of media and the way we operate, there will be more of shift towards non-exclusivity in Britain too. That however does not have to be an entirely negative thing if cartoonists themselves believe in their work enough to make the system work for them.

    Self syndication is one way that I think might work. Selling non-exclusively to a handful of more or less regular clients. Thus making it affordable, but at the same time being able to build a relationship with the people involved.

    …or maybe I talk bollocks.

  • Royston

    Such agencies are useful for gag cartoonists such as myself. Most gag cartoonists work on-spec for magazines and the chances are that out of a batch of ten cartoons you will sell one or two, if you’re lucky! This is the case for all gag cartoonists – the number published in news-stand magazines is a tiny fraction of the number drawn.

    So Cartoonstock is where the gags that have done the rounds go. And as a result lots of them sell to markets that you would never have had access to.

    For example, I did a cartoon about utility companies (it’s funner than it sounds!) that never appeared in any magazine, but which has since been sold a few times to, you guessed it, utility companies, here and abroad. Cartoonstock also re-sold the first cartoon I ever had published to a magazine in Germany. Obviously I would not have still been sending that cartoon around myself. I have to get on and draw new stuff, I simply don’t have the time to keep all my old gags circulating. And actually, the fee I got, even after CS took its cut, was not much smaller than some of the news-stand magazines pay in the UK.

    Of course, there are drawbacks. Everytime someone buys a cartoon from an agency they’re not buying one from me, full-price. But the genie is out of the bottle, this business model does exist and all we can do is get on with drawing, hoping that editors have enough sense to see that using stock cartoons alone would not be a good idea.

  • Matt Buck

    When I started this thread I was hoping that it would encourage creative people to articulate a little part of the what and why of what we do – and from that we might all learn something. We have success, I’ve learned several things already.

    I’ve also asked a talented and recently syndicated cartoonist called Alex Hallatt to contribute (hi Alex 🙂 and I hope she will.

    This is my excuse for not weighing i again yet, but once Alex – and anyone else has said their piece – I’ll have another go and see if I can’t clear my head about the pros and cons you are touching on in your comments. Thanks for joining in.

  • hungrydog

    Stock libraries and syndication are slightly different. Stock libraries carry a vast stock of cartoons, past and present and aren’t pitching current cartoons, as much as just any old cartoons. Syndicates are comparatively contemporary, offering a specialised product to specialised customers. The reason I am going the syndicated route is that I would keel over from exhaustion if I tried to sell the strip into the all the newspapers King can reach. Small papers and even larger ones can’t afford exclusive cartoons anymore and won’t pay much if you aren’t offering that so you need syndication to make it pay. Gotta go, these daily deadlines are MAD!

    Alex

  • Matt Wardman

    >I would cite as an example of this what has happened to the work of print photographers whose trade has been decimated by the emergence of the stock picture library. Prices per unit (picture) have been wrecked and it is increasingly rare for independent providers to work in the media at all now.

    I would disagree with that. I think the trade has beebn opened up, but there are far more photographers making an income from photography.

    I’m not sure that prices have been decimated as far as you say (talking as a photographer). It is more competitive, and technical standards have gone up. Not sure which way to call the microstock agencies yet.

    Also, the web is a huge new market – but that depends on legal protection.

    I think I’d compare the impact to that of blogging on columnists. The world just became more competitive, and you have to be *good* and *on the market* to make it work.

    On the “first animated political cartoon”, I’m not sure how eclectech.co.uk does not qualify. It has to do with gag vs story, but I’m not sure where to make the call.

    Multiple income streams are key.
    I can see your animated cartoons being a good partner for digital picture frames.

    On cartoon libraries, you can now run and monetise your own for free. The problem is the amount of material, and that cartoons can have a short relevance.

    One further thought: ads in animations?

    Cheers Matt
    (emailed you separately)

  • Matt Wardman

    Two more:

    1 – Set up “Animators Magnum” if you believe in your own work.
    2 – Host your own library using e.g., Gallery 2. See, e.g., http://www.pplib.com/gallery/main.php . It is not that difficult.
    3 – Persuade photo libraries to add a cartoon category.

    Matt

  • beaubodor

    I’ve worked with eclectech and her work can appeal to a broad range of ages – she’s clever and funny.
    She’s done work for charities and unions but I don’t think her stuff has appeared in newspaper websites.

    We worked on 2 animations for the last election and a few others.
    But I still prefer the one below which I did NOT have a hand in.
    ID Cards animation

    I’ve tried working on my own but the time it takes !
    Say you don’t mind

    I hope eclectech gets a break with a major soon but the kind of animations she and I have created are longer than a site might want and they take bloody ages.

  • Joel

    Hi Matt

    I’ve just been reading this and I think it feels like a balanced debate, so I don’t think I could add a lot. I’m sure people can come to their own conclusions. There may always be areas where we disagree but one thing I would like to correct is where you write…

    “in doing this, it also allows big businesses to procure high quality content for a relative pittance.”

    I don’t think this is quite fair. We have always been very keen to offer a range of prices based on usage. So for example a teacher teaching to a class in a school will pay £5 to use an image. A book publisher on the other hand will pay a much higher rate to license the same image for publication. A rate similar or the same as the rate they would pay directly to a freelancer. It is not in our interests to undervalue cartoons and I hope we don’t. You can see a list of our standard licenses and prices at http://www.cartoonstock.com/pricing.asp .

    This range of pricing (and royalties on gift items too) offers up wider markets for cartoon use than existed before and we believe puts more money into the industry not less.

    Usage is what sets the value for images. How an image is seen and what it is used for, and the level of exclusivity that is required. The same image that is licensed for £100 in one context can be licensed for many thousands of pounds in another. As we sell images for both small sums and very large sums (for advertising for example, those rates are not shown on the pricing page) I don’t think the sentence

    “in doing this, it also allows big businesses to procure high quality content for a relative pittance.”

    Is quite accurate. We never try to be complacent, so if an artist thinks we are licensing their work at rates they are not comfortable with please discuss it with us. If an artists isn’t getting a reasonable deal, that wouldn’t be good in the long term for anyone who needs or uses the content they produce.

    Joel Mishon

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