The all-mighty New York Times has done it. They’ve pissed me off! And I’m not the only artist. Lots of cartoonists are pissed.
Why, because the giant NYT wants artists, seasoned and professional artists, to work for them for FREE. That’s right, to spend their valuable time and talent working for free producing cartoons which will never be printed. It shows that while the NYT wants your work, they don’t feel it has any value.
Let me explain.
On Monday, February 6th, the New York Times (NYT) sent an insulting email to the top editorial cartoonists around the United States. This email is indicative of how many large institutions view our creative work. They want it, but they don’t want to pay for it.
At first glance, the email is quite positive. It states that the NYT will start running a political cartoon again each Sunday, starting on February 26th. The good news stops there.
The NYT then states that they expect the top cartoonists in the world (around 80 cartoonists received the email according to reports) to write, edit, sketch, ink, refine and finish custom editorial cartoons for the possibility that JUST ONE of the many they receive may get a pittance of just $250. Oh, and they want a new batch every week and they want all the rights and they want every artist to clear their Friday schedules for the remote chance that their single cartoon is chosen and the paper wants them to make any changes by 4pm on that day.
Do they also want to take my frontal lobe? Because I’d have to have a lobotomy to agree to a deal like that.
Big business has been trying to reduce the value of creative works for years (see my previous article “You're About to Lose All The Rights To Your Own Art ”). We artists cannot allow this to happen. We can’t give an inch.
Hundreds of thousands of artists (many of you, thank you very much) worked together to defeat the Orphan Works bill (details in the links article above) because you took action and made yourselves heard.
Tom Richmond, MAD Magazine artist and president of the National Cartoonist Society (www.Reuben.org ) agrees in a response he sent to the NYT editors.
“The work of creative professionals today is under siege, being constantly devalued through a multitude of fronts, not the least the internet. Writers, artists, cartoonists, designers and other creatives who are attempting to make a living with their talents and hard work face increasing assaults by “clients” who seem to expect them to do work for either very little pay, or only the hope of being paid. Being asked to do spec work is nothing new in the cartooning world, but when it comes from a publication like the New York Times and it is specifically aimed at some of the industry’s top professionals, it is alarming.”
You can read the entire email sent from the NYT to editorial cartoonists online at http://jimromenesko.com/2012/02/07/editorial-cartoonists-insulted-by-nyt-solicitation/#more-8077  .
There are SO MANY problems with their letter to cartoonists, it’s hard to know where to start.
HELL NO! is where I start and many other artists are saying the same thing, but perhaps in gentler and more politically correct terms. But I see no need to pussy-foot around this topic. Every one of us who is a creative, an artist, a cartoonist should be pissed and all of us need to make ourselves heard.
The editors of NYT want the finest cartoonists in the world to spend their valuable time doing spec work every week. Spec work should be considered only for those who have not already proven themselves in a creative field. The cartoonists who were emailed by the NYT are all seasoned artists who not only should NOT have to do spec work, it’s an insult to their achievements to ask them to do spec work every week for one of the world’s largest newspapers. Shame on you NYT!
Even staff cartoonists are not asked to spend valuable time finishing numerous cartoons before getting input from editors. When I was an editorial cartoonist, I would roughly sketch out 1-3 ideas, go over them with my editor and spend the time completing just the ones which were chosen for print. The NYT seems to want anywhere from 50-200 fully completed cartoons from a large array of artists in order to choose just one.
Plus, the NYT wants to pay only $250 for a custom editorial cartoon. The assumption here is that they want one that has not been printed anywhere else and I would also assume that they will not want to run anywhere after the NYT prints it either.
The customary fee for a cartoon to appear in a publication the size of New York Times should be between $1,000 and $2,000. However, when the chances of your work being chosen is as low as it is in this case, the fee should be even higher considering each artist may have to complete 50-200 cartoons before one may be chosen. If you look at it that way, the per-finished-cartoon rate is pitiful.
$250 is low even for a reprint price. Reprint rates are lower because the artist would have been paid a real fee by another publication first.
Cartoonist Dana Summers summed it up nicely to me on the phone, “It’s just crazy!”
And then there’s the NYT dictated timeline, “…if it is selected, please be prepared to correct any typos (if any) on Friday. The final file will be due by 4 p.m.” In the entertainment industry, and many other industries, if you want someone to hold time aside for your project and potentially decline other work so that you are available, it is a pay or play deal. You have to pay for the value of their time to make sure they are available just for you. I don’t see the NYT offering to pay for those 80 cartoonists to sit by the phone every Friday for the slim prospect of being chosen that week’s ‘winner’.
The irony is that their approach and fee schedule says they do not value the work of a great cartoonist. However, they WANT first-publication rights and they are only approaching, and thus WANT, the best cartoonists in the industry which says they do value great cartoons.
You can’t have it both ways. When you want something, it therefor has value, and the value in this case is MUCH more than a pitiful $250.
Evidently enough cartoonists DO value their work and made themselves heard. On Friday, February 17th, the NYT editors sent another email to the editorial cartoonists:
“As I'm sure you all know, we got a lot of reactions to our request for cartoons for a new feature in the Sunday Review -- much of it negative. Your very good questions and criticisms of our process have forced us to take a second look, and to reconsider. We are going to postpone adding the cartoon to our section until we can figure out a process that is fair to cartoonists and also works for us.”
The good news is that the cartoonists made themselves heard and the NYT realized in just a few short days that their selection process was more than just a bit flawed.
The bad news is that they have cancelled adding the cartoon, at least for now.
I congratulate every cartoonist who stood up to the New York Times. Your combined strength proved that artists can stand their ground and win against a large entity.
I call on all cartoonists, and artists alike, to not give an inch. Even a couple of artists giving in to these terrible conditions hurts all of us. Companies often wait until any furor dies down and then try again. We need to keep a vigilant eye.
For every company that successfully devalues the work of artists, three more will use that company as an example to do the same or worse.
Stand up for the value of your creative works, because your work won’t be worth shit if you fall for and accept such terrible deals as offered by the once-proud New York Times. When we artists stand up, people do listen.
Other articles and blogs regarding the NYT editorial cartoon debacle:
Tom Richmond’s NCS blog:
Jim Romenesko’s media blog:
Daryl Cagle’s MSNBC cartoon blog:
Mark Simon is a director, producer, board artist and artist advocate. He’s worked on over 3,000 productions and has been both a strip and editorial cartoonist. He’s written 10 books for artists and works with TV show creators on packaging and pitching their concepts. Go to www.Storyboards-East.com  and www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com .