Five reasons people give away their art


Back in the day I was the Director of Market Research at BYTE magazine.  My job was to prove the value of our readership for the ad sales staff.  I used to cringe when the young, inexperienced sales people used to come back to the publisher with some truly awful deals that would basically be giving away ad space.  Any fool can give things away for less than their value.   A seasoned professional or informed amateur recognizes the value of their work and the market needs.

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Why do people give away their photographs and art?

The global art market achieved total sales of $63.8 billion in 2015.  People want to buy art and photography for their home and office.  They need to purchase art and photography for commercial purposes such as advertising, web pages, brochures, magazines, books, etc yet some people continue to give away their artwork and photographs or seriously undervalue their work.

Why is this?  I can think of five reasons:

Ignorance – They don’t understand the value of images in today’s marketplace and don’t realize the value of what they have. I recently sold an image for $360 profit a friend gave me. He didn’t understand the value of the image he had and I offered to sell it for him.  Images have value in the fine art market and commercial market.  It is just a matter of realizing it.

Exposure – Photographers and artists are often under the impression that giving away their images will somehow lead to future sales or recognition. The problem is that millions of images are given away every day on social media and there isn’t enough “exposure” to go around. What’s the value of this exposure? Perhaps 1 cent in today’s market. People value what they pay for – no one brags about art they got for free. And no one who has gotten something for free is going to pay for it the next time. They’ll just look for another free source the next time. And the value of someone looking for freebies as a “collector” is worthless. You want to cultivate a follow of people who value what you are offering, not people looking for freebies.

They are amateurs or hobbyists – The amateur or hobbyist is not looking to make a living on their photography or artwork.  They simply enjoy producing images for fun and are happy enough for others to look at their images.  They don’t want to the pressure of having to ask for money and would rather just give away their images.  They live for likes and shares.   The problem with this mindset is that it brings down the over all market and prevents the amateur or hobbyist from ever becoming a professional.  After being conditioned with instant success from likes and shares of their freebies, they are unprepared with standing up for the true value of their work and asking for money for their time, skill and effort.  The advanced amateur or hobbyist is setting themselves up for being asked to shoot weddings, soccer games, portraits for free.

They want to build up a portfolio – This might be the best reason to actually giving away services for free.  If you need to create a portfolio and need access to models or locations or maybe even a good project idea.  But there is no reason to give your time and effort for nothing.  Barter and exchange services instead.  Trade headshots for modeling time.  Create a video for a local business in exchange to some free time at the gym or on the massage table.  Don’t work for free, instead exchange one valuable service for another.

They don’t know how easy it is to take their goods to market – Some artists and photographers simple don’t know how easy it is to participate in the art and photography markets.  In the old days perhaps the only way to sell your art and photography was to take your portfolio around to galleries or sell directly to the public.  But with the Internet there are countless markets amateurs and professional photographers and artists can participate .  Stock agencies cater to professional image buyers and online galleries and print on demand sites sell directly to the public.  I explain how to sell via POD sites in these blog posts: