My previous article describing the basics of licensing cartoons, and art in general, has garnered some interest, and with that in mind, I’ll expand on the subject a bit more.
The big question for most cartoonists and artists looking to get involved in licensing is, ‘where can I offer my work?’. Here’s an exercise I’d recommend for any artist seeking commercial venues for their work. Go to your local gift store, specialty store, greeting card isle – anywhere houseware and giftware might be sold. You’ll see shelves filled with coffee mugs, novelty items, statuettes – both humorous and inspirational, greeting cards, calendars, office products, and so much more. Then have a look around your own home – look at some gifts you may have received, have a look at the wrapping paper it came in. It won’t take you long to see that an artist, somewhere, created the art that adorns all these things, and there is a fair chance that they’re recieving a royalty for every design that gets used.
Based on my experience, although my opinion may be at variance with others, a great market for cartoonists, and artists of many styles, to begin building royalty-based licensing income is the greeting card market. There are hundreds of companies who must produce new products every season to remain viable in a competitive market, and they rely heavily on freelance artists and cartoonists to supply the artwork – an option far less expensive than maintaining a full-time art staff. If your work is selected, you can usually expect an advance on royalties, frequently in the $150 per design range, along with a royalty rate of 4-7% of net sales paid quarterly. If you should end up with a successful design, that could result in thousands a year in royalties. Then consider what the possibilities could be if you end up with dozens of designs in the market – not at all uncommon if you are persistent and hold your work to the highest standards.
Once you’ve established yourself with a greeting card sale or two, you can choose to continue seeking opportunities for yourself, or consider the services of a licensing agent, whose primary function is to seek good matches in the marketplace for your style of art. For providing this service, licensing agents can take anywhere from 25 to 50% of the net royalties earned from your art. As with all things, you can negotiate terms that you’re comfortable with, and it makes sense to seek the advice of a legal professional with experience in licensing contracts.
If you opt to represent yourself, grab a pen and paper and head out to that nearby gift store. Who produces those calendars with images that are in the same artistic category as yours? Who produced those clever coffee mugs? What about those really funny aprons? And more greeting card publishers you may not have noticed before – write them all down, then head home to the laptop and look at the company websites. Are there links to their submission processes? Is there a contact email? With a little rudimentary homework, you could reveal information that can completely change your business and your financial prospects. And, by all means, refer to my previous article regarding contracts – DON’T ACCEPT ANYTHING YOU’RE NOT COMFORTABLE WITH!! You own the artwork – keep as many of the associated rights as you can – it’s your inventory. If you give it away, you’re back to square one while someone else gets paid for your work. Good luck and happy hunting!