Category Archives: Economics

I must be (Dough)nuts

Krispy Kreme aka KK has been an American institution for many, many years. I remember it being featured on an episode of The Simpsons, way back when. I even remember having a KK doughnut and coffee at Heathrow airport in the UK.

In Australia, there are dozens of KK outlets in the Eastern States. KK doughnuts can be purchased at petrol stations and at 7-Eleven convenience stores, where the doughnuts are delivered there fresh every day. It’s part of a normal way of life over there.

It’s a different story here in Western Australia. But before I go into details, here’s a potted history of KK in Australia.

The first Australian KK opened up in Penrith near Sydney in the early noughties, followed swiftly by a staggering 53 other outlets on the eastern seaboard (and NONE in Western Australia). However, the company may have misjudged its niche as it became a matter of too much, too soon. In 2010 KK Australia went into voluntary administration and pared its number of outlets right down. Luckily for us sugar addicts, KK managed to return triumphantly from the brink. Most Australians are used to buying 1 or 2 doughnuts at a time, not by the dozen…and that fact may have needed time to digest, literally.

Here is an interesting blog about why KK Australia failed in 2010.
http://startupblog.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/why-krispy-kreme-failed-in-australia/

Western Australia, often regarded as the “poor brother” of the Eastern States, has until very recently relied on an informal and quirky system to get its supplies of KK. Many families in WA have FIFO (Fly-In-Fly-Out) workers in the burgeoning mining services industry. These men and women often use airports in the Eastern States that have KK outlets, Brisbane airport being one example. Yours truly has a husband that used to FIFO to and from Brisbane airport, and that is how I was getting my sugar fix until recently. For years it has been a very common sight to see workers in their yellow/orange high visibility jackets emerging from Perth’s domestic terminal lugging boxes of KK doughnuts along with their luggage.

In my last place of employment in Perth we could place special orders for KK doughnuts twice a year. Yes, really. Someone in Melbourne would place the order at the airport’s KK outlet, then make sure all the boxes were loaded onto the right flight, and then someone else at our side would drive over to Perth airport with a van, to collect the doughnuts. No, as silly as this may sound, this was actually a way of life here.

For years West Australians had been clamouring for KK to go west. But for some reason (I haven’t been able to find out what) KK outlets have never made it to these shores. Until 26th November 2014, when Perth got its very first KK outlet at Whitford City shopping centre.

I heard there were queues forming outside the store already days before it opened its doors. The store operates a 24/7 drive-thru, with a limit of 2 dozen doughnuts per vehicle. During the first few days the drive-thru often had queues of up to 100 cars at any time. There were so many people queuing up outside that the KK management had to employ crowd control people and set up a separate marquee to contain the outside queues. Once inside, there was yet another queue that snaked around to where you could watch the doughnuts being made, as entertainment while you waited.

Yesterday the Kid and I decided to go and see what all this fuss was all about. And so here are some photos of our “WA KK Experience:

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The queue in the marquee before the queue in the KK store.

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First step into Perth KK.

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Look at that conveyor belt with all those doughnuts!

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Trays of goodies mmmmm!

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The Loop. The queue takes you to a big glass window through which you can watch doughnuts in production.

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Cleaning the equipment, getting ready to switch to making a different doughnut. These had glazed doughnuts before, so the worker is washing off any traces of sugar glazing.

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Busy hands behind the counter. All hands on deck!

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So we got 2 dozen doughnuts (a dozen glazed and a dozen assorted). And a choc milkshake + 2 doughnuts each, as our “lunch”. I know, I know, I’m a terrible mother! ;)

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The reason our doughnuts were packed in 4 boxes of 6 instead of 2 boxes of 12 – so they could fit in my bike’s basket!

So, why did I queue up for 45 minutes just for some doughnuts? I can see parallels between this queue and the one I saw for the iPhone 6 just a few months ago. Yes, it’s all completely bonkers and utterly unneccessary. I could never justify blowing $1000 on 1 iGadget. But $50 for 2 dozen doughnuts, 2 yummy chocolate milkshakes and 4 extra doughnuts, a sit-down in the KK store, plus a good friendly natter with some total strangers in the queue, and the look of bliss on my kid’s face as he nibbled his choc doughnut? And also giving away 2 glazed doughnuts to a friendly pregnant woman and her boyfriend that we chatted with at the bus stop? Priceless.

Was it worth a 7 hour round trip, and a bike ride + train + bus, and the same for the return journey? Hell yeah, and I’m (dough)nuts. 😆

Materialism & I

Not too long ago, I blogged about my observations on the release of Apple’s iPhone 6 in Perth, Western Australia. The queue to purchase the iPhone 6 snaked round the block starting outside the Perth Apple store. I reported that I was rather embarrassed by what I saw; it wasn’t so much the fact that there were so many in the queue, but the fact that 95% of those in the queue were Orientals.

For those of you who don’t know already, AlyZen Moonshadow is a pseudonym and my professional artist name. It is also the name I use in order to protect myself and my son from my abusive ex-partner in England.

The other thing you may not already know about me us that I was born in Malaysia, and my ancestry is predominantly Chinese (with a bit of stray Caucasian thrown in. There is a branch of my ancestral family tree with redheads and freckles).

So when I say I felt embarrassed at the sight of all my “fellow Orientals” desperately queuing up to buy that shiny new must-have gadget, the iPhone 6, I meant it. I felt ashamed to bear a physical resemblance to those in the queue. Because I know exactly the type of blood that runs in the veins of those people, from first hand experience. It’s type M. Meaning “Materialism“.

In Malaysia and Singapore, where I spent my formative years, we were brought up to aspire for professions that paid the most. Doctors, dentists, engineers, scientists, IT specialists, programmers – these were the jobs to aim for. Anything lower than that was looked down upon. God forbid if you ended up a supermarket checkout girl! Or even worse, behind the counter at McDonald’s. Honest, hard work was frowned upon. Instead, the emphasis was on prestige, name and buying power.

The first 3 things a typical Malaysian or Singaporean will ask you when first introduced, are these:

1) Where are you from?
2) What’s your occupation?
3) How much do you earn in a year?

No, I’m not kidding, unfortunately.

The 3 “C”s of South East Asia are not Colour, Cut and Clarity, but rather Car, Cash and Condominium. It was back then, and it is even more so now.

I’m a real maverick alright. I fly in the face of tradition. Needless to say, I’m the black sheep of my family. Even my own cousins from my generation think less of me because I don’t have a swanky job like them. Or, perhaps they feel uneasy that I should be happy the way I am, rather than swimming with the other fishes.

In all my years living abroad, and having struck rock bottom before, my life philosophy has changed. It does not resonate with that of my “fellow Orientals” anymore than Kermit is a toad. In this world where Materialism can easily equate to Self-Worth, I am a non-player.

And that is why my dear old Dad likes to remind me that I am a “Constant disappointment” to him. (That is also why I like to keep communication with him few and far between). Unlike my older brother, who fit nicely into the mold my Dad created for him, and became a doctor, I’m the one who “Never amounted to much”, the one whose artistic skills get laughed and booed at because “You’re not making money out of it, so it doesn’t count”. I’m told time and again to “Get a real job, one that pays well”.

Maybe I should. But then again, I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I’ve been that hardnosed, ambitious, materialistic bitch. I’ve played the part of single mother stranded with an infant in a foreign country with no way to pay a mortgage. I’ve worked in places where bullying is rife and favouritism the word of the day, and I left because of that and the bureaucracy behind corporate doors. Now I’m a stay-at-home Mum who creates digital art and tries to find niches to sell them online, and I’m reliant on my husband who thankfully earns enough to support the family. We’ve bills to pay, and some weeks are tougher than others, but we have enough.

And I’m happy. No matter what my family may say, well-meant or not, about my lack of “class” or “style”, the fact that I’d rather use a bicycle and public transport than a car to get around, no matter how much they try to convince me that “Our only concern is how much money we’re going to make from this venture”, the bottom line is this:

Materialism and I parted company a while ago, and I’m in no hurry for us to get back together.

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Black Friday – Don’t Do It!

For years I laboured under the assumption that the retail shopping frenzy the day after Thanksgiving was an American thing. Thanksgiving is an American thing after all. The very thought of competitive shopping, with the added bonus of getting hurt or even killed, chilled me to my bone marrow.

Now I’ve found out that this piece of consumerism tosh has not just become ever more popular than ever, it’s spread to other countries across the globe. Countries that don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving! Black Friday never had much to do with being thankful, anyway, it was just the timing of it, to usher in the Christmas shopping season.

But even that is becoming a moot point. No one shops for Christmas presents in December anymore. Our local supermarket here in Australia lays out its Christmas offerings as early as September. Christmas items are on the shelves even before Halloween stuff.

There’s talk of extending retail hours in the run-up to Christmas, the excuse being given as “providing shopping opportunities for the time-poor who work and otherwise would not have the time to shop for their loved ones”. Well, I’m going to be scathing and say this: Bollocks. These “time-poor” folks have had all year to buy their Christmas presents. Extending the hours is just a ploy to get more people into the shops to buy more stuff that they don’t need. Shopping has become the newest pastime for workers who don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re not at work.

Black Friday is like The Hunger Games. The winner kills, maims or otherwise incapacitates his/her opponents, and in return gets a microwave oven. Sometimes, that same microwave oven is the weapon of choice. Yes, you may laugh, but unfortunately that is Exactly what happens.

Read this interesting article by Michael Roose, which explains very clearly how Black Friday and similar blow-out sales are a behavioural economist’s nightmare.

There is NO good reason for anyone in their right minds to indulge in Black Friday activities. It’s meant to be Thanksgiving, so how about being thankful for what you already have? Stay home with your family, make it an extended weekend, or go away camping somewhere far from the maddening crowd.

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And guess what comes after the weekend? Cyber Monday, that’s what. Yet another consumerist ploy. Because this is geared towards online shopping, it’s a safer bet than Black Friday. You definitely won’t get trampled to death shopping on Cyber Monday.

But do you Really need more stuff?

Just don’t do it!

More or Less

More and Less directions.  Opposite traffic sign.

Just some more food for thought, now that the holiday season is nearly here and the madness is in full swing at the malls. The months of October-January are when I try to stay away from shopping centres, as I dislike the sight of people walking around stuffing their trolleys with things that they don’t need and will never use, but which may seem like a good idea at the time. I cringe because that was me not too long ago, and even now I have a few secret Wants of a consumerist nature.  But at least I’m not like my ex-friend Sheila, who spends all year buying things for her grandchildren, so much so that she had to get a garden shed especially just for the storage of Christmas paraphernalia and presents. As soon as Christmas is over, and her shed devoid of presents, she’d be out at the shops snapping up “January Sales Bargains”, and the cycle would begin again. When we were friends, she used to pick me up from home to go shopping with her. I’d only need a couple of things, but her “consumeritis” was very contagious, and I’d always end up spending far too much and regret it later.

Luckily, all that is in the past now for me. I understand now why some people say they can never save money – it’s because they’re out spending it as soon as they get it. Now that I’m no longer “gainfully employed” in the eyes of society, my list of Wants and Needs has changed drastically.

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This last image drives home the point.

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Frog Soup

One of my favourite movies is “Dante’s Peak” which stars Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s about a small American town famous for its slumbering eponymous volcano, which suddenly erupts. There is a scene in which Pierce Brosnan’s character, Harry, a volcanologist, explains how it is that the citizens of that town could be so blasé about living in the shadow of a volcano that could erupt at any time.

In the movie, Harry explains that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will hop right out in a jiffy. But if you first put the frog into a pot of cool water, then place the pot over a fire so the water heats up, that same frog will continue to swim in the water until it’s boiled to death.

Many people, today and in history, are like those frogs. Some, not liking a place or situation they find themselves in, rapidly move on elsewhere without settling down. Others, whether by lack of wherewithal, apathy or sheer ignorance, stay and put up with it. Those that realise what they’re up against, speak out and seek likeminded souls to rally with and try to change things for the better. Those that know but don’t care, because they might be benefiting from the situation, try to downplay the situation while at the same time make money out of it (create the problem, then create the cure). Those who still haven’t a clue what’s going on… will become frog soup.

Having moved to Australia from Ireland 4 years ago, I can attest to the high cost of living in Western Australia. Some of the Eastern States may be marginally better off, but mostly it is true that Australia is a VERY expensive country to live in. People are struggling to pay their bills, utilities, buy food, pay for clothing etc. And I’m talking about the average family, not the uber rich who only think they are hard-done by because they’ve had to cut down their holidays to 3 a year instead of their usual 4. I have no sympathy for those “I bought a Jeep” types, who complain that they can’t afford to maintain the lifestyle they’ve bought into… why take out a huge car loan to buy a status symbol petrol guzzler, when you know jolly well that you will be working all the hours God sends just to pay off that loan, and that you’ll NEVER have the time or the means (barring taking out another loan) to go places with that Jeep?

The figures in this article may be slightly out of date, but still serve to illustrate and compare the cost of living between Australia and other countries.

Now, Western Australia’s capital Perth is the most remote city in the world. Many things that you see in the shops have had to be shipped over from overseas or across the continent from the eastern states. Which means the price of everything is doubled or tripled before it hits the shelves.

Why then do people still live in WA? Many came over decades ago, when life was simpler and cheaper, and they don’t know anywhere else to call Home. Others came for work – the Mining industry (and its auxiliary service industries) accounts for a lot of the wealth of WA…however, this is a poison pill that everyone has been forced to take. The 10% who work for the Mining Industry and earn over AUD$100k a year, are driving the cost of living for the other 90%, whose average income is less than AUD$50k. Greedy corporations then jack up the prices of everything, because they want to tap into the miners’ wealth. So, whereas a cup of coffee in Sydney can be had for $3.50, it will cost you $5.50 here in WA. No wonder people are starving…or going to fastfood restaurants, where they then trade their health and wellbeing for cheap, affordable food that fills the gap. For $5.00 at Hungry Jack’s (Burger King), you can get a triple BBQ cheese burger and a Frozen Coke. The same $5.00 won’t even get you a cup of coffee in a cafe.

It’s a vicious cycle. Money really makes the world go round. People get used to working for high pay, then complain when employers decide to cut costs by outsourcing from China, India or Indonesia. They bemoan the fact that jobs are being given to foreigners instead of Australians. But what they don’t realise is that the Chinese/Indian/Indonesian worker will work for a third or even less than what an Aussie expects as a bare minimum. Plus, employers don’t have to offer as many incentives to foreign workers, and are easier to get rid of when no longer required.

At the rate things are going worldwide, I think we’re ALL going to be frog soup. Unless we start speaking out and campaigning for lower prices, or fairer employment opportunities for locals, or beseech corporations and financial institutions to be less greedy for profits etc etc. And even then, it might already be too late. I sure hope not!

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(Image source: Google)

One born every second…

My 12-year-old son and I have a thing going about TV adverts at the moment. I got tired of hearing him saying he wanted this and that toy, so I challenged him to question every ad with “Want or Need?”.  He’s coming round to my way of thinking now, after all this is his Mum who can go into a thrift shop and come out with 2 bags full of Lego pieces for just $10.  We’ve even taken to couponning … well, not quite. We do play McDonald’s current game “Drop Into Macca’s” on our mobile phones, though – but only to win free food prizes. We do the same for Hungry Jack’s (that’s Burger King to the rest of the world). Sometimes, there really is a free meal.

But I digress. We’ve found so far that only a minute proportion of Australian TV advertisements actually sell anything that you would really need. The rest is just plain consumerist marketing tosh. First they feed you the Want, then when your finances are shot to hell, they feed you the Solution by way of cash loans at exorbitant rates, or 0% credit cards for 9 months, after which the exorbitant rates will hit you anyhow, because you’d have been lulled into a false sense of security just by moving your debts to that other card, and you’d have forgotten the original purpose of doing so, which was to get rid of your debt in the first place.

Today I was surfing the internet for misleading or false advertisements, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is funny as in haha funny, how gullible consumers can be. And then there are the real dozy bloopers, whether intentional or not. There really is a sucker born every second, and that’s a fact!  Go on, laugh!

(Source: Google Images)

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Supermarket staff are clearly not tested on their Math skills these days. I wonder if consumers are any the wiser.  I’ve personally seen toys at a local toy store marked “Was $14.99, save $10, now $24.99″. Or, how about this “Massive discount! Was $34.99, now $34.98″. Here in Australia, where there are no 1 or 2 cent coins, you better make sure you pay for that great bargain by card, where at least they charge you the actual price, otherwise if you pay by cash, no one’s gonna have any change to give you, matey!

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Uh huh, that old forced perspective trick. Yup, the burgers really are nothing like their mugshots. They’re marginally better at Hungry Jack’s, though. Now, Hungry Jack’s advertises that their burgers are better…and they really are better tasting, and better value for money. Their fries are crap, though.

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I wonder if the blurb actually said  the 2 Snickers bars would be the same size as the normal one?  I’d like to see what the small print says on the wrapper. I used to work in the UK regulating the control of misleading advertisements, so this Could technically be a pass, if all Snickers is saying is that there are 2 Snickers bars in that wrapper, and Not 2 normal sized Snickers bars.

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Blackest strawberries I’ve ever seen!

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Wow.  Just wow. I never knew Tropicana made bacon. Oink!

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I wonder how this store makes a living, or how it’s even still open?

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Hmmm…reminds me of a certain hi-tech mobile phone purportedly “Made in America”…Here in our local supermarket, they have bread “Baked fresh in-store. Comes from Ireland”. Fastest delivery times, ever?!

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I don’t know about other countries, but here in Western Australia, they jack up the prices of everything to three times their usual RRP, keep it there for a couple of months, and then proclaim a Mid-Season Half Price sale. Do the math.

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I wonder how many people fell for this. Not too many, I hope! Maybe not false advertising, but rather “Marketing for the Mathematically Challenged”?

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I have 30 “boneless chickens” incubating right now. Is this evolution or devolution for poultry?  Which came first, the chicken or the boneless chicken?

Before the Silly Season starts…

Time is accelerating faster than we think. Have you ever wondered, where’s the year gone? How is it that Christmas and the New Year are already just round the corner? I haven’t even burned off my fat from last Christmas?!!

Darlings, it’s called Consumerism. We’ve all been had by our governments. We’ve been raised to buy, use, consume, throw away, buy some more, it’ll change your life, oh look there’s a war/disease/natural disaster/armageddon so we better stock up on more stuff we don’t need and will never use…and probably have no space for. No, wait. That’s what garages are for, right?

Oh, I’ll write more when I’m over this head cold. Don’t you worry! But for now, those of you who are awake already know what the message is, and I trust you will spread the word so others may also awaken.

So, before the Silly Season begins…well okay it’s already too late when Halloween stuff goes on display in August, Christmas stuff goes up in September, and Chocolate Easter eggs can be seen on the shelves in January. But better late than never, right…so next time you’re tempted, please ask yourself this VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION:

Do I NEED it or do I WANT it?

I hope this makes you think. Look deeper, scratch the surface, and you may find that all is not as hunky dory as it seems. That you are not really in control of your own lives.

(Image Sources: Google)

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Courting Controversy Part II: Elizabeth Durack/Eddie Burrup

We’ve seen what happens when an artist passes off another’s work as his/her own. In my previous post, I wrote about the controversy surrounding Walter Keane and Margaret Keane.

What happens then, when a white woman in her 80s paints in the style of Australian Aboriginal Art, and claims to be an Aboriginal Artist by the name of Eddie Burrup? That is exactly what happened in the 1990s, with Elizabeth Durack (1915-2000).

Early in 1997, 82-year-old painter Elizabeth Durack (now deceased) was reported to have produced a number of paintings under the persona ‘Eddie Burrup’. Under this pseudonym, Durack produced images of some Kimberley country in an Aboriginal style. Many Indigenous artists attach to their paintings a text that talks about their life experiences, their world-view and their relationship to the land. The Burrup works attached similar biographical information to the paintings. Durack had spent decades associating with Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region, as had her family since their arrival in the 1880s, and she believed this ‘gave her the right to paint as one’ (Debelle, 2000).
In response, Wayne Bergmann, acting head of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre, said: ‘…in Aboriginal law, no-one can take another’s work or another’s identity. Miss Durack has failed to respect the very law and culture in which she claims empathy and understanding’ (McCullock, 1997). Another critic of Durack was Doreen Mellor, who was the curator of the 1996 Aboriginal Art Centre Exhibition in Adelaide at the time when the true identity of Eddie Burrup came to light. ‘I was terribly angry,’ Mellor said. ‘At that point she was definitely representing the work as being by an Aboriginal artist’ (Debelle, 2000).
However, other responses were not so condemnatory of Durack’s paintings. There were some senior Nyungar men who backed her, saying she had been possessed by the spirit of an Aboriginal artist. Also in her favour was the fact that she had been painting pictures depicting Aboriginal themes long before the Aboriginal art boom of the 1970s. It could also be said that the Eddie Burrup pictures represented a huge leap in her creativity in the twilight of her career. (Earlier in her career Durack’s paintings used Aboriginal people as subjects in the Western tradition.) That she chose to reveal the truth voluntarily shows that perhaps there was no evil design at work.
Durack claimed that Eddie Burrup was a compilation of several Aboriginal men she had known. In the furore that followed her disclosure of being Burrup, she asserted that she was astonished that it had hurt or offended. Whatever Durack’s intentions were, the consequences served to fuel a debate on the issue of the authenticity of Aboriginal artworks including the question of non-Indigenous artists painting under Aboriginal pseudonyms.

(Source: http://ab-ed.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/go/aboriginal-art/protecting-australian-indigenous-art/background-information/protection-the-issues/case-study-eddie-burrup)

Here’s a website with further information about the Elizabeth Durack/Eddie Burrup impersonation: http://www.elizabethdurack.com/burrup_6_storm.php 

Whatever one’s opinions are, the fact that remains is this: for many years Elizabeth Durack made money selling her Eddie Burrup paintings to unsuspecting members of the public. Collectors parted with their hard-earned money to acquire what they assumed in good faith was the work of a prominent Australian Aboriginal Artist. Despite what Elizabeth Durack’s estate may say to refute this, monetary gain was had as a result of this deception, and no amount of apologising or throwing up of hands can ever change what happened.

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Elizabeth Durack’s daughter, Perpetua Durack Clancy, herself courted controversy this year, when, as judge of an Indigenous Art competition in Broome, Western Australia, she refused to award the prize to ANY of the participating artists. This created a furore amongst the Aboriginal community, many of whom felt that salt was being rubbed into old wounds when they realised Perpetua was the daughter of none other than Elizabeth Durack.  In the 1990s Perpetua ran the Durack Fine Art Gallery in Broome, that promoted and sold the art of Eddie Burrup.

Read here for the full article: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-09/outrage-as-judge-refuses-to-award-indigenous-artists/5730274/?site=indigenous

I can hardly contain myself!

Well, I couldn’t help it, you know I love puns. I also like recycling and repurposing, and some time ago when I was researching beach huts and garden sheds, I also noticed a proliferation of container houses. It’s an intriguing idea alright. Perhaps some day…

Pinterest, my favourite go-to for visuals (Google for text based articles, Pinteresr for images), generously dished out these gems. Enjoy!

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Art Licensing Caveats – from Joan Beiriger’s Blog

Since some of my Art is licensed with a number of Art Licensing Agents, I subscribe to Joan Beiriger’s blog, to keep up to date with the industry and also to chase up any leads Joan may introduce.

Joan has just written an editorial about what to watch out for when dealing with Art Licensing Agencies. If you are an Artist looking to get your Art licensed, or even if you are already a licensed artist, the following can still be useful information to bear in mind. I have taken the liberty of simply reposting Joan’s entire article here verbatim, for your ease of reading, in case you’re not subscribed to her blog. Joan is an expert on the subject and I’m most certainly not, so the purpose of this post is to simply disseminate Joan’s message to those who may not already know. (Note: Hyperlinks to books and resources mentioned below are clickable on Joan’s blog, but not on this page).

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From Joan Beiriger’s blog:


Art Licensing Editorial: The Truth About Art Licensing Agencies

WARNING! This is not an upbeat article and is depressing because the art licensing industry is like other industries where people sometimes take advantage of others. The purpose of this article is to warn artists that they need to make sure that they are signing a fair contract or at least know the repercussions in signing an unfair one when they agree to have an art licensing agency represent them.

The truth about art licensing agencies is that there are MANY agencies that are honest, professional, have a fair artist/agency agreement (contract)* and work hard to represent their artists. BUT, there are SOME that are unethical, and/or are not professional in dealing with their artists, and/or have unfair contracts, and/or have poor business practices. Sounds alarming, huh? Well, it is! And, that is why an artist needs to do her/his homework before signing with an art licensing agency. Read the following so that you do not make a bad decision and sign a contract that negatively impacts your income and even worse allows an agency to have control of all your art so that you lose your rights to it.

In the fifteen or so years that I have been in the art licensing industry, I have heard many complaints and some horror stories from artists about the agencies that represent them. Unfortunately, those artists with the horror stores were so pleased that an agency wanted to represent them that they did not read the contract closely enough, understand all the terms, or realize that some terms that should be in the contract were missing. The artist’s big mistake was not to acquire information about the agency’s reputation and business practices by asking other artists and not having an attorney that is an expert on art licensing contracts look the contract over before the artist signed it.

* The artist/agency agreement is a contract and is referred to as a contract or artist/agency contract in this article.

Common Artist Complaints about Agents
Most of the complaints I’ve heard about agencies are not as drastic as unethical agencies and unfair clauses in the artist/agency contract but about the lack of communication between the agent and artist, poor business practices, not getting enough or any licensing contracts with manufacturers, and not receiving enough money from the contracts. Some of these complaints were because the artist had unrealistic expectations such as earning a lot of money from each licensee contract. Read below for more information about agency complaints.

• Lack of communication
Lack of communication and not being on the “same wavelength” between persons is a common human foible. It often results in frustration and may be intolerable when working together. Some artists want to be in constant communication with their agent and feel adrift and slighted if the agent does not immediately answer their questions or respond when new art is sent. Other artists realize that agents are busy and will respond as soon as they have time and are not upset when they do not get a quick response. Although, it does not go over very well if the agent does not respond at all. No one like their emails or art to “drop into a black hole” and not know if the agent received it. Note: Some artists find that if they phone the agent they will get a faster response than if they email her/him. Agents may not have the time in their busy day to sit down and write an email but find the time to chat if their artists phone them.

Some artists expect agents to provide art direction, to send them the latest in art trends, and give feedback from the licensee when art is submitted. Or, there are personality clashes where communication between the artist and agent does not work because they are not on the same wavelength. Not all agencies provide art direction and some depends on the artist to keep up with trends. That is why it is important for the artist to talk with the agent before signing with the agency to see if there are any communication problems, if the agency provide the services the artist expects, and how the agent envisions the artists work will be used on products.

Artist Jill Meyer describes the process she went through in selecting an agency in her very informative article “Finding a New Agent.” An important part of Jill’s process in selecting an agency was talking and asking lots of questions of the agent before considering hiring the agency to represent her. Also important was talking to other artists about the agency and having an attorney familiar with art licensing agree that the artist/agent contract was fair.

• Poor Business Practices
SOME agencies do not have the best business practices. They are negligent in submitting art, do not make adequate follow-ups, do not keep track of art already submitted or licensed to manufacturers, and do not respond to emails from licensees or send signed contracts back to them in a timely manner. Any of these will damage the creditability of the agency. The following are some complaints I have heard from other artists and licensees.

1. Poor method in tracking art
– Some agencies do not keep track of the art they submit to licensees and thus submit the same art time and time again. Licensees are looking for new art; not art that they already have seen.

– Some agencies book keeping abilities are not very good and they do not keep track of the art that have already been licensed. Thus, they are at risk in licensing the same art for the same product to different licensees and breaching the terms of the contract granted to the first licensee.

2. Poor response to queries and return of contracts
Some agencies do not reply to licensee emails or return signed contracts in a timely manner. Art directors appreciate quick responses and it shows that the agent is professional which helps in promoting future business. Also, a slow reply to a query can mean missed opportunities to license and promote art.

3. Poor follow-up
– Some agencies do not follow-up frequently when licensees show interest in art and thus they may lose the opportunity to license it.

– Also, some are poor in following up when payment of licensing fees are late or contracts do not arrive when expected.

4. Poor method in submitting art
Some agencies submit their artist’s work to their entire client list in what I call a “shot gun method” in the hopes the licensee will be interested in some of them. Instead they should be submitting only the appropriate art for each manufacturer. Licensees do not appreciate getting a ton of art that is not suitable to be put on their products and will eventually not open emails from agencies that submit art that way.

• Not enough deals or pay enough
Artists may not get licensing contracts because the agency does not have a list of licensees that is suitable for the artists work. Of course, the agency should never have signed the artist for representation if they did not think they could license her/his work. Or, it could be due to the impact on the licensing industry with the change in consumer spending and also the increase in competition of artists vying for licensing deals. The change in consumer spending has drastically changed the way retailers sell products. Retailers now order lesser products from manufacturers and the shelf life is shorter. Thus, licensing revenue per image is less than it was before the recession struck in 2008. Consequently it is not the fault of the agency to now get fewer and not as lucrative licensing deals for their artists.

Artists and art licensing agencies are struggling to get contracts and bring in revenue. In the article “You Are Not Going to Make It in Art Licensing” art licensing agent Jim Marcotte of Two Town Studios wrote, “Art licensing today is an industry in search of a workable model. The scramble is on – agents and artists who used to make their money by licensing art are now finding ways to collect from (mostly newbie) artists in ways that run the gamut from coaching to holding contests. Some agencies are accumulating artists, hoping that more people earning less money can make up for the reduced sku counts and short market runs. Branding agencies are taking on artists and art agencies are promoting brands, and both are consulting for manufacturers who are buying art worldwide and licensing art only when they have to. It’s a wild time in the biz.” Jim’s article is a very “tough pill to swallow” but his aim is not to discourage artists so they quit trying to license their art but to energize them by trying new ways to license it. To get Jim’s perceptive on licensing art in today’s market, read his article.

Note: I recommend that you read Belgium surface designer Ine Beerten’s article “The Big Contest Dilemma” if you are interested in entering a design contest. Ine wrote a really thought-provoking article about contests. She ended her post with “So what do I hope you take away from this post? I hope you think careful when you enter a contest next time, think whether it’s just an easy way for the company to get free artwork and cheap marketing and whether the prizes are truly fair, or if you can really gain something that is actually worth something to you. By entering these bad contests you only help them devaluating your own and other artists’ work!”

Artist/ Agent Contracts
In “16 Art Licensing Agent Agreement Essentials” by licensing consultant J’net Smith, she states that “It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of finally signing with an agent and forget to make sure that the contract is not only fair to both of you, but includes everything you need. . . Don’t accept the first contract you are given without understanding all the obligations and ramifications of each clause. It may be your first and the most important contract you will ever sign.”

Artists may interpret the terminology and meaning of legal terms or poorly written clauses in a contract incorrectly. And, if clauses that should be in the contract are missing such as the date and terms specifying termination, the artist may be obligated that the agency continues to represent her/him forever. That is why it is recommended that an attorney experienced in art licensed legislation look over the contract before the artist signs it. It is less expensive to pay an attorney to make sure the contract is fair to the artist than to pay him/her to try to free the artist from a bad contract even if it is possible.

• Unethical business practices and contract terms
What I deem unethical is when an agency does not pay monies due to artists for licensing their art or taking advantage of artists by having clauses in their artist/agency contract that takes control of the artists work and denies the artist usage of their own work.

Several years ago two artists told me that their agencies were not paying them revenue for their art being licensed. Their agents insisted that the art had not been licensed and yet the artists saw their art on products in stores. In one case, the artist was able to get monies owed by hiring an attorney. In the other case, the artist found out that her copyright was infringed upon and the art was illegally used. It is important that artists be constantly looking for their art on products in stores and on the Internet. And, getting their friends to help. That may be the only way that an artist finds out that their copyright has been infringed upon.

In the article “Hot Words to look out for in contracts” art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing discusses the word “assign” and the consequence when used in any art/agency or licensee contract. He wrote “. . . when you see the hot word “assignment”, make certain that you’re not assigning the copyright or all reproduction rights to your artwork as a part of the agreement. If you do, it’s lost to you forever. Other people will control the reproduction rights to your art, and you’ll actually have to ask their permission to reproduce the art that you created.”

Lance relates a couple of horror stories that artists endured by signing bad contracts in his article “How to Avoid the Most Common Mistakes in Licensing Your Art”. In one example, Lance said “. . . This agency, which just happened to be owned and operated by the same people who owned and operated the publishing company, gave itself the exclusive right to publish any or all of the artist’s work for the next five years and to sublicense his art to anyone they wished, whenever they wished”. He stated, “If there’s any one piece of advice I could give an artist about to enter a legal agreement, it is to read every single line in the contract and make sure that you totally understand it. I know that isn’t easy for most people, but don’t get in the water if you don’t want to get wet. If you find that there are sections or sentences that aren’t written clearly, don’t say what you want, take away a bit more of your rights than you feel you want to give, or if any of it seems confusing or contradictory, have the company rewrite it in plain English. . . . But don’t let this stop you from promoting your art for license. Most companies are quite reputable and many contracts are completely understandable by the average human. Just make sure you read every word, and know what it means”.

• Unfair contract terms and business practices
Not all agencies have unfair terms in their art/agency contracts but some do. Terms that seem unfair to artists are usually in the contract because of the way the agent decides to operate the agency. For instance, a clause in the contract may state that the agent will make all decisions in licensing the art. That means that the artist has no say-so in what company manufacturers her/his art, will not have the opportunity to approve or not approve the licensee contract or even see it, and cannot approve the amount of royalties or flat licensing fee that will be paid for the use of the art. That is unfair to the artist. But, the artist may trust the agent to do a good job and is willing to sign the contract because she/he wishes to be represented by the agency. What is NOT acceptable is if the artist is blindsided and not aware that the terminology in the clause gives the agency that right. And, that is the reason why an art licensing attorney should be hired to point out unfair terms in the contract before it is signed. Note: Yes, there are agencies that have that clause in their contract.

Below are more contract terms and business practices (may not be in the contract) that may be construed as unfair to artists.

1. Artists do not get to see licensee contracts
A variation on the above unfair term is that an artist does not see the licensee contract but gets to approve or not approve the contract. The agent sends a form to the artist with the basic terms of the deal so that the artist can sign it for approval. Just like the above term, the artist must trust the agent that she/he makes sure that the clauses in the licensee contract is fair.

2. Agencies continues to receive commission after termination
Most agree that the termination clause is the most important clause in the artist/agency contract. In his article “The Artist – Agent Relationship” art licensing attorney Joshua Kaufman states, “The greatest issue of tension and dispute between artists and their agents surround post-termination issues. . . . The issue of how long an agent is entitled to keep receiving its commission after the contracts terminates, is one that is strongly negotiated. Agents of course, wish to be compensated for not only the full term of their contract but for the term of the licensing agreement and of all extensions and renewals. The artist wants to limit the payment to the agent after their contract expires. Agents believe that they secured the contract, they work long and hard, had to wait for their money and should be entitled to their receipts throughout the term of the contract. ” Note: Most contracts do give the agency the right to continue receiving commissions from the contracts they obtained for the artist until the contract expires and no renewals are requested by the licensee.

3. Agencies continues to represent the artist after termination
Some agencies have clauses in their contract that allows them to continue representing the artist after the termination of the contract. The representation is for an additional several years after termination and is limited to those licensees that the agency obtained contracts for the artist’s work during the term of the contract. There are questions on the legality of this clause according to attorney Joshua Kaufman in his article “The Artist – Agent Relationship”. He states “One finds in many agreements prohibitions against dealings by an artist, post termination, with the agent’s clients. First of all there is a question (which depends on which state law applies) whether those clauses are enforceable and to what extent. . . If the agent’s client list is very large, and there is a blanket restriction against dealing with the agent’s clients, and this precluded the artist from doing business or greatly hampered their ability, many states will disallow the restriction.”

4. Do not allow any interaction between the artist and licensee
There may not be a clause in the artist/agency contract but some agencies do not allow their artists to interact with licensee art directors. All licensee requests for high-resolution art are sent to the agent who forwards it to the art director. And, all requests for editing of the art go through the agent. This is awkward and frustrating to the artist. It is much easier and faster for the artist to make art changes if she/he works directly with the art director.

5. Artists do not get to approve samples
Not all licensing contracts allow the approval of art on the products before they are manufactured. But if it is in the licensee contract, the agent normally approves the samples and not the artist. That restriction may not be in the artist/agency contract but because of licensee time restrictions it is not usually possible for the agent to ship the sample to the artist for approval.

6. Artists are required to pay part of booth and marketing expenses of the agency
Many agencies do not require artists to pay any of the agency expenses. But, if they do required their artists to help with trade show and other agency expenses it should be clearly spelled out in the artist/agent contract according to art licensing consultant J’net Smith in “16 Art Licensing Agent Agreement Essentials”.

Summary
There are many good art licensing agencies. But, do not get blindsided and sign a bad contract. Do your homework and ask agents for recommendations of artists in their agency to talk to and/or look at agency websites for the artists the agencies represent. Select a few artists and find out their contact information from their own website, Facebook or LinkedIn. Either phone or email them to ask questions about the agency. Make sure that you fully understand all the terms in the artist/agency contract. And better yet, hire an attorney that knows the ins-and-outs of art licensing to look over the contract and point out any unfair clauses before you sign it.

For a list of agencies, read “List of Over 50 U.S. Art Licensing Agencies”. But, you need to research the agencies yourself because I am not familiar with all of them or their artist/agency agreements (contracts).

Resources:
The above post mentions quotes from the following articles. I recommend that you read these articles because they contain a lot of important information you should be aware of.

• “Finding a New Agent” by licensed artist Jill Meyer

• “You Are Not Going to Make It in Art Licensing” by art licensing agent Jim Marcotte of Two Town Studios

• “The Big Contest Dilemma” by Belgium surface designer Ine Beerten

• “16 Art Licensing Agent Agreement Essentials” by art licensing consultant J’net Smith

• “Hot Words to look out for in contracts” by art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing

• “How to Avoid Mistakes in Licensing Your Art” by art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing

• “The Artist – Agent Relationship” by attorney Joshua J. Kaufman

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