Overworked & Underpaid
Imagine a scenario where an artist selling $3 prints announces they need to increase the price to $5, only to be met with a backlash of customers making the artist feel horrible for even considering it. People getting upset over $2? It happens more often than you think, and it's a frustrating situation SecondLife creators are faced with every day.
When a worker gains years of experience in the field, and trains to establish themselves as a valuable asset to their employer, it's perfectly reasonable for them to expect some sort of raise or promotion. So why are skilled freelance artists pressured to continue charging the same rates they started with, even when the quality of their work has drastically improved? Perhaps part of the reason is because most of the media we consume on a daily basis is free and readily available. We've grown accustomed to a life of instant gratification and entertainment. Virtual platforms like SecondLife promise us a lot up front, so we buy into the fanciful notion that everything we're looking for will be cheap or free. This leads us to...
The Dreaded L$ Illusion
For the average consumer, L$1000 can feel as though it's a US$10 investment, even if we all know it's actually worth less than US$6. This translates to even less money for creators when time, energy, and resources are factored in. Due to the capricious nature of SL, most artists find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the growing demands of customers who expect all items to be bento, animated, easily customizable, and magically compatable with third party meshes. In order for a creator to stay ahead of the game, they have to become a jack of all trades, risking burn-out. Alternatively, they can choose to collaborate with other artists, which comes with its own risks of theft and miscommunication. Collaborative teams are common now, and revenue is split between everyone involved in the creative process of each item. When the time finally comes to cash out, LL takes a cut, PayPal charges a transaction fee, and then there's income tax.
What the Buyer Spends
(Exchange rates of Apr 14, 2021)
What the Artist Makes
(Exchange rates of Apr 14, 2021)
For simplicity sake, let's run the numbers of a hypothetical SL creator who is working solo...
Average MP Item Price: L$500
Est. Sale Value: US$2
MP Listing Fee: 10%
Selling L$ Fee: 3.50%
Processing to US$ Fee: 5%
Income Tax: 14.6%
Total revenue cut: 36%
Est. sale of L$500 (after taxes) = US$1.28 cents
Think this sucks? We haven't even counted the added transaction fees yet...
LL's minimum cash-out fee: US$3
PayPal's per-transaction fee: US$.30 cents
Added transaction fees add up to the equivalent value of nearly three item sales.
If this creator sells 10 items per week, earning a "whopping" L$5000, most SL consumers will perceive this as a booming success. L$5000 can buy a lot of things in-world! Unfortunately, these earnings are terrible. L$5000, after taxes and fees, can't buy much of anything in the real world.
The "Lazy Artist" Myth
Serious SecondLife creators are often mistaken for hobbyists. Far too many customers are under the impression that avatar makers spend a relaxing afternoon casually making something, list it, then sit back as the money rolls in. It's a romantic thought, but it isn't rooted in reality. The average time to create a fully animated bento head from scratch can sometimes take months, and most content creators don't give themselves enough time to rest. Out of fear of losing financial momentum, becoming irrelevant, or disappointing their supporters, they continue working on other projects customers are eagerly waiting on.
For a decently skilled and focused SL creator, the time to complete a fully animated bento head from scratch is roughly 3 weeks (approximately 120 hours of total work). If we want to calculate this based on bare minimum wage, a creator selling items for L$500 would need to make US$870, or more than 600 sales in order to make up for the time and effort they spent on creating, rigging, animating, texturing, scripting, and marketing their wares. There is a reason dozens of furry avatar creators have abandoned SecondLife in favor of communities that actually value them. Not only is there very little money to be made on SL, sometimes the harassment and toxic social atmosphere isn't worth the hassle. After a while, continuing to give people everything they want can feel like rewarding bad behavior. The customer is NOT always right, and that can be a very hard pill for people to swallow. The most entitled, demanding, and abusive customers are the ones who know they're getting a great deal. They will say anything to maintain the status quo, even if it means disparaging the integrity of an artist's work in a Marketplace review. As a result, creators who are courageous enough to stand their ground run the risk of being labeled as short-tempered, unprofessional, or unable to handle "critique."
The Mass Production Fallacy
"But you're providing a blank product. No one will buy that unless it's discounted. We as customers have to buy mods and other parts that fit, so the cost adds up."
This is the disrespectful equivalent of telling an artist "Think of our pockets instead of yours!"
Following this terribly near-sighted logic, demi avatars (complete with all the textures, skins, parts, and more) should be worth several times the value of a blank head base. However, we all know if a creator were to price their demi avatars accordingly, they'd experience an overwhelming wave of outrage from even their most loyal customers. SL creators just can't win.
Outside of SecondLife, 2D furry artists will spend a day drawing a character sheet template, then sell the usage rights for US$30 - US$50. People will buy it, despite knowing the line art is not unique. Countless people on VR also buy avatars for US$25 - US$50, many of which are not easily customizable, and buying a premade texture mod often costs just as much (if not more) than the base mesh. A simple 3D goldfish on turbosquid, as-is, is priced at US$150. The list of examples is endless. Just because other people are capable of purchasing the same item does not inherently make the item less valuable.
"I can buy a game on Steam for $5, and that's loaded with art!"
Industry artists are paid hourly industry rates, work with collaborative teams, and are given all the resources they need to do their job. Freelance artists are completely on their own. There is no hourly wage they can rely on. To them, art is no mere side-gig. It's a sole source of income in a world where job availability has become scarce. When commissions and SL sales become an artist's only means of paying the bills, they'll expect fair wages out necessity. If they start charging what their work is actually worth, they know clients are going to openly express their disapproval. They shouldn't have to put up with that, but the backlash is inevitable.
One Final Scenario
Imagine if you were a food vendor, and you sold high quality bread for 5 cents per loaf. Then one day, your rent has doubled, or a roommate recently lost their job due to an unforseen pandemic. Inflation and the cost of living keeps going up every year, so you decide to start charging 10 cents per loaf just make ends meet. Some of your regular customers will be quick to assume you're being shady and opportunistic. Despite the fact that they genuinely enjoy your bread, and can easily afford to keep buying it at the new price, they'll still become wary of you. Sure sucks, doesn't it? If you've honed your craft after years of experience, and your product continues to be in high demand, the last thing you should have to do is justify why you deserve to be paid. There's an astronomically harmful notion that a truly passionate artist only creates for the pure enjoyment of it. This belief is so common, artists are frequently accused of being fake or greedy for profiting off their own work.
Artists Are Not Greedy
Anyone openly stating otherwise is admitting they feel entitled to a luxury item they had no hand in creating. Artists are allowed to price their work however they see fit. Its true value will always be subjective, and customers are free to choose not to buy it. Unfortunately, it won't change the fact that spoiled individuals will find any excuse to guilt, insult, and discredit a creator just to save a few bucks.
If a person can't afford art, the artist should not have to cater to them just to hold onto a "good customer service" reputation. The belief that the average rate for all art should be based upon minimum wage (no matter the artist's skill level), is appalling at best, and life-threatening at worst. Sadly, this cycle of gas-lighting and exploitation is perpetuated by poor creators who know if they don't do what's expected of them, someone else will simply take their place. There will always be artists desperate enough to appeal to avaricious customers who demand everything be listed at bottom dollar prices. When a creator is continually insulted and devalued every time they muster the endurance to release something new, they have every right to be upset. They have the right to defend themselves and express their frustration.
In the End...
You really only have one of two stances on this entire matter.
You're actually a decent person who believes hard-working artists deserve to be paid and treated with respect.
You want good art, but you don't believe artists should be paid fairly for their time and effort to create it.