There are four main categories of agent, although you are unlikely to need the services of all of them:
An artist’s agent handles the business side of an artist’s life. Many artists’ agents are primarily gallery owners and publishers who handle some aspects of their artists’ work, but do not take over the entire running of their business lives. A large number of artists are represented by their domestic partners or members of their families, who have a vested interest in their success and are thus prepared to take a long-term view of the project rather than expect immediate remuneration. They are also more likely to be loyal.
It is important that the extent of the agent’s role is clear from the outset. For example, this might include organising exhibitions, handling media relations, developing a publishing programme, licensing work, liaising with galleries, debt collection, and day-to-day administration. The scale of remuneration should also be clearly understood, as well as when payments are to be made and when terms are to be reviewed. This will be affected by the reputations of both parties, i.e., who needs who the most, and the price of the artwork being sold. It will also depend on who is funding ventures such as the printing of catalogues, renting exhibition stands, photography costs, etc.
The financial side of this type of relationship is unlikely to be standard, as each agent is likely to have a slightly different role. For example, some agents pay their artists a retainer or an advance, while some artists employ their agents and pay them a monthly wage. An agent selling secondary licenses to greetings-card publishers will not expect the same commission structure as an agent handling media relations.
This type of agent is probably a self-employed sole trader ‘on the road’ selling a range of reproductions, ready-framed pictures, greetings cards and gifts on behalf of perhaps four businesses and/or artists. Sales agents handle sales but do not contribute towards other marketing or production costs. They pay for their own car, petrol, hotel bills and insurance. Many sales agents expect financial back-up from their artists in the form of a promotional programme (advertisements, mailshots, tradefair stands, etc.), and offering this kind of back-up is a good way for an artist to attract one of the better agents.
Distributors are companies rather than individuals, and they tend to cover the whole country. They are often successful sales agents who have developed into larger concerns employing sales agents of their own. Distributors normally work to develop a corporate image. They have their own marketing programmes involving advertising, stands at exhibitions, trade showrooms, catalogues, etc.
These agents negotiate licensing deals with print and card publishers, porcelain manufacturers and giftware companies. Good licensing agents should be able to negotiate better terms and have a wider range of contacts than artists representing themselves, even taking their commissions into account. Some publishing companies, however, will only deal with artists direct. Many print publishers and gallery owners also act as licensing agents for their artists.
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