When I first started Asparagus Jumpsuit, I was faced with a decision. Given that the company has little or no budget for any given product, would it be better to have bad art, or no art? Ultimately I decided that no art was better, for one very huge reason: value.
When I play a roleplaying game, I rely on the rules. With the exception of maps and some monster illustrations, I rarely need illustrations. They’re nice to have, but not essential. I would rather have as close to 100% of a product be useful bits, and as little filler as possible. When writing certain products, I already loose a page to required legal notices. If a product is only 5 pages long, I’d rather sell you 5 pages of content, not 4 pages and some art. When selling you a 96 page product, I’d rather sell you 96 pages of usefulness, not 90 pages and some art.
The reason many products historically have art is because of the nature of print. There are registers, minimum numbers of pages to make a book, in increments of 16. you can’t print a book that’s 123 pages; because of the registers, it has to be 128. What to do? Either write 5 more pages of useful material, or pad it out to 128 pages by adding some art. If you’ve got the budget, it makes the book look nicer, adds “production value”, so it can be won-win.
The other thing art does is raise costs. Good artists don’t work for free; ethical publishers pay artists what they’re worth. I like to think that I’m ethical. I also, as stated above, have no budget. If I include art, I have to pay someone for it. That means raising prices to cover it. If I were a huge publisher, I could absorb those costs, because I could expect to sell a lot more copies. As a teeny, tiny publisher, I know I will only sell a limited number of copies (because advertising and marketing is another thing I have no budget for). Amortized over the number of copies sold, I’m going to lose money on art.
So it really comes down to bad art, no art, or no product.
Does it bug me? You bet it does. I want to make great products. Given a budget, I’d hire the best writers, the best artists, professional layout people, the works. I would run a company that put out the greatest games ever imagined, as well a publishing coffee table art books, new and classic fiction, a plethora of stuff.
But right now, I can do the best I can with what I’ve got, until such time as sales reach a point where I do have a budget for bigger and better things.
What do you think? Any other tips or information? Add your thoughts in the comments below. And if you like this post, please share it via the social media buttons below, so others can join the the conversation!