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Graphics/a/v/multimedia--where Has The Money Gone?



Mar 22 2006, 03:54 AM

I've been making a concerted effort to find work in my area of talent and experience, relating to computer technology this year, and I'm coming back from it all, very frustrated.

For example, job postings on Elance.com are attracting very low--ridiculously-low--bids. And the companies that post these projects have absurdly-small budgets. Who the hell can produce a 36-page 4C catalogue for $236?? Other jobs involve fairly advanced 3D graphics modeling and animation, again, paying just a few hundred dollars!

It seems that the only jobs that are budgeting close to $1,000 are the ones where you must build an entire e-commerce site, including setting up the database, front end, PHP/MySQL scripting--the works.

Basically, any of these jobs would have me working at a couple of dollars an hour if I could bid on them (to do that, I must take out the credit card and sign up for a monthly fee just to get the bare minimum privilages to bid on the few jobs that might both be within my grasp and earn enough money that I'd be earning more than the gas station attendant.

Back in the late 1980s through the early '90s, graphic design work paid well. It was hard to get, but the jobs I did get paid well. For example, $5,000 to lay out a VHS cassette sleeve and 4C/1C sell sheet. Later, that project price offering was reduced to $1500 for the same work and later, $1350. I still did well, and the multiple VHS jobs paid $3,000 and took me just a few hours to complete. With the cost of film, 4C seps, 3M color proofs considered, I was earning $128/hr back in those days.

My last good jobs was designing faceplates for a kiosk marketing firm that positioned coupon printing kiosks at stores like Caldor's, Bradlee's and K-Mart. I averaged about $100/hr producing full color ads and B&W coupon layouts for each product offering, and often cranked out 8-10 ads a day. The firm that hired me also had an in-house staff of five designers, who, collectively, produced about 12-15 ads per day total output. I streamlined my work, used state of the art hardware to maximize efficiency and was able to produce excellent faceplates that passed their quality control inspections every time. And I was earning thousands a week. Unfortunately, that firm went bankrupt in the middle of my subcontracting with them and left me with $6400 in unpaid invoices. But the money was great while it lasted and I worked my tail off, pacing myself and always trying to surpass my earlier benchmarks of performance and quality of work.

After 1995, all I got were scraps and it's been downhill since. In 1997, I reluctantly went into broadcast radio engineering as a constract service provider, risking my life climbing towers and working around high voltages in all kinds of weather. Suddenly, I was racking up 800+ miles/week on the car, and earning only $25/hr. After meeting up with a former FCC inspector one afternoon, whom I'd subcontracted to do a specific task for a client, he convinced me to increase my rates, seeing I was driving a 17 year old clunker for transportation and after having a frank conversation about rates. He was charging $75/hr in the MN area and $150/hr for consulting he did that involved flying to distant locations. Over the next 4 years, I gradually raised my rate to $50/hr. I lost some clients in the process, the Hispanic stations refused to pay that rate, but I was working fewer hours for better quality clients and earning more money. For about 2 years, that was paying the bills pretty well. Then the radio market started to dive in 2003 and owners could no longer afford maintenance, so my hours of employment dipped. The wife took a manufacturing job just to help make ends meet and because she wanted some nice things that her friends have, like furniture, a better car, etc.

So now, with skyrocketing electricity and fuel costs wiping out what was left of a retirement account that was already wiped out by four years of five-figure property tax bills after some recent revaluations tripled the taxes, our comfort of life is all but gone. Radio is just not cutting it, and I don't love the commutes at all. I'm getting on in years and need to find work that is less physically-demanding.

So I'm revisiting computer graphics, my passion, along with sound & multimedia. But I'm discovering that it's no longer paying a living wage. These companies, and the people that bid on the jobs, must be living in a bubble. Who would bid on a job at $236 that involves at least 30-35 hours of work? It's unrealistic. There must be a lot of kids out there who are providing the cheap labor. Back in the days when I was actively involved, and you needed a $15,000 Mac Quadra 950 to do anything respectable, you got paid real money. I was heavily invested in software and hardware, spending as much as $4995 for a graphics card alone, $15,000 for animation software, thousands more for photo and page layout applications, etc. And I was able to make a profit and pay off the loans.

Today, I couldn't pay a property tax bill on the income I'm expected to make with referral jobs from places like Elance. This can't be real! I must be missing something somewhere. Surely there are REAL graphics/multimedia projects that pay in the thousands, where it's possible to earn $60 or more an hour after expenses are considered, but where??

It seems that the people who are well off have a lot of investment real estate, own radio stations and live off the ad revenue, or are Wall Street day traders, like my neighbor. Everyone else is slogging along working two menial jobs and popping pills just to stay awake on the job. I have another neighbor who's in the latter unfortunate situation, and they look haggard and worn out way too early for their years.

So where are all the good jobs? Where is the money at these days? Is there some top-secret society of graphics people that get to choose from an elite pool of clients that I don't know about? Or are all the great animations and graphics we see on television being done by poor fools earning less than $7/hour?

I'm under a lot of pressure to increase my income, as it seems that local government is tightening its grip around the necks of it's victims taxpayers. I need a steady $60/hr income to keep the wolves at bay, but I'm not finding it online these days. Spammers easily surpass that. I'm sure too that the scammers and credit card thieves are enjoying a lifestyle I'll never achieve again. But where is the money for honest, hard-working designers, multimedia enthusiasts and video/sound professionals? The local market has been a series of closed doors. It seems the industrial door to door sales is dead.

Why am I finding myself selling off all my precious items on ebay just to come up with bill money each month? My income is shifting away from real work and more toward coming from PayPal deposits. But I have a finite number of items to sell off and when they are gone, that income stops.

Before that happens, I had hoped that some of these referral services were the solution to the income problem. But from what I've seen perusing the rather paltry selection of projects up for bid, and the pathetic price range of these bids, I am feeling an impending sense of financial doom.

Fifty years ago, a man could work a simple wage job, have a decent home, a wife at home that cooked and cleaned and raised the kids and gave them proper love and attention, and life was good. Today, we both have to work, and there still isn't enough money to pay the bills and the taxes both. And the wages for both full-time jobs as well as consulting 'job shop' work have tanked. My wife's company's new CEO is withholding this year's raises indefinately. The whole situation leaves me pronostacating that the proverbial excrement is about to collide with the rotating propeller.


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