Friday, May 12, 2006

What things Cost...

This rant was originally written for NORSEFOLK - a discussion group for people interested (primarily) in re-creating the Viking Age. I've edited it into a stand alone article here:

"...I'm thinking of starting to quote people in terms of their own
incomes. "That will cost one week's pay" sort of thing...."

In my OWN dealings with the general public I have to admit that I have been following that same method of 'relative value' for some long time now. As you might guess (those who have checked the web site) I have a number of 'oars in the water' that I use to support myself. I have been a self employed artisan since 1992. To call this state 'making a living' might be over stressing what I consider a 'living' - at least compared to what the defined National Poverty Income Threshold is pegged at! (but I digress - again...)

So to re-enforce what Meghan has said in the quote - how about object price / value as a reflection of :
cost of raw materials
time of production
skills required
specialized equipment

I've added that last on there. The conversation was drifting towards textiles, but still consider the 'cost' (under the same framework) invested in the loom required for weaving the cloth. Remember to consider maintaining the work space in there too.

And as suggested - linking the relative value of an object back to modern day wages is a very good idea. What does even a factory worker make in a day? Much less someone of comparable training and acquired skills? One good measure (at least for Canada) is the pay levels of historic interpreters at major (Federal / Parks Canada) living history museums. Last I checked (10 years ago), trained historic interpreters make something in the range of $15 - $17 per hour (with benefits). Those considered 'artisans' with technical training or skills were in the range of $23 - $25. (When I stopped working at Black Creek in 1992, I was earning $24 K per year on a 9 month season.)

That should suggest a 'pay rate' of something like $500 plus a week - or at least $100 a day. Personally, with over 25 years in my own field, with my education and skills, I figure I should be considered to be roughly the equivalent of a mid level high school shop teacher - at least some place about $50 K - or $1000 per week.

Please don't fall into the trap of looking at flat hours at a work bench as the final cost of an object. As was correctly described by someone - bear in mind things like research time. In fact, my own experience is that actual PRODUCTION is at best something closer to only 30 - 25% of the total time expended 'at work'. Several people talked about various alternate sources of raw (fabric) materials. What about the time required to find those sources - and travel to them for purchasing? What about the time required (again mentioned) in discussing the project itself with the potential customer? Specialized set up for a specific project? Filling out government business paperwork? Promotion (like the time this message has taken!)?

In a 'normal' week I an involved in 'business activities' roughly 50 - 60 hours. I typically spend from 7:30 through at least 10:30 on communications, promotion related, required business paperwork. On any given day if I actually am inside the workshop for 3 hours I consider that a productive day. I normally 'work' 13 1/2 days out of 14. Every weekend from roughly early April to mid November is tied up with teaching, shows or demonstrations. 'Holidays' are traveling - and then working.

Another factor to consider is that experience and skill (not necessarily the same thing) and investment in specialized tools all can decrease the relative time it takes for physical production. I can do things now in much less time it took me to do the same operation - 20 years ago. Should an object cost less because that acquired skill has reduced the time expended? I personally invested in a quite expensive air hammer for the shop, plus the air compressor to run it - then spent about a week installing it. This greatly speeds the time required for some work, plus certainly reduces the physical effort expended. Should I charge less now for an object using that tool because of all that investment?

So my end conclusion here is - you get what you pay for. Skill has value. Knowledge has value. Good quality work is worth what the artist requests. Sure - we all like to haggle, and maybe there is some wiggle room. Appreciate the value of craftsmanship, and never forget the highly specialized requirements of the objects that duplicate lost historic artifacts or utilize hard learned traditional skills.


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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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