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The Sliding Scale: An alternative pricing system for creatives

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

When we look at the system we experience at the moment we are confronted by a capitalist system that uses marketing and sales technique to make us feel bad so we buy things that are not necessary for our real well-being. Brands make us believe that their products are superior and will make you feel better than other brands and therefore are worth more and you have to pay more for. The effect that has is that low-income households are not able to pay for that brand while high-income households can. Dividing our system into a class system where only specific people can buy specific goods and services. This is just one aspect of so many that place us in a class structure.

We rarely talk about this in our education or culture at large, what class actually is, how money and access to resources play a role in it, and how it also interacts with race, gender, ability, privilege, sexuality, and the myriad of identities we all hold.

As a person who has the privilege and is offering services and products my responsibility is to talk and most importantly act upon these concepts if I want to see a world that is more socially and economically just. So by introducing sliding scale prices, I as a business owner can start to take responsibility and begin a conversation around class and access.

These are my current thoughts. As I learn and develop these can and will change and I will update them in future articles in which I will share how the Sliding Scale worked for me as a queer white female artist.

My need to offer a sliding scale pricing structure was the urge to give access to my art and my work to the beautiful and powerful variety of businesses and individuals. I realized that I was already doing it by giving occasional discounted prices or working for less or in exchange for a good or service with NGO’s and small businesses that I wanted to support because I was so passionate about their cause, but who wouldn’t have been able to afford it without me lowering my price. So I questioned my approach to pricing and to access and decided that it is time to look into alternative pricing structures.

What alternative Pricing Structures are an option?

  • We live in a world where money gives us access to basic needs so doing work for free, while already giving a lot of access to free content (like artwork and blog posts), is not an option.

  • Creating work in exchange for goods and services is a possibility but has its limits. For example, it will be really hard to find one client that offers you housing, one that offers you food, one that offers you clothes, and so on. It is possible in individual cases but difficult to build long-term. If you think you have an exchange that would suit my needs don't hesitate to ask.

  • Working donation-based is a possibility but difficult when the person donating has no concept or understanding about the time and effort that is put into the work. Which is often the case in creative work.

So when I discovered the sliding scale as an option to give access to my work to a variety of people while still being able to survive on what I was receiving it made a lot of sense to me that this seemed to be a solution.

So what is the Sliding Scale?

Here is what Wikipedia says: “Sliding scale fees are variable prices for products, services, or taxes based on a customer's ability to pay. Such fees are thereby reduced for those who have lower incomes, or alternatively, less money to spare after their personal expenses, regardless of income.”

The Sliding Scale represents the idea that your income should not be the only factor playing a role in whether or not you can access a product or service. As a person who is speaking, sharing, and making art around cultural diversity and equality, giving people access to what I am doing has to be a major part of my business model. I make sure that there is accessibility to everyone who would like to experience my art, service, or products.

What Impact does that have on my art business?

Typically a sliding scale is used by service providers and institutions who receive outside funding (for example in healthcare that is often the case). In my case, as a small creative business, I do not receive outside funding so for me to use the Sliding Scale I need to take into consideration what I am able to offer while still supporting myself.

So my sliding scale version has a 2 points pricing structure. It starts at my minimum price or hourly rate (in which I can still survive) to the regular price or hourly rate. You can read about other sliding scale versions here.

In all price points, I take into consideration that I invest a lot of time and love into figuring out the best possible way to create high-quality work for you. Whether that is a portrait commission, a blog article, an editorial illustration, or a whole illustration concept. Or whether it is as an original or art print, where I put a lot of effort into producing and packaging locally and sustainably.

So where am I on the sliding scale?

In most cases when working commission-based we will discuss pricing in a first call where you can share your project and your business situation and we will agree on the terms and pricing structure of the commission. There are always special circumstances when you are an NGO or a start-up. So don't be shy, let's talk about it.

When you buy in the shop you will have the option to choose between Low Budget and Regular. For this model to work you need to be honest with yourself and your financial situation. But while I ask you to consider these factors, please don’t stress about them. Pay what feels right. I will not ask questions or quiz you on your payment choices.

Consider paying less on the scale if you:

  • are a person who experiences discrimination and/or violence related to systematic oppression

  • have medical expenses not covered by insurance

  • have medical expenses, been denied work, or experience discrimination related to ableism

  • are eligible for public assistance

  • have immigration-related expenses

  • are a sex worker who experiences occupational discrimination (personal or legislative)

  • are an unpaid community organizer

  • are a returning citizen who has been denied work due to incarceration history

  • are supporting children, family members in need or have other dependents

  • are an elder with limited financial support

Consider paying more on the scale if you:

  • own the home you live in

  • have investments, retirement accounts, or inherited money

  • travel recreationally

  • have access to family money and resources in times of need

  • work part-time by choice

  • have a relatively high degree of earning power due to level of education, gender privilege, racial privilege, thin privilege, class background, etc. Even if you are not currently exercising your earning power, I ask you to recognize this as a choice.

If you would like to share these thoughts please feel free to do so. You can use the visual and also share my words. I only ask that you give credit as I do. My words were inspired by Alexis J. Cunningfolk, Meghan Gilmore, Claire Louise Travers, Ride Free: Fearless Money, Margeaux Feldman.

Inspiring Businesses that already implemented a form of the Sliding Scale outside of education and healthcare:

Sweetgreen - Restaurant

Two Roots Shop - Jewellery

Rolling Grocer - Grocery Shop

Lund Hair - Hairdresser

Ritual Dyes - Knitting Tools and Products

What about you?
Would you consider pricing your product or service on a sliding scale?
Where do you see challenges in this structure?
Do you use alternative pricing tools?
Let’s start a conversation. Comment below.