Swap Shop: The Art of Bartering Services in Comics

Australian comikers have a long history of swapping their published works with those of their peers in order to support each other and build their respective libraries. Similarly, many comics creators have been known to barter services to bring a project to fruition. Some of these arrangements have worked out well and others have been abysmal, owing to the fact that the exchange was marred by a lack of equality, accountability, and a clash of core values.

So, what exactly is bartering and what are the bigger issues in a successful bartering proposition within the comics community?

Bartering is the act of exchanging goods and services – something you have for something you need or want – without using money. These arrangements are usually done face-to-face, although the internet is providing a platform for bartering directly with another person or via a third-party facilitated transaction.

In comics, the usual form of barter occurs with skills. For example, a comics editor might offer his or her proofreading talents to a graphic designer who in turn delivers a logo or masthead design in exchange. Similarly, a comics letterer might do some lettering for a comics artist in exchange for some character concept art. There are any number of possibilities to bartering services in comics.

The major goal of bartering is to create a win: win situation for both parties. It is particularly helpful in the start-up phase of a comiker’s professional career. Where both parties share the same core values of honesty and integrity then the alliance invariably succeeds. However, when one party delivers to expectation and promise, and the other party doesn’t and there are no mitigating circumstances that prevented the exchange from happening, then the consequences will invariably manifest as a profound lack of trust and long-term hostility and resentment from the injured party, and a relationship breakdown. One person is out of pocket in terms of the value assigned to their skillset and the time spent on realising the promise of the barter, whereas the second person walks away with a freebie.

What Can Be Bartered?

Any goods (comic books, graphic novels, zines, paints, paper, art equipment, etc) or services (proofreading, editing, graphic design, scriptwriting, art, etc) that is desired by another person in the comics community can be bartered.

What are the advantages to bartering?

  • Bartering services can help move a project forward where parties are unemployed or have limited cash flow.
  • Bartering can help reduce costs / expenses with your small business, as both parties still get paid (in kind) for their work effort.
  • A job well done can lead to both parties referring their bartering partner to other people who are wanting to pay for those services.

What are the disadvantages to bartering?

  • Lack of availability of the skill you require.
  • Double coincidence of wants or needs.
  • Unequal value to the barter.
  • Disreputable individual or internet platform.
  • Lack of delivery between one or both bartering partners.

How do you find somebody to barter with?

If you have something to trade and nobody to trade it with, then post a bartering request on one of the Australian Facebook comics groups of pages or via Twitter networks, telling potential parties what you have to offer and what want in exchange. You can also set up a specialised barter group on a social media (closed group) platform such as Facebook where you can trade services with other Aussie comics creators.

Bartering Best Practices

  • Barter only what you need or want.
  • Offer only a skillset that you can provide easily.
  • Ensure there is an understanding of a real market value for the services provided from each party.
  • Aim to create a win: win situation for both parties.
  • If it’s not a value-for-value proposition, then avoid it.
  • Work with a person who shares the same core values as you, such as integrity and honesty.
  • Be specific about the terms of the agreement.
  • Keep copies of your business related expenses.
  • Be aware that bartering and trade exchanges are subject to being taxed. Consult the Australian Taxation Office for information: https://www.ato.gov.au/Business/GST/In-detail/Rules-for-specific-transactions/Barter-and-trade-exchanges/
  • Be specific about the terms of the barter such as the services being bartered, the scope of the services, value attached to each service and the delivery deadlines and summarise them in writing in an email or agreement.
  • You can also bank time in a barter exchange, for example, if you put in two hours of your time then you can barter off two hours of the second party’s time in regard to your respective skills.
  • If you do not receive the agreed service, the other party agreed to barter with you then invoice them for the value of the time you spent in fulfilling the agreement.
  • Meet in public places if you do not know the person with whom you want to barter.
  • Remain cautious if things sound too good to be true.
  • Avoid bartering a skill-set if you are unwilling to provide them or it is something you feel you will regret.
  • Take responsibility for your end of the trade.

When a barter goes right then it can be a rewarding experience for both parties and can move them to accomplishing their goals. However, break your promises at your peril. Comics creators operate in informal networks and they share intel. If you do not deliver, word will get out and you will be invariably be perceived as unprofessional and others will avoid you or decline to work with you.

Remember that the reciprocal deal needs to be closed to mutual satisfaction for it to be a positive outcome.

© Julie Ditrich, 2019

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