There's a minor brouhaha going on over the $45,000 speaking fee Neil Gaiman recently charged to give a talk at a public library. You can read all about it at the link if you want. I admit my first reaction was "Well, that does seem like quite a bit…" until I read Neil's awesome FAQ about the fee:
Q. How can I get Neil Gaiman to make an appearance at my school/convention/event?
A. Contact Lisa Bransdorf at the Greater Talent Network. Tell her you want Neil to appear somewhere. Have her tell you how much it costs. Have her say it again in case you misheard it the first time. Tell her you could get Bill Clinton for that money. Have her tell you that you couldn't even get ten minutes of Bill Clinton for that money but it's true, he's not cheap.
On the other hand, I'm really busy, and I ought to be writing, so pricing appearances somewhere between ridiculously high and obscenely high helps to discourage most of the people who want me to come and talk to them. Which I could make a full time profession, if I didn't say 'no' a lot.
UPDATE: Neil has a new blog post about the topic that goes into even more detail for those who care to read it. You should. Here are some tidibts:
"The vast majority of the events I do and of the talks, lectures or readings I give are done for free, often as charity fundraisers"
"I figure money like that, sort of out-of-the-blue windfall money, is best used for Good Deeds, so I let a couple of small and needy charities (one doing social work, the other library/book based) know that I would be passing the money on to them"
"The scary thing is that if you are (to pick a couple of real-life examples from the last few years) an advertising congress or the R&D department of a multinational car company, I charge a lot more than that to come and speak."
Also, Cory weighed in with a good comment on the issue.