Throughout my life I have worked with and befriended scores of “creatives” – people who make a living using their artistic skills. From photographers and musicians to graphic artists and hairdressers, these are folks whose creative abilities provide society with entertainment and artistry (yes, I count a good haircut as art).
Something all creatives endure on a much too frequent basis is requests to provide their services for free. The requests come from friends and family, but also from major corporations and publishers. Sometimes, there is an offer of compensation in the form of “exposure to a larger audience” or free food and drink. The problem with that is you can’t pay your mortgage with chicken wings or website views. Creatives need – and deserve – to be paid for the work they do.
Actor/writer Wil Wheaton recently posted on his website (wilwheaton.net) about an exchange he had with an editor from The Huffington Post, which had asked for permission to repost his essay on things he had done to “reboot my life.” When Wheaton asked about compensation, the editor replied, “Unfortunately, we’re unable to financially compensate our bloggers at this time,” and noted the exposure Wheaton’s piece would receive on their site.
It’s not that HuffPo is unable to pay writers, it is that it is unwilling to do so. As Wheaton wrote: “(I)t’s the principle of the thing. Huffington Post is valued at well over ($50 million), and the company can absolutely afford to pay contributors. The fact that it doesn’t, and can get away with it, is distressing to me.”
Earlier this month, Toronto advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo created a video showing people in various businesses reacting to an actor’s request for them to provide their product or service to him “on spec,” which basically means “do this job for free and you could win yourself more business.” It is a request bigger companies make of small firms that are just starting out or looking to grow. And it’s awful.
The video (https://youtu.be/essNmNOrQto) is both amusing and insightful; the diner cook’s reaction is especially funny. The kicker is that everyone deserves to be paid an adequate fee for the product or service they provide, every time they provide it.
For decades, photographers have been asked to provide their services “on spec;” they also are asked to provide published images for free to the photo subjects or their family members, or to other publications under the argument, “It will give you more exposure, and you already were paid to shoot that anyway.” London-based photographer Jack Alexander recently posted an essay in which he argued in favor of doing more work for free.
“Put in the hours, work the long nights, say ‘yes’ to the free shoots,” he wrote. “This is where those that are serious about photography are separated from those who just like the idea of it. It’s the hustle that separates those of us who live for photography and the arts.”
The thing is, you can’t eat hustle. One of my former co-workers, photojournalist Tony Blei, rightfully mocked Alexander’s stance.
“As a professional, everything has an associated cost. I wonder what he’ll do when his camera breaks while doing a freebie that was a great opportunity,” Blei noted.
It’s a simple concept: Stuff costs money. When you want someone to provide a good or service, pay them an appropriate price for it. And if you are asking your creative friends to provide their services for free, you need to reconsider your actions.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.