I’m going to say something, and it is astounding to me that this is controversial: creative people should be paid for their work.
Writers. Artists. Speakers. Bloggers. Film makers. Sculptors. Musicians. Graphic designers. Actors. Directors. Set designers. Textile artists. Landscapers. All of them.
I’ve heard the most assinine reasons given for why these people should NOT be paid. Most of the time it’s “exposure!” Translation: everyone will see your work here and will want to hire you for other work! Which is ridiculous, because no other industry works like that. Imagine seeing these ads …
“Design a database for one of our clients and you’ll be added to our list of database developers. Our website sees tons of traffic, and they will all see your name! EXPOSURE!”
“Teach in our school for a semester and parents will be clamoring for their school to hire you for real! EXPOSURE!”
“Work for free and we’ll provide you a reference”
“Work for free and our unique platform will get your name out there”
“WORK. FOR. FREE.”
You hear that last one? That’s what I hear in every one of those “exposure!” offers. The reason they can get away with it is twofold: 1) creative people undervalue their work, and 2) so many others are doing it, the big guns can get away with it. It seems to be either “We’re so big we shouldn’t have to pay, bc exposure” or “We’re so small we can’t pay, but we’re PASSIONATE about it.” Oprah did it. The TED talks do it. (Oh, but you get to see all the other TED talks! Bitch please. Speakers don’t get into public speakings so they can watch other people speak.) The Huffington Post does it. I see it everywhere.
I have never heard any creative person say they got their start by doing work for free, and cashed in on all the exposure. It probably happens to a very, very small minority, but it is not a probable path to sustainable work. The solution, really, is for creative people to stop undervaluing their work, and to stop providing content for free. Then, when the leeches who sustain themselves on the unpaid work of other people shrivel up and fold, we’ll be left with the ones who can pay.
I’ve heard the argument that creative people who put their work out there for free are somehow more “pure” than people who make money with their art. This is horse shit. It’s just a half-assed justification for not paying for someone’s work. There’s no real life correllation whatsoever. So fuck that reasoning, it’s not real.
DIGRESSION #1: YOUR PASSION
There is something to be said for volunteer work for the arts and for working “for free” at your own passion project. Plenty of people do this, and it’s NOT THE SAME THING as a profitable company getting content for free when they could very well pay. If you do something for the joy of it, then cool, have at it. Enjoy yourself. But don’t let a company profit from your work when they ought to be paying for it.
DIGRESSION #2: FAN WORKS
I have recently been on the sidelines while two groups of people railed at each other over Ko-Fi. Long story short: putting a Ko-Fi or a Paypal or some other donate button on their website allows people to essentially “buy a coffee” for someone whose work they enjoy. A number of fan fiction writers and fan artists include one on their website. I was quite pleased with this notion and immediately “bought a coffee” for my favorite fan fiction writer (who can write like a SON OF A BITCH, lemme tell ya.) The Internet then exploded into a herd of rabid monkeys, hollering (among other things) that fan fiction writers and artists shouldn’t make money with their work, was this even legal, who do they think they are getting paid when so many other writers don’t get paid, fan fiction isn’t about money, etc. All of which are COMPLETE CRAP REASONS to prevent another person from putting a “tip jar” on their personal website.
Personally, I think it would be lovely if fan fiction writers and artists were able to make money with their work, because it is still creative work, still provides value to someone (the fans and, to some extent, the original creators, because it keeps the original work’s relevance going longer.) Perhaps something along the lines of “fair use,” with a portion going to the original creator, I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer, or a web designer, the actual implementation is beyond me. But the presence of fan-created content is relevant enough, prevalent enough, and frankly, GOOD enough that this warrants consideration. I think it’s time to have that conversation, as a society. The notion that fan writers and artists are somehow morally obligated to NOT accept anything for their work, including a voluntary tip jar, is not only ludicrous but indicative of sour grapes. My own Ko-Fi, by the way, is right here. And these over here are my own fan fictions. It’s kind of like geological strata of my movie obsessions.
So with that in mind, I’d like to encourage you to buy your favorite creative person a coffee. Or introduce creative people to business people who may have a use for their talent. Or review your friend’s book. (Ahem. Like here.) Tell them their work is worth something. And call out the assholes who leech off of them.