Paid what you’re worth

Type. Writer. © John MacPherson

Type. Writer. © John MacPherson

Interesting post on Salon that caught my attention ‘Will Wheaton is right: Stop expecting artists to work for free – or worse. for “exposure”

Basically wealthy publisher Huffington Post asked the actor for permission to republish his 3500 word blog piece on their site, he asks what they pay, they say we don’t pay but “you’ll get exposure”.

“Unfortunately, we’re unable to financially compensate our bloggers at this time. Most bloggers find value in the unique platform and reach our site provides, but we completely understand if that makes blogging with us impossible.”

He refused. Went public on Twitter, somewhat angry at their attitude, and gets a lot of support, but also a fair amount of ‘criticism’ in the comments on Salon with remarks like

“Exposure in HuffPo is worth something to some and those people are wise to let HuffPo carry their pieces. But if it’s not worth something to you, say no. Where is the controversy here?”


“….It’s true that their business model is to secure content without paying for it (or more precisely, paying for it in free publicity). But there’s nothing wrong with that model as long as the content providers understand that and freely agree to those terms.”

My take? It’s not an either/or argument. Yes maybe it is worth allowing your work to be used for free sometimes, I do when I think it is worth it to me and the user. But, truth is you should be able to have your cake and eat it as a creative; the publishers who use your work are certainly having two slices of the large rich gateau.

If HuffPo REALLY REALLY wanted to ‘offer’ something  as recompense –  they could easily agree to take the same ‘gamble’ of “exposure” they offer as a carrot to contributors and offer this deal:

“Hey creative person – whose work we’d like to reprint, let us use your work for ‘free’ and we’ll split the advertising revenue with you 50/50. If we make very little from carrying your piece on our site then we both lose out. If we make a real killing in ad revenue, then we both win! What do you say?”

Even I’d take a punt on that offer.

The fact that they don’t, and won’t probably even consider that idea (maybe I’m wrong?), in my opinion makes them exploitative.

When financially secure companies whose worth is measured in the tens of millions of dollars seeks to extract creative’s work on the promise of nothing except the fresh air of publicity, they are exploiting their position. And I’m not buying the red herring argument that creatives at the start of their career need to consider working for free because of the exposure it will get them.

The reality, the harsh reality is that it’s precisely THAT time in their career when they need to be paid. Even modest trickles of income can make the difference between people making their creativity a career, or giving up.

And if they give up, we ALL lose. We need to invest in creativity for it to flourish.

Author — John Macpherson

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

Discussion (7 Comments)

  1. This is a sore subject for me lately and I’ve actually done what Wheaton did – said no. I’m part of a weekly podcast and this was one of the very topics we discussed. Too many for profit companies have abused the notion of “Exposure” while at the same time, deriving profit. This has got to stop otherwise we will be left with a level of mediocrity that will be very difficult to turn around. My $0.2 on the topic.

    • John MacPherson says:

      If everyone said NO they’d soon have to start paying! What annoys the most is that ALL the people who ask me for free work are being paid! I know this because I’ve asked them, and they really don’t like me pointing out the irony!

  2. A few years ago when my photography started to get some attention I got an e-mail from Architectural Review asking to use one or two photos in exchange for exposure. Being a freelance newbie I fell for the argument their was no budget for monetary compensation. Nonetheless the whole experience made me squeamish; I felt violated, but it was my own doing. A month later I was browsing on iTunes and somehow ran into Architectural Review’s issue for the month and saw an image of mine in the sample. What kicked me into a mental diatribe over how stupid I should feel was seeing they were selling the issue for X amount of dollars; they were getting money in exchange and I got jack shit. Exposure? I don’t have a single client that ever referred to seeing my work in that month’s issue –or any other publication– as a reason for approaching me later on. Frankly, I don’t care about exposure anymore. If there is one thing I’ve learned about the information age is that exposure or fame is very, very short lived and your only as good as the next photo that someone deems worthy of publication.

    • John MacPherson says:

      Thanks Luis. Me too. I said no. And have done several times. I’ve asked the question several times of these ‘freeloaders’ – “If you’ve found ME and want my work, why do I need your so-called exposure? Use my work and you’re getting to share my ‘aura’ – whats that worth to you?”

      They hang up.

  3. Thomas James Hole says:

    A more concise take on the issue.

  4. Adam Gasson says:

    An interesting come back to requests for work in exchange for exposure is to ask for case studies that show the increased exposure and commissions gained through the exposure. I’ve yet to find a single person that can provide either.

    Ultimately it’s horses for courses – to some the exposure may actually be useful, but the chances are you’re then at the stage of your career where earning money is a given and you need a platform to spread your word or vision. Essentially using it as PR. But for most of us we need to earn a wage to survive week to week, not top up an already impressive bank account.

    I personally have a massive issue with internet companies that take a zero risk approach to their business, offloading all risk (and cost) onto suckers eager to share the internet bubble. HuffPost and others are more than happy to take content but you know the second things get awkward they’ll drop the contributor like a rock and wave the ‘Oh we’re just a platform to enable publishing’ flag. The basic attitude of the new wave capitalists is they want everything for nothing and pay nothing for everything.

    • John MacPherson says:

      Thanks Adam. Yes its all take and no give with these people. I always ask if they’re being paid, which always seems to throw them as they approach this as if I’m going to immediately fall over with joy at their opportunity. (which speaks volumes!) Not one of them has said anything in reply other than Yes I’m Being Paid.

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