Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Make Money When You Can Work Hard for a Pat on the Back Instead?

Are there a lot of plumbers or electricians or mechanics that I don't know about who go to people's homes and work entirely for free for the exposure and experience?

I'm not talking about someone volunteering to help out a poor family, or doing a favour for a family or friend, or a worker who is an apprentice.

I'm talking about a fully trained and experienced skilled tradesperson working for a wealthy family, but not getting any financial compensation. Instead, they get the promise of several references to other rich families. Is this a business model that I've just been unaware of for several years?

I'm going to make a crazy guess here, and say that this doesn't happen. Ever.

Yet in creative sectors like visual arts or photography or acting or music or writing, you do see this stuff. A lot. There are big, wealthy companies that expect the creative person's services to be done for free, but with the promise of exposure to a huge audience. Though of course this company isn't just hoping for exposures, they're making big bucks off ad revenue or maybe even charging their audience. The crazy part is that there are suckers who willingly provide their skills for free on a daily basis. All with the hope that this "exposure" will be the magnificent as a unicorn kind of break they've been yearning for.

Why is it that successful websites or publications can get away with not offering up a fair rate for high quality content?

I've come across a few sites or companies that will offer me a chance to write some articles or reviews for them, but add that they do not pay. They then usually talk about the amazing exposure I would get by writing for their large site. I then notify them that in 2012, you still can't pay your mortgage by exposure and get back to me when they become a real business.

I'm not whining about every single company that deals with artists (visual, musicians, actors, writer, etc.). There are many companies that do pay. There are even companies that pay really well. There are wealthy artists, and there are even wealthy artists that aren't necessarily famous. It is because they found companies that pay decent rates, because these companies realize artists are skilled thus deserve to be compensated appropriately.

The problem is there are far too many companies that are making money and are successful that either pay their contributor shit or don't even compensate them at all (unless you count "exposure" as compensation -- which you shouldn't).

I think it is absolutely ridiculous that companies can actually get away with getting premium services for free. But I also don't really fault them either. If a sucker is willing to work for free, then why not take advantage of that fact. It is profiting off the stupidity of others. I don't think it is right, but I can see why they do it. The problem lies more with the countless artists that are so desperate to break into their desired creative fields that they're willing to shortchange themselves now for promises of a golden future.

I know a certain site that attracts a huge flock of readers on a daily basis, and they provide a wide assortment of content. This site also has some pretty big sponsors, and also provides a glossy magazine with a subscription charge. They're also owned by a large media conglomerate. This company is making a pretty decent chunk of change. They have a large army of contributors, who offer up articles and product reviews. The big kicker is that they don't pay most of the contributors, because they only pay for very specific types of articles (and even then, it is shit pay). Yet, they have a lot of writers. How do they get regular contributors, when they don't offer up fair compensation?

You have the one group of writers that only see writing as a hobby. It is something they do after work or to unwind on a weekend. They aren't expecting compensation. They don't view it as a future career. They're just happy to see their name in print. They probably would be shocked if someone was willing to pay them, because they don't view themselves as talented enough.

You then have the other group that dream night and day about a career as a writer. They are so desperate to break in to the industry, and be able to call themselves a professional writer. They'll take almost anything from someone who is willing to print their work. The desperation is so high that they will even be willing to work for free, if there is the magical promise of huge exposure. They probably realize exposure doesn't pay for their mortgage, but they may believe this exposure will lead to them being discovered by a billion dollar company just begging to throw huge sacks of cash at them. This group is delusional.

Let's say there was a plumber who worked for a wealthy family, and did it for no compensation but just the promise of references. This plumber may be the most talented guy in the world. He is also now building up a reputation as the guy who works for free. If you found out that the plumber worked for free for your friend, would you really be excited to pony up some cash? I'm guessing you would be hoping to land the same rate. Free.

Now, I'm not saying you're a complete fool if you work for free. I realize some artists just do things as a hobby and really don't want compensation. I can appreciate that. You may be an actor at a local theatre company, and it would be rather silly to expect financial compensation that would provide for your family. You write for a fanzine that is circulated among a small group of hardcore fans. You may offer up your skills for a non-profit organization. In these types of cases, I don't think you need to expect compensation. You're volunteering or you're doing it for fun. But also these companies aren't doing it for a profit, and likely aren't making much money (other than just covering their overhead costs).

A website that rakes in thousands and thousands of dollars a month from ad revenue doesn't need volunteers. A large publishing company that sells their hardcovers for $35.00 doesn't need the author to work pro bono. If the company is making money, and your contributions are playing a part, then you really need to snag your piece of the sweet financial pie. There are far too many artists that are so desperate to get exposure or be called an actor or writer or musician, that they'll willing offer their services for free and let the company reap the rewards. This is ridiculous.

There are companies that pay really, really, really well. There are a lot of opportunities to make good money in the creative sectors. But there is also just as many opportunities to get suckered. This is because there are so many suckers. There will continually be companies that pay shit or don't pay at all, as long as there are suckers who happily do work for "exposure."

Sometimes it might be okay to do work just for exposure. You could be just starting out, and no company wants to hire an unproven artist. You better make sure this company will promote your work properly and you actually will get that exposure. You also better be sure you maintain all your rights to that work so that one day you can make money off it.

I also realize the problem of sites and companies not offering fair rates aren’t going to disappear any time soon. Even if I am able to convince every artist who reads this that they should demand rates that are fair to their skills, there are still thousands of artists so desperate to be called a writer or actor or musician that they'll work for free. It is just how these industries work. People like the "fame" of having their name in print or being seen up on a stage. They will turn off any business sense, and rip off themselves off to get that "fame," Artists are notoriously known as bad business people and being really bad with money, and it comes from their need to be known to the point they'll give up proper compensation. The big companies know this fact, and will exploit it. It won't change. It sucks.

I’ve said it before, and I want to hammer it into your head, there are many companies that pay really well. There are many opportunities to makes big cash. You just have to work harder to find them. You have to be willing to be a business person and negotiate yourself a great rate. You also have to be willing to laugh at companies that promise you exposure rather than cash. You can get both exposure and cash. You need market yourself properly. It’s easy to have the low paying jobs, because every hack artist gravitates towards them (there are offers all over Craigslist). It is the artist who takes the time to either effectively self-promote themselves or go searching for the high paying companies that actually get exposure and money to pay the mortgage.

Because a pat on the back is nice, but paying that electricity bill is even better. Most skilled workers expect to get paid, and artists should be the exact same.

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