By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)
Over the last couple of months, an online debate has risen about whether creatives deserve to be paid for their work or whether they should work for free or for “exposure.” By creatives, I mean those who produce intellectual property or the like for the purpose of entertaining an audience—writers, musicians, dancers/performance artists, etc.
(If you’re a reader rather than a writer, this post isn’t for you. Instead please read Kassandra Lamb’s excellent post A Reader’s Look Behind the Curtain Re: eBook Pricing and Kindle Unlimited. She talks about what readers, rather than writers, need to know about the issue at hand.)
On one side of the firestorm sits Kristen Lamb. In her post “How the Culture of Free is Killing Creatives,” Kristen put out the call for writers to stop allowing themselves and their work to be exploited. Is this a career for you? Then you should be paid for your work. As Will Wheaton said in his post on the topic, you can’t pay your rent with exposure.
On the other side are opinions like that expressed by Joe Konrath on his blog: “No one owes me a living. A sense of entitlement is a dangerous thing. If you’re lucky, you’ll find readers. If you’re really lucky, you’ll make a few bucks. But just because you can string a few pretty sentences together doesn’t mean you get to earn a living.”
Many other posts have followed, including Jami Gold’s practical take on it in “Should We Work for Free?”
At the bottom of all of this is a question of value. Do you think what you do is valuable? Do you believe your work is valuable?
Because if your work has value, then you do deserve to be paid for it.
I’m not a fan of people claiming a situation is black and white. The truth is that most of our world is greyscale. It’s nuance. It’s caveats and exceptions.
So look carefully again at what I just said: If your work has value, then you deserve to be paid.
Something of value is something that people want.
We don’t deserve to be paid for what we write if it’s not good and if no one wants it. No one is obligated to pay us just because we decided to write something. If I went out and bought a box of cookies, brought them to your house and left them there, then expected you to pay for them, that’d just be crazy. It’d be even crazier if those cookies were moldy or soggy or covered in dirt.
If, however, someone enjoys our work, if someone wants to read it, then yes, we should be paid for that. That’s not entitlement. It’s supply and demand. If you asked me to buy those same cookies for you, and then refused to pay me back for them, that’d be rude, wouldn’t it?
There’s a big difference there. Will Wheaton pointed it out in his post. He didn’t contact Huffington Post asking to write for them. They contacted him. They wanted his work, but they weren’t willing to pay for it. Performance artist Revolva said the same thing in her open letter to Oprah Winfrey when she was contacted by the producers for Oprah’s The Life You Want tour. She didn’t ask them if she could perform. They sought her out. But they expected her to perform for free.
But wait, you might say. If you query a magazine or a book publisher, you made the first move. Does that mean you shouldn’t expect to be paid?
Nuances, remember? Who approached whom isn’t the only factor in whether you deserve to be paid or not.
If someone wants to use your creative property to make money, then you deserve to make money too.
You know what it’s called when one person uses another person’s hard labor to make money and doesn’t reimburse them for their hard work, right?
And we’re not talking about volunteering to help a charity or a good cause here. We’re talking about a for-profit business earning income from someone else’s work without paying that person for the work.
To quote Taylor Swift’s response to Apple’s plan to not pay musicians, song writers, and producers for three months, “It is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing.”
(Jami does a great job in the post I linked above about discussing whether or not the payment always needs to be money. I agree with what she said, so I’ll direct you there for the answer to that inevitable question.)
The point of all this is that if we don’t value and respect ourselves and our work, no one else will. If we don’t draw our line in the sand somewhere, eventually we won’t have the option of earning money for our creative work. Eventually it won’t matter how good our work is because we’ll have accepted non-payment for so long that no one will value what should be valuable.
And that would be a sad day not only for creatives but for our society and culture as a whole.
So, creatives, value yourselves. Value your work. Work hard to make something others will value. Then expect to be paid for it.
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