Original photo by George Hodan, courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net. And yes, I tipped the photographer.
A Huffington Post editor contacted Wil Wheaton (best known for his role as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek TNG) and asked permission to republish a post from his blog Wil Wheaton dot Net. When Wheaton asked what Huff pays, the editor answered, “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.”
Unable? Really? The Huffington Post is worth upwards of $4.4 billion. Bloggers bring in clicks which translate into advertising dollars. Bloggers also bring in comments via Facebook sign-in (the only way Huff allows comments), which translate into consumer behavior tracking dollars. And Huffington Post budgets zero to pay their bloggers? How is that possible?
The answer is simple: Why should they pay, when good writers agree to work for free? Because it’s the right and fair thing to do? Puh-leeze. Business is business.
As a freelance copy writer, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been offered the “opportunity” to “stay busy,” if I will only lower my fees to, say, a penny per word. My response is always the same: No thanks. I rarely jump at the chance to do more work for less pay.
No tears are shed. The offer passes to the next writer. And the more writers accept these lowball or no-pay offers, the more companies expect writers to work for nothing. Even multibillion-dollar companies like Huffington Post. And that drives down the market value of our work.
This expectation does not just affect writers, though. People in all creative fields suffer from artist exploitation.
It’s up to us to say no. If professional-level artists–writers, photographers, web designers, performers, and all ‘creatives’–refuse to work for free (or for pennies), the quality of work obtained for free will go down, and the market for quality work will go up. Buyers will be willing to pay a fair price in exchange for professional quality material, and everyone wins.
I applaud Wil Wheaton for standing up for the dignity and worth of all writers–and all artists–by refusing permission to the Huffington Post. He wrote about it in a blog post titled, You can’t pay your rent with ‘the unique platform and reach our site provides.’ Isn’t that a great title? Wil Wheaton just might be my new hero, based on that title alone.
That is not to say that artists should never work for free. From time to time, I offer writing (besides this blog) for free, either to promote my own work or to support causes that I believe in. Besides writing, I crochet for charity, which gives me personal satisfaction. I sometimes lower my editing fees or offer free assistance to newbie writers that I have a personal connection with, if I like and believe in their work. That’s networking, because professional connections and word-of-mouth referrals naturally follow.
But that’s very different. If I offer my work out of benevolence, or to build my portfolio, or as part of a give-and-take professional arrangement, that’s one thing. But if someone comes to me and asks for a piece of my time, my efforts, my creativity, my ability, my life, and then tells me that my creation is worth nothing to them, that I should thank them for the opportunity to be used in this way, that’s degrading and insulting. And if I accept that, it drives down the market value of creativity. It devalues the work of all artists.
Writer and social media guru, Kristen Lamb, explains how creatives got into this mess and how we can get out, in her blog post, A Culture Addicted to FREE—How FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives. She is setting up a new website that will include a place to link to blogs on this topic permanently.
Writers have power. We have changed the world more than a few times. If you’re a writer, write about this. Let’s change it.
If you write a post about artist exploitation, please post the link in the comments section below, and link back to this blog, and to Kristen Lamb’s blog.