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Fuck you. Pay me.
December 10, 2012 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Up and coming? Looking for exposure? Trying to break into a field? You might consider working on spec to get that name recognition, or even... for FREE!

But if you are looking for a professional to do something for you, I would strongly recommend you do not ask for it for free.

However, there are a number of professional folk who would like to tell you that this is a bad idea.
posted by drfu (84 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
There ought tO be an annual NOT WORKING FOR FREE awareness day or something.
posted by Artw at 2:59 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, all you really have to say is, "I'm sorry. It's not possible." And then move on to the next topic. It's liberating to respond with so little to anyone who demonstrates a keen lack of respect or consideration about the value of your work.
posted by mochapickle at 3:00 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fine. I'll ask Ellison instead.
posted by hal9k at 3:07 AM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


I work as a consultant and routinely help small businesses that cannot afford my usual fee. It's a small amount of my time and a large value for them and sometimes I need people to do free stuff for me so it all comes around. My dad, who worked for decades as an oral surgeon, routinely treated patients who could not afford his usual fee for free because they asked him. It's what ordinary people do.

Fuck You. Pay Me. is something else.
posted by three blind mice at 3:16 AM on December 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


What if I were Arianna Huffington?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:18 AM on December 10, 2012


Hard to respect anyone who shares content with Gawker.
posted by ambient2 at 3:21 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I never ask professionals to do stuff for free, though I do offer to barter my services for theirs if I think there is a good fit. (If they don't want to and I can't afford it otherwise, no worries.)

One thing I've noticed as I get older is that I get asked to do free stuff far less often than I did when I was wet behind the ears.
posted by maxwelton at 3:23 AM on December 10, 2012




I work with graduate students who get paid by the hour. Often enough, they will say things like "I want to finish this project; I'll stay off the clock and get it done." I tell them that they should value their time more. If the project didn't get done because they were screwing around in some way, maybe, but the more likely scenario is that the work took longer than we scheduled for them. There is no reason they should pay for that.

If it can't wait, my colleagues and I are salaried (and paid a lot better); we can get it done.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:31 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Other standard warnings include avoiding "competitions" where you end up handing your work away for free.
posted by Artw at 3:34 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What?

ALWAYS ask people to work for free.

The worst they can say is "no".

And you'd be surprised how many people will willingly do it.

Just don't ask me to write for your 'zine in exchange for movie tickets, because I will slit your tires.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:36 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


partial list of things Scalzi has written for free.
posted by HuronBob at 3:44 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine has a great rule. "I only work for free if it's my idea to offer my work for free".

He donates a lot of small things to friends' projects. He just never takes client work for free.
posted by kandinski at 3:45 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


partial list of things Scalzi has written for free.

This Scalzi guy has a lot of never asking him to write all that.
posted by Artw at 3:48 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now I want to see a list of whoever it is that is paying Ellison to piss.
posted by HuronBob at 3:57 AM on December 10, 2012


Listen, and understand! Ellison is out there! He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until he gets paid.
posted by Artw at 4:05 AM on December 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


I think the piss off comes from the "who" exactly is asking...is it a community member asking a poster's dad for free dental work, or is it an a$$ from Unilever trying to get you to write his slides for free?
posted by infini at 4:05 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another way to get the message across
posted by TedW at 4:09 AM on December 10, 2012


It's when the corporate goon comes back to you after you've done the job and asks you to take a pay cut. I really find that objectionable, I mean, I'm totally on Ellison's side.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:14 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know that this is any kind of universal wisdon; it's more down to personal circumstance.

I mean, I value the work I do highly, and my employer seems to agree, but my default response to someone asking me for something for nothing is this: subject to other pressures on my time, I'll do my best to be accommodating. It doesn't devalue my work - what I'm giving away for free is something I value very much. And as long as you have a certain degree of respect for that, you're welcome to my time.

Of course, I don't get asked for stuff every day. I'm not a popular author. It's all about whether the demands on your time exceed your capacity.
posted by pipeski at 4:14 AM on December 10, 2012


What if I were Arianna Huffington?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:18 AM on December 10


From the link:
You’re probably not Arianna Huffington in any event. And if you were Arianna Huffington and asked me to write for free, I would send you over to points one through three.
Hard to respect anyone who shares content with Gawker.
posted by ambient2 at 3:21 AM on December 10


....Huh, sounds suspiciously like sour grapes - did you just ask Scalzi to write something for you for free?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I dunno, couldn't he just write a form letter and send it to people? I understand why a guy who can pull down bank for his writing doesn't want to work for free, but I'm not sure I understand all the piss and vinegar here. Someone asks for something, saying no is a thing that's on the table, right? Just say no and go on with your day. Jesus.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:24 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


@kittens for breakfast: I suspect that the reasons are:

a) The more you get asked, the more annoying it gets.

Speaking as someone else who can 'pull down bank' for my writing: it annoys me too. Being casually asked 'Will you work for free?' is effectively being told, 'Your work isn't worth anything.'

And there's also a broader context: people do not, on the whole, respect writers financially. They tend not to respect a writer's financial privacy, for instance: not being as famous as Scalzi, I get asked for less free work, but I certainly will fantasise about kicking the shins of the next person who says, 'So you're a writer? How much money do you have?' - a question they never ask somebody who works in an office. It gets more annoying the more it happens. Sometimes you just want to give the world a piece of your mind. Which leads into...


b) A popular blog is a good place to turn your annoyance into a public performance, which is better 'exposure' than working for free on somebody else's project.

People do tend to say, 'Well gee, couldn't the writer have just sucked it up and acted grateful for Living The Dream?' every time a writer gets a little curt in public, but how loud they say it depends on who the writer is. Scalzi, being a man on the Internet and therefore liable to be criticised or disagreed with, but not to get the full-on 'Who does the uppity bitch think she is?' and 'Mommy I hate you why don't you love me?!' hate-fests that make women's lives so wearing. On the contrary, he can actually raise his status by a public display of anger, because from a man in his position, it looks like strength and self-respect. (Something that I doubt Scalzi himself would deny.)

So I suspect that the piss and vinegar is partly real - there's a lot of irritation hidden behind a lot of form letters, let's not forget - and partly a comic writer strutting his stuff to make a point and showcase his talents at the same time.

Writers often put things colourfully. That's kind of what makes somebody a writer.
posted by Kit W at 4:47 AM on December 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand all the piss and vinegar here. Someone asks for something, saying no is a thing that's on the table, right? Just say no and go on with your day. Jesus.

Well, the thing is, being asked to work for free is becoming a pretty regular thing for creative professionals. So much so, that it seems to have become a standard business practice. Back when being asked to work for free was, maybe, a once-a-year thing, a polite, simple "no" definitely sufficed.

Now, though, the proliferation of work-for-free requests is so common it almost seems that the real message being sent is "Work for free or never work again." And that pisses a lot of people off.

This work-for-free business seems to have followed hand-in-hand with what I've seen as a general decline in businesses really giving a crap. The explosion I've seen of, for instance, business materials with ridiculous typos, half-assed design, and obviously in-office printing complete with orange faces, has been depressing. And it pisses someone like me who really does care about the end-result for his clients.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:50 AM on December 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


What you will find is that as your profile and skill increase, the number of people asking you to do things for free -- just because there's a chance you'll say yes -- increases even more quickly. And some of the people asking absolutely do have a budget, they're just fishing for "free". This is why agents were invented, to stop moochers for asking producers for free all the time, and to get better prices from skinflints. But if you're popular on the internet everyone can bypass your agent and just ask you. Which turns into a lot of time spent reading requests from moochers. Which is time not spent doing your paid work.

I suggest, however, that everyone who gets asked make a policy of charging a flat $25 fee to read a request for "free" work. The fee is not refundable, unless your proposal is accepted. That way we cut down dramatically on the number of assholes who think "why not ask? what's the worst that could happen?" because the answer is "we are out $25".
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:51 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also sometimes do cut price work for charities or worthy causes. I always invoice at full price but show a discount.
posted by epo at 4:51 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a professional writer, I think there are two differently-inflected responses to requests for free work, depending on who is asking, and why. Small website, student-run fanzine, done-for-love-on-a-shoestring - my answer is 'no - sorry, I'm too busy'. Funded/commercially successful newspaper/magazine/event trying to blag free stuff? Fuck you, pay me.

I can understand why authors/poets/performers/musicians/artists/etc get cheesed because of the sheer volume of requests. And nuance is less funny than grar. But I can only really get worked up about the kind of requests Ellison mentions - rich, entitled companies. When it comes to stony broke enthusiasts, a polite 'no thank you' is more than sufficient.
posted by RokkitNite at 4:57 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone looking for a summation of the second link can find it in the exerpt below:

Here’s a handy tip to find out whether I will write for you for free: Are you me? If the answer is “no,” then fuck you, pay me.
posted by jadayne at 5:02 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes you simply must be an asshole. Like when your brother wants you to write his book for him for free but put his name as the author. I counteroffered with 50.00 a page per draft, 90 percent of royalties. It was never mentioned again.

And if you think people don't want to pay creators, let's not even discuss people finding out you're an editor and wanting to give you their hideous novel to edit for them for free. It's 400 double-sided handwritten pages, surely you can fix it up for them for fun?
posted by emjaybee at 5:06 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I also sometimes do cut price work for charities or worthy causes. I always invoice at full price but show a discount.

Talk to your accountant about this. It might be useful to invoice full price, get paid full price, and then cut a separate check for a donation back to the org. I've found that useful to keep everything segregated.
posted by mikelieman at 5:10 AM on December 10, 2012


If you read Scalzi's twitter feed you'll find that the party asking for free services also had the gall to ask for a "writing sample". That is the kind of clueless that deserves a 2x4 upside the head in a swift and brutal fashion.
posted by Ber at 5:14 AM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


And if you think people don't want to pay creators, let's not even discuss people finding out you're an editor and wanting to give you their hideous novel to edit for them for free. It's 400 double-sided handwritten pages, surely you can fix it up for them for fun?

Ugh, that one. I do give reports on people's books sometimes, but only if they come to me through a particular person, and only if I'm paid. I do it for at least two or three hundred pounds, which is probably undercharging in terms of time, but on the other hand, the work is interesting - though not interesting enough to do for free - and as no amount of advice can give people what they really want, which is a publishable book, giving money's worth is a delicate balance, and delicate balances are an interesting challenge in themselves.

An interesting business all round. But like I say, not so interesting that I'd do it for free.
posted by Kit W at 5:26 AM on December 10, 2012


Scalzi forgot yet another mumbling, mainly being asked to work for free because what we do is "fun" and therefore, not real work. Those of us in the arts/entertainment run into this a lot. It's also a problem in digital, because "the computer does the real work, anyway".

I used to do all sorts of free gigs, especially in web development, and it just led to all sorts of stress on my part having to deal with inevitable entitlement issues from my "boss". Today, I still do some work for free, but am very picky and will only do so if I get a good degree of creative control AND the gig fulfills one of two goals: 1) I learn something new and/or 2) it's REALLY fun. (Personal favors to colleagues notwithstanding, because that's its own sort of currency in my professional circles.)

My office also does occasional charitable work,and we always submit invoices that outline all of our hard costs and time spent. We can't recoup the time, but it does show the charity how much work went into their stuff. This is very important when they refer us to a paying client -- without the invoice, the charity undervalues our work, passes that on to the client, and then we have to work uphill to get the paying client to understand what they're paying for.
posted by Wossname at 5:32 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


British illustrator Mr Bingo has addressed this: Does Mr Bingo Work For Free?

(Contains swearing)
posted by DanCall at 5:42 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I work as a consultant and routinely help small businesses that cannot afford my usual fee. It's a small amount of my time and a large value for them and sometimes I need people to do free stuff for me so it all comes around. My dad, who worked for decades as an oral surgeon, routinely treated patients who could not afford his usual fee for free because they asked him. It's what ordinary people do.

And I think the world is a better place for it, too. And that the world would be even better if people spent less time employed for a buck and more time applying their talents doing good and/or for their own satisfaction.

This is kindof a problem spot for some kinds of work, though. Writing, music, visual arts... the expectation seems to be that often you aren't *required* to pay for these things, or you can get people to do them on spec, or that people will be content to be paid in "exposure".

Nobody does this for oral surgeons. When you ask one to work for free, you and they know it's charity and need-based.

When someone asks a writer to work for free, they may think it's just how things are done or smart business.
posted by weston at 5:48 AM on December 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I used to do all sorts of free gigs, especially in web development, and it just led to all sorts of stress on my part having to deal with inevitable entitlement issues from my "boss".

Yep, that one's familiar too. People are inclined to accept the value you set on yourself; if you don't insist on being paid, they think you're their servant. The worst treatment by far I've received has been from people I was doing work for out of niceness on my part.

Work for free, and people start to think of you as some kind of magical device that exists to express their thoughts for them, and act consequently bewildered and betrayed if you ever indicate in any way that you do, in fact, have a life and identity of your own.

Which may, of course, be another motivation behind the tone of 'Fuck you pay me'. It's not just 'I don't work for free'; it's 'I can see where this is going in your mind, and don't you bloody dare.'
posted by Kit W at 5:53 AM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


I thought Scalzi's entry might have crossed the line into cranky a little too far, honestly, though I realize a genre writer of moderate stature posting to his or her own blog is basically self-indulgently preaching to an room full of known sycophants, so I guess it's appropriate given that -- but I did enjoy the quotes John Barnes (another long-suffering and very talented sf writer) shared in his comment to the thread.

Thing is, *anyone* with a specific professional skill gets this sort of thing. As someone who's worked in high tech for a couple decades, I get asked all the time to fix people's computers for them and even to teach them (for free) how to make a web site, or edit video, etc., and I know my brother-in-law who has a car repair shop faces similar issues constantly.
posted by aught at 5:56 AM on December 10, 2012


When you do things for nothing, the work has a value of nothing
posted by Renoroc at 5:59 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


When you retired from your last professional fulltime job 7 years ago and its entirely different from what you're doing now and people still ask you for help, its just mindboggling.
posted by infini at 6:00 AM on December 10, 2012


John Barnes quoted:

“Writers, actors, and prostitutes all face the same fundamental economic problem: they are competing with amateurs who are pretty good and will work for nothing.” Moss Hart

...Makes me think of Dolores French, in her autobiography Working, complaining that clients of hers very often wanted her to stick around after sex and listen to their problems, and then accuse her of being just like every other woman if she pointed out that she got paid for her time and if they wanted an hour of sympathy, they'd have to pay for it just like they paid for an hour of sex.

The problem of clients who want amateur rates but know that if they asked an amateur, the amateur wouldn't do it at all.
posted by Kit W at 6:02 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Knitters in the thread, raise your hands if you've gotten this too.
posted by clavicle at 6:06 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


couldn't he just write a form letter and send it to people?

....You do know that what you were reading was his blog, right? Do you honestly think that he made this post as a Formal Announcement To Everyone In The World As Part Of My Business Practices and he's expecting everyone to instantly just, like, have it beamed into their inbox?

I understand why a guy who can pull down bank for his writing doesn't want to work for free, but I'm not sure I understand all the piss and vinegar here. Someone asks for something, saying no is a thing that's on the table, right? Just say no and go on with your day.

1. What makes you think he's NOT writing a form letter?

2. Don't you ever grumble about something that chaps your ass?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:12 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


See also No-Spec about the related exploitatie practice of poorly-thought out acceptance to Spec Work.
posted by lalochezia at 6:40 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


couldn't he just write a form letter and send it to people?

....You do know that what you were reading was his blog, right? Do you honestly think that he made this post as a Formal Announcement To Everyone In The World As Part Of My Business Practices and he's expecting everyone to instantly just, like, have it beamed into their inbox?


From the follow-up post:
Over at Metafilter, where there’s a thread open on this topic, someone asks: “I dunno, couldn’t he just write a form letter and send it to people?” The response: What do you think that entry was? I wrote it to point people at. It serves other purposes too (as people on that thread have also noted), but one very big reason to write it is to point free-seekers at later, so I don’t have write all this crap again, or at least, not for a few more years.

But of course the other reason to do it this way is that I have a voice and an audience, a non-trivial portion of whom are writers and other creative people, and I think it’s useful for someone who’s had a reasonable amount of success in his chosen creative field to say this sort of stuff out loud. The sort of person who expects work for free, and/or preys on creative people by trying to convince them that working for free “is how it’s done” benefits when creative people are publicly silent about this sort of crap. So this is me saying to creators: Guys, in fact this is not how it’s done, and you deserve to be paid for your work. It’s also me saying to people who prey on creators: Fuck you. Pay me. Pay us.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:48 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I thought Scalzi's entry might have crossed the line into cranky a little too far, honestly,

You're free to your opinion on the circumstance of polite phrasing.

though I realize a genre writer of moderate stature posting to his or her own blog is basically self-indulgently preaching to an room full of known sycophants

That stinging sensation you're feeling is ironic hypocrisy.
posted by phearlez at 7:30 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I used to work for a lawyer who would get asked legal questions on the by-the-way. His stock response was, this is what I charge per hour and let's make an appointment if you want to pursue your question any further.

His take - and he was a generous man - was that free advice was not taken seriously, not valued, and therefore a waste of time for both parties.
posted by BWA at 7:56 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


though I realize a genre writer of moderate stature posting to his or her own blog is basically self-indulgently preaching to an room full of known sycophants

Have you ever actually read an author's blog? They're full of people taking pot shots.
posted by Kit W at 8:01 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it a Scalzi link? *checks thread*

Either I'm psychic or there's something much less interesting going on here.
posted by howfar at 8:08 AM on December 10, 2012


I don't know any schoolteachers who've been asked to babysit for free on the weekends. Or tutor for free. To me, it's kind of like that. It assumes that you either aren't working much or have a lot of free time that you need someone to fill for you.

And yeah, I've known plenty of teachers to tutor for free outside of school time - for students in their classes already. (I know a lot of teachers.)

This is about expectations of other people about your time, and how much/little they value your work. Also the cluelessness.
posted by batgrlHG at 8:31 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


No I will not analyze your datasets for free!
posted by zscore at 8:58 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ellisonfilter: Everyone else may be an asshole, but I'm not.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:05 AM on December 10, 2012


a) The more you get asked, the more annoying it gets.

THIS!

Jesus christ, the requests for free work get on my last godsdamned nerve. I'm very handy with computers, having taught myself to build them back in the early 90s, so I'm often asked to fix them for people. Now, I will fix them for nothing for my FIL and Elder Monster's girlfriend, but I expect that anyone else who wants me to spend several hours (or sometimes DAYS) unfucking their computer will be willing to pay me for it, or if they can't afford to pay me in cash, will pay me in some other fashion. (Booze and chocolate are happily accepted.) If they're not willing to pay in some fashion, I point them to the local repair shop that I buy parts from.

Ditto for my researching abilities. I have managed to parlay my stint at Google Answers into several very nice contracts that pay me for my skills. When Google Answers was shuttered, though, Yahoo Answers tried to recruit us, and they were VERY OFFENDED when the response was "How much do you intend to pay?" We got sputtering responses trying to convince us that we would be "building our brand" and "getting exposure", and that should be payment enough. They were awfully surprised by the collective "We already got exposure from Google, that's why you contacted all of us. Fuck you, pay us." Some of us made enough money with Google Answers to pay our rent every month, why would we want to work for free when we already knew that people will, in fact, pay if they want the services badly enough?
posted by MissySedai at 11:34 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Man, it is the grumpy season.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grumpy too, and I honor everyone's right to grump. I got a request for free professional services from a company the other day (not "art"-type work, but lots of work, pitched as though it was something that I would just want to do because it was right/good). Thought about getting snippy in response, to give those folks a piece of my mind. But I kept my grumpiness bottled up inside.
posted by sheldman at 11:41 AM on December 10, 2012


Renoroc: When you do things for nothing, the work has a value of nothing
Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha... no.

I regularly work alongside dozens of friends who donate their time for our social organization. These efforts are invaluable pillars of our entire social structure, and include:
* CPAs doing double-entry bookkeeping
* Doctors, nurses, and EMTs providing medical support
* Engineers and woodworkers and tinkers of all stripes supervising and/or building... too much to mention, including permanent structures (such as a quarter-sized replica of Bodian Castle)
* Catering lunches and dinners for 50-300 guests
... and so on.

When you aren't appreciated for your work, nor paid, your work is not respected. In Real Life, there are other ways than fiat currency, barter, and Royal Appointment to demonstrate respect.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:02 PM on December 10, 2012


I'm sure his repeated mentions of his distinguished career arc on his personal blog will deter morons in the future. Just like how my epic blog screed against my parents' dependency on me to fix anything "techy" has worked oh so well!
posted by basicchannel at 12:14 PM on December 10, 2012


I haven't seen the School-Assignment Letter problem addressed (in terms of authors working for free) so I'll just put Robin McKinley's piece on it here.

How can a teacher declare that a student will receive extra credit if the author responds? The author is not under the teacher’s authority. If this is not moral blackmail, what is it? Nor are the circumstances under the teacher’s control. What if the student wrote the most charming, perceptive letter anyone has ever written and the author has earache and is too wretched to answer any letters? What if the letter is eaten by the Great Postal Dragon, and the author never sees it? Nor is the cost to the recipient of school-assignment letters limited to the spiritual. Perhaps ten percent of the students who write include return postage; my yearly expenditure on stamps for book mail comes to a splashy weekend holiday for my husband and me that we don’t get—or, perhaps more to the point, about one-quarter of the new furnace and fittings our elderly, cold house urgently needs. Surely the myth that writers are all wealthy is not still current? Those of us who earn enough of a living to give up our day jobs are in the minority; school budgets for enrichment programs are not leaner than most writers’ royalty checks. And the energy I use to answer letters is the same creative energy that I need to write my books: coherent sentence production is coherent sentence production, and I’ve only got a few good hours of it a day, and after that I’m an excellent washer of dishes and walker of dogs...

..You don’t expect your car mechanic to fix your bicycle, gratis, in his spare time. Lucky you if he (or she) is willing to, but you are unlikely to boycott his gas station and write him hate mail if he isn’t. And I bet at very least you ask first and say thank-you afterward. For the several thousand school-assignment letters I have answered in the last fifteen-plus years, I can remember once that I was asked in advance and twice that I was later thanked for having responded.

posted by emjaybee at 12:21 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


When you aren't appreciated for your work, nor paid, your work is not respected. In Real Life, there are other ways than fiat currency, barter, and Royal Appointment to demonstrate respect.

The difference between your examples above and what's happening to Scalzi is as follows:

* The CPAs, doctors, nurses, engineers, and caterers voluntarily offered their services for free. As in, it was their idea. As in, they called the entity hosting the service and said "How about I come do this for you for free?"

* Artists, writers, photographers, etc. are regularly solicited to do work for free. As in, it is the requestor's idea. As in, someone calls them to ask to work for free.

I bet you that if you took any one of the CPAs that did the double-entry bookkeeping you're talking about, and then had someone they've never heard of call them out of the blue and ask "so, I have some bookkeeping - can you do it for free?" They would have a very different response.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:33 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I regularly work alongside dozens of friends who donate their time for our social organization. These efforts are invaluable pillars of our entire social structure, and include:

Volunteering to do work for your organization is different from having people approach you and ask/demand you provide your free and couch it in terms of how it will be beneficial to you or "easy" for you.

I volunteer to help organizations I belong to all the time. The thing is, that happens on MY terms, as I have time and/or inclination.

On preview, what EmpressCallipygos said.
posted by MissySedai at 12:35 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a consultant with a practice focused mainly on government and non-profits, I regularly receive a guilt trip about how "high" my rate is. Never mind that it's significantly lower than what one of the big outfits would charge for somebody who looks good in a suit but is otherwise not worth the money. If I want to do the job for whatever reason, I will sometimes offer a client my absolute lowest rate. I tell them, "That's what I would charge my Mother." That usually ends all debate about my rate.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:40 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Spec work and freebies wouldn't exist if some people weren't desperate enough to break into the industry that they'd fall for it. There are whole industries where people somehow got the idea that the way to break in was spec work. For example, screenwriting. Amateurs churn out thousands of screenplays and they all end up in the slush pile. This is a result of a huge power differential. There are thousands of people desperate for a job in this business, and they'll do anything people ask, thinking that it will help. Even if it does get them in the door, the job is exploitive.

The film industry is notorious for this problem. For example, it is common for animators to be asked to audition, and the producers often ask them for a "storyboard test" which can be equivalent to a full week of work. Audition a few animators, and you've got the whole storyboard job done for free.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:42 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've worked in audio-visual technology sales for the better part of two decades now. While I doubt it's at anywhere near the same level of frequency as creative types, I've certainly had my share of customers who've tried to convince me that I should provide (very expensive) products and services at no charge, based on the promise of "great exposure", "free advertising", etc. It happens often enough that I can definitely empathize with feeling pretty grumpy about it.
posted by The Gooch at 2:03 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


W/r/t his response, it sounds like maybe he's encountering a different sort of person who asks for free work than I ever have; I feel like most of the people who ask are themselves kind of clueless and struggling. I'm sure there are predatory accumulators of free work out there, but mostly I think people are asking for free work because they don't have any money and don't see a ready means of making it from anything creative. But if he's really encountering straight up sleazebags who want work for free and know better -- or, worse yet, who want work for free, and know better, and have the money to pay -- that's quite different. I'm willing to take him at his word that they're out there, though (I don't think) I've seen any.

That said, comics people need to be super fucking careful about people who want to co-create properties with them. In much the same way as above, I don't think there's a lot of malice to go around with such people, but creators can have very different ideas of who is entitled to claim ownership of a property, and it's something that needs to be agreed upon beforehand to avoid a lot of potential heartbreak.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:23 PM on December 10, 2012


I'm totally behind Scalzi. It's his time, and his talent, and no less valuable than that of any other professional who you wouldn't ask for free goods or services. It takes real gall to make that kind of request from a stranger or acquaintance. It should even be minimized for friends and family; if I had a friend who owned a restaurant and I ate there, I would be grateful if they didn't charge me, but I think it would be really gauche to ask. You put them in an awkward situation, since they can't get away with saying "Fuck you, pay me," as justifiable as it may be.
posted by Edgewise at 4:46 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It takes real gall to make that kind of request from a stranger or acquaintance.

It takes a little more than that to make my monocle pop out, personally; I guess everyone's "shot in the dark request/real gall" line is calibrated a bit differently. I do think if the guy asked him to submit a writing sample (...!), yeah, that takes real gall.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:01 PM on December 10, 2012


What does one do when others with more means can and will do the same work you do for free?

What does one do when a paid job requires experience but you can't get that experience because you can't find anyone to pay you to work?

What do you do when you're 30 years old, been looking for full-time legitimate work for three years, have a Masters degree in a professional field from a strong program (i.e. not humanities), four (unpaid) internships under your belt in said field, and the only paid work you can get is waiting tables or nannying (both under the table so you can claim poverty in order to get medicaid because out-of-pocket insurance is prohibitively costly)?

What do you do when the jobs you can do aren't funded and therefore getting paid isn't necessarily up to the employer?

Me saying that my work is valuable does not instantly bestow value upon it. When knowledgeable, experienced, competent workers are undercut by a supply of people that will work for free or next to nothing, then is it not the fault of the market for allowing people to work for free?

Most of the people I know that have been successful in the past few years have either had enough outside help (either from parents or spouses/partners) that they don't have to worry how much they get paid, and have been able to get ahead in their fields because of it.

So how is standing up and stating you should get paid going to help those of us who don't get paid when it is really pretty outside our control?
posted by greta simone at 5:52 PM on December 10, 2012


So how is standing up and stating you should get paid going to help those of us who don't get paid when it is really pretty outside our control?

How is it my responsibility to help you get paid? Should I work for free because you're willing to?

I worked long and hard to acquire the skills I have. I poured blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes money into learning how to do the things I can do. During the times I couldn't find anyone to pay me to use those skills, I DID wait tables and such, because MY TIME is just as valuable as my skills are. If someone wants to make use of my skills, either they pay, or I walk. Period.

If you want paid, you do work that gets you paid. If people aren't willing to pay you, and you choose to do the work for free, I'm afraid that's YOUR lookout. Myself, I'm unwilling to work for free, because "exposure" doesn't pay the mortgage, keep the dogs and kids fed, or keep my lights on. My policy of demanding payment for my work has served me in good stead.
posted by MissySedai at 6:13 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


How is it my responsibility to help you get paid? Should I work for free because you're willing to?

I'm pretty sure the line is "fuck you, pay me" and not "fuck you, Jack, I got mine..."

Truth be told, though, I feel like the more things change, the more they stay the same; yeah, the internet kinda fucked up the whole getting paid thing for a lot of people, but at a small level, I'm not sure there's a huge gulf of difference between a person placing a story on a website without payment and a person of, say, thirty years ago placing a story with a zine or a collegiate literary magazine for contributors' copies and maybe a modest stipend. (Like a penny a word, or $5 for an entire piece.) The big money has always been thin on the ground, and no, someone who is a bestselling novelist is just not going to work for free unless s/he really really thinks your site is awesome and needs the eyes on it. Because working for you for free would make about as much sense -- and be about as likely -- as Matt Damon dropping in to cameo in your student film. But what about the vast number of actors who aren't Hollywood stars? Leaving aside notions of payment (you aren't passing up any payment) and exposure (well...you won't get noticed not doing anything, but...), there's...whatever motivated all those people to send stories to zines and lit magazines, whatever motivates people to post stuff to tumblr today.

I'm not sure people who aren't necessarily in a position to get paid to write should, like, hold their breath until they turn blue or get a check. I do anecdotally know a number of people who have done art and webcomics and blogs very much for free (hosted on their own sites, though, largely) and have turned that stuff into calling cards for paying work. (And some people I sadly do not know have turned it into super fucking lucrative work.) I guess that sounds like a line to some people, but it's what I've observed. I don't know very many people who have started out doing paying work. Or, at least, work that paid well enough to talk about. That sucks, because I think money's rad. I'm all for it. But I'm hesitant to say that no one should lower themselves to low or menial pay; I will say that if you're going to go an independent route, why not go totally independent? A publisher has three things to offer -- editing, promotion, and money. If the last one's not there, the first two probably aren't, either.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:10 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The less you charge for your services, the less the client appreciates what you do.

Want an immobile client to begin following your recommendations? Start charging more.
posted by surplus at 7:15 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: The difference between your examples above and what's happening to Scalzi is as follows:...
I wasn't responding to Scalzi. I made it clear I was responding to Renoroc's comment:
Renoroc: When you do things for nothing, the work has a value of nothing
posted by IAmBroom at 10:27 PM on December 10, 2012


It happens everywhere.

This Craigslist ad got posted to one of my ravelry groups today: I need someone to knit 100% wool socks for me.

The kernel quote: "If you would knit some socks for me I will pay you $10 per pair. ... Also, if you are a very experienced knitter, in the future I will be interested in hiring you to knit more items for me, such as sweaters for myself and my grandchildren."

Um, yeah, I'll spend 15 hours (and I'm a FAST knitter) knitting a pair of socks for you for $10. And by the way, the cashmere blend sock yarn I prefer is $30/skein.

I did knit a gift pair of socks for a friend of DH's this summer, and she emailed back with, "wow, those are awesome. Now I need you to knit me 8 more pairs by Christmas for [named her entire family and their partners and provided their shoe sizes].

To set the record straight, I can be bought. I have 3-4 hours of knitting time a week. I will trade my knitting time for housecleaning services from you, or you can pay for a housecleaner for me for 3-4 hours a week. Because my 30 years of mastering my craft has got to be worth at least the $20-$25 per hour that a good housecleaner charges. And the housework time that you free up can be used to work on your project.

Bonus knitworthiness flowchart I do like his qualifying question: "Are you providing me with high-quality free sex on a regular basis?"
posted by wenat at 11:49 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


wenat, I get people asking me to knit them socks all the time. I tell them "I'll do it for love, but I won't do it for money; you can't pay me what they're worth."

"Oh sure I can! How much do you charge?"

"Two hundred and fifty dollars."

{stunned silence}

"Well, see, the yarn costs $15. It takes me about 25 hours to knit a pair of socks; at Washington state's minimum wage of $9.04, that's $226. Add in the fifteen dollars for the yarn, and you get $241. The extra nine bucks is for hand cream."

{more stunned silence}

"I can recommend a great book if you want to learn how to knit your own, though."
posted by KathrynT at 12:22 AM on December 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


Just chiming in with the knitters - I once had someone ask my why I don't sell the things I make, and I always have to tell them that no one will pay what they're worth in time or materials. If I knit something for someone at this point it's a gift or a swap.

If people have a perception that something you do is fun or a hobby, suddenly your time and work is worth nothing, since you'd just be doing it anyway. Maybe, but I'd be working on what I want to do, not what you want me to do.
posted by madelf at 12:48 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I keep re-writing my comment because I've got so much to say on the subject I don't know where to begin. I'm a web designer. People are always asking me to do their design projects for free. And it's not even the asking part, but that some of them actually get offended when you don't want to. That is bigger to me than being asked for free labor, the being upset when I turn you down. That's where the venting comes from. No, I don't want to do your crappy web page for free and no amount of convincing is going to change that. I don't need your exposure, I have paying gigs that give all the exposure I need. For a while, I resorted to trying to explain the number of my own hours it would take, but there are seriously people out there that think nothing if asking for 20, 40, 100 hours of your time.

When I was starting out and web design was a hobby not a job, I did do some stuff for free, and like the many legions before me, learned what a mistake- if you're working for free, your time certainly isn't valued. 150 hours on countless revisions of a logo taught me that the hard way! (hey I was young and naive.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:54 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wasn't responding to Scalzi. I made it clear I was responding to Renoroc's comment:
"When you do things for nothing, the work has a value of nothing."


And Renoroc made it clear that the "things" in question were things like writing and art, as opposed to volunteer work for charity. Your point?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on December 11, 2012


The explosion I've seen of, for instance, business materials with ridiculous typos, half-assed design, and obviously in-office printing complete with orange faces, has been depressing.

I suggest you spend less time on Capitol Hill.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:17 AM on December 11, 2012


a strong program (i.e. not humanities)

oh please
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:20 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


if I had a friend who owned a restaurant and I ate there, I would be grateful if they didn't charge me, but I think it would be really gauche to ask.

Actually, I never do this.
posted by gauche at 12:27 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


An interesting AskMe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2012


I'm pretty sure the line is "fuck you, pay me" and not "fuck you, Jack, I got mine..."

It's more like, "Fuck you, if you want to get paid, STOP WORKING FOR FREE!" And for the love of all that is sacred and profane, don't whine that those of us who insist on being paid for our labors "aren't helping [you]". Help yerdamnedself - open your mouth and make it clear that you expect compensation.

I am unwilling to work for free if it isn't my idea to do so. I don't see anything wrong with that, and if you do, I submit that it is not my problem. I have responsibilities to meet, whether other people like it or not, and meeting them requires my work be properly compensated.
posted by MissySedai at 3:33 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


TBH, I think the whole train of discourse here is kind of convoluted beyond belief -- the initial comment you were responding to seemed to presuppose that a person should not work without payment because of the effect that has on writers who are already getting paid, which I think is kind of spurious at best. It certainly doesn't seem to work like that the other way around. I guess that if absolutely everyone everywhere refused to work on anything for free, then sure, everyone would have to get paid. Do I think that'll happen? Um, no. Harlan Ellison's "fuck you, pay me" deal was fine forty years ago, in an age before tumblr and YouTube and Sites Like This One, but basically everyone is trying to parlay non-paying work into paying work now. They're mostly failing, but in decades past, most people would have failed to secure paying work, too. Things are different now and they aren't changing back. I'm not saying that's necessarily a development that's positive. But it's a reality we have to work with.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:44 PM on December 11, 2012


Kittens, if times have changed, then someone needs to tell my writing professor whom I just took a course with because she was pretty much drilling us all TO adopt a "fuck you, pay me" attitude when it came to publishing.

And no matter how much times change, and how hard people will still try to get something for nothing, the truth is that if you are talented, and hold out for being paid, someone will pay you sooner or later. Stephen King said it best - in his "On Writing" book, he said the truest test of whether or not you are talented is, if someone paid you for something you wrote, and the check they used to pay you did not bounce, and the amount was sufficient to pay a utility bill. If that has happened to you, you are officially talented.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


one more dead town's last parade: By 'not humanities' I meant 'professional field' as in 'Social Work' or 'Public Health' or 'Education' or 'Nursing', i.e. not humanities. The 'strong program' was regarding the view of my program within my field. Sorry, I didn't get my MFA in Creative Writing so my comment suffered from poor syntax.
posted by greta simone at 8:14 PM on December 11, 2012


Kittens, if times have changed, then someone needs to tell my writing professor whom I just took a course with because she was pretty much drilling us all TO adopt a "fuck you, pay me" attitude when it came to publishing.

Right, but your prof -- and certainly Stephen King -- came up in a different time. The magazines that Stephen King sold his first stories to don't exist anymore. They haven't existed in decades. Now we have comics people whose first work is a webcomic they created themselves and host themselves and diligently update every day for free, in hopes of selling their merchandise or getting the attention of someone who will pay them, and sometimes it works. We have musicians whose exposure comes from posting videos to YouTube -- videos, I mean to say, that were shot with someone's iPhone -- and sometimes that turns into a recording contract, for what that's worth anymore. We have people self-publishing novels through Amazon, et cetera. This is all basically self-employment, but it's self-employment that pays you nothing up front, and may also continue to pay you nothing down the road. That's the part I'm focused on -- doing free work for somebody seems like kind of a red herring to me, provided you're smart about it and hold onto your copyright (though as I said above, I'm at a loss as to what a potential self-publisher would need a non-paying publisher for; a self-publisher is perfectly capable of not getting paid all on his/her own).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:53 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I wasn't responding to Scalzi. I made it clear I was responding to Renoroc's comment:
"When you do things for nothing, the work has a value of nothing."


And Renoroc made it clear that the "things" in question were things like writing and art, as opposed to volunteer work for charity. Your point?
My point has been stated; you're just too hostile to get it. People donate things like writing and art to our organization as well, and we aren't a charity.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:46 AM on December 12, 2012


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