Deciding “When”

"By what right would you call someone and ask them to work for nothing?" [Harlan Ellison]

[YouTube, 3:25]

The Internet and the world wide web have given those with access and even the most rudimentary technology the ability to express their creative talent. Thus giving rise to many a profession and option that were not available just a few short years ago.

One could argue — and they have — that the lines between amateurs and professionals have blurred in many areas and industries. Digital technology has driven the cost of producing many things to zero and the availability of like-content and services to the person looking abundant.

Seth Godin has talked about this concept frequently, and so has Kevin Kelly.The good news, as Kevin Kelly explained, is that all you need is 1,000 true fans — people who derive value from what you're doing and will pay for that benefit. He writes:

the long tail is a decidedly mixed blessing for creators. Individual artists, producers, inventors and makers are overlooked in the equation. The long tail does not raise the sales of creators much, but it does add massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices. Unless artists become a large aggregator of other artist's works, the long tail offers no path out of the quiet doldrums of minuscule sales.

About a year ago, I wrote a post that discussed some options for exposure and visibility that was triggered by the numerous offers I continue to receive to contribute to new sites and online aggregators and networks — unpaid.

I continue to contribute to select projects in the spirit of open source and to give back to the community. However, because there are only so many hours in a day, I am being more selective with where I spend my time and paying clients win.

The photography definition of exposure is another way to view those requests. The goal of those sites and initiatives is to gain visibility.

It may be connected with exposure, however without a bit of homework and a solid case on hand, you won't know that. In the absence of fair monetary compensation, fair exchange in value, or a worthy cause, there are more creative ways to gain visibility than asking others to work for free.

Here are a few ideas:

  • do something people find valuable, then sell that
  • write something extremely helpful to your industry
  • identify a need in the market and go for it 
  • start a service for a group or niche that really needs it
  • build relationships first, ask after you have given

And consider all of these items part of a process to build and establish your own platform. Kelly has a recommendation for artists and creators:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce.

Harlan's delivery in the video clip is a bit of a rant. However, he does make a point worthy of attention for those making the ask.

In similar circumstances, would you consider the offer acceptable? For example, knowing the site, conference, publication, etc. makes money off your involvement. Are you in a position to help someone else and make it a "fair trade" transaction?


[hat tip 37Signals]

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0 responses to “Deciding “When””

  1. I think about this a lot — technology has lowered the entry point for once-intimidating projects like making websites or videos, so more people are able to participate and express their creativity and that’s an exhilarating thing. However, if anyone can potentially make a website or a video, that can’t help but force a squeeze on some of those who used to make a living with those specialized skills. I see this every day, especially in the realm of video. People expect it to be free and easy to make because they have iMovie on their MacBook. Don’t have the answer, but I’m glad you’re talking about it!

  2. Hello
    There is also the idea that people didn’t follow those routes because they couldn’t afford or didn’t manage to follow degree courses etc. The Internet is a fantastic, democratic tool and poor quality is always obvious. Poor quality never sticks around for long anyway.
    Google Knol is upping the quality game, and lowering barriers has always created healthy competition.
    The Internet is just becoming people focused.
    Working for free (as long as it doesn’t last too long) is becoming the Internet’s version of an open call audition.

  3. “You’re undercut by all of the amateurs. It’s the amateurs who make it tough for the professionals.”
    You know what they say about free. You get what you pay for. Companies and people will, hopefully, learn this lesson soon enough.
    I think more people should stand up and say “No, you can’t have my brain, talent or time for free.” There is nothing wrong with doing so. Nothing. In fact, it commands more respect.
    I don’t know about anyone else, but I have learned that when I pay for things I really want, I get more value.

  4. Part of it starts with those in the industry working with others fairly. Start building the value for valuable providers, walking the talk. So, for example, when an agency hires extra writers, how much do they pay them? When a company gets in interns to do social media for close to zero, what do we get?
    Technology has made it easier for more people to do things that would have been cost prohibitive without capital outlay. Marketing and communications as professions have felt that squeeze for years.

  5. Hi
    What I’m trying to say, in a rather clumsy way, is that some fine, previously dormant creativity is being allowed to come through via the barrier-free Internet. The foul mouthed ranter in the video may be (perhaps) missing the point of a new media landscape in which content comes as part of a long term package.

  6. Content may be part of a long term strategy. It still need to be worth something to pay off on that strategy. All online activities are acts of content — comments, tweets, back links, all of it.
    Experience and skill are still valuable. Imagine someone with creative muster and a desire to build a bridge do so, or someone who has watched ER on TV open up their neighbor… great content, training thinking, talent and experience are still in fashion. As Beth says below, you do get what you pay for in the end.
    The writer in the video is talking about MGM, a company that makes money. Why not pay for his work? It’s disingenuous to run a business, and ask others to work for free, then make money off their work.

  7. I know a few people who can relate to that!
    When the NY Times introduced its paywall, earlier this year, it came with a loophole: links from Facebook, Twitter and so on were free and unlimited. So some avaricious twit said he was going to reference every story in the Times! I often wonder how he arrived at his ambition – if he was successful, the Times loses revenue and (eventually) closes. Then he has no “product”. And he did his bit in keeping the Internet “free”. (I don’t know if he’s doing what he said; I sure hope not!) Michael Swaine, a prodigious writer about software development, once commented that he was a bit fed up of all the people who wrote to him and asked if he could write the code while they came up with the ideas! Similar idea, and just as selfish!
    I often wonder how all those people who want “it all free” figure out how the originator is going to pay his or her bills. I don’t think it actually occurs to them, to be honest! There’s a substantial difference between contributing because you think it’s either helpful or just want to and responding to a request to provide something for free for someone else’s commercial gain.
    On a similar subject, have you read “Digital Barbarism” by Mark Helprin? He argues that copyright still has a role on the Internet – and that it’s even more essential when so many think everything on the Internet should be free! He’s extending your argument to a logical conclusion.

  8. I’ve come to the realization that many who wish things to be free to them have not created themselves. They have not experienced the time and thinking that goes into birthing an idea, making something happen… they kind of come in, take what they see, and then leave without ever showing up themselves.
    Thank you for the book tip. I have not read it, so good to put on the priority list. I agree that producers and creators should be protected.

  9. Now that’s an interesting point you make, Valeria. I’d never thought of it like that, but you’re right. Those who want such things for free clearly don’t understand, or care, what it takes to create.
    Although I’m not sure such folk leave quietly… It seems to me that an increasing number of them get quite angry that what they want (for free) either isn’t available or has a price tag attached! They do take what they want, though. And, it seems, often what they don’t really want, but it’s available so they take it, anyway.
    The book is a good read, as well; Mr Helprin’s language is wonderful – as it always is – and his case is clearly annunciated.

  10. Which is why it’s important to focus first on producing the absolute best possible product or service in the first place. The focus needs to be on the end user – who is this supposed to help do what?
    Instead, they fret about competition. Without watching the video, I’m already familiar with what’s being said based on the comments I’ve read here. Someone who, at some point, enjoyed relative comfort in exclusivity (no doubt through financial barriers to club entry) now feels threatened by amateurs coming in with a new set of ideals who can do nearly the same thing more efficiently. Rather than focusing on differentiating themselves as experts, they seek to diminish the value of the newcomers.
    It’s typical, corporate BS. Rather than apply ourselves toward all that excellence and customer service talk we throw around, we align our efforts around preventing competition.
    I tend to run into this with professional motorsport photographers. How are they going to sell any of their shots (with limited ownership rights) for $100 a pop when the stage is lined with “I’ve-got-a-$1000-DSLR-I’m-a-photographers” (their term) willing to give away everything they’ve shot for free?
    They go on and on about how they spend thousands to travel to events, drag thousands more in equipment out into the field, only to not make any money. Funny. The event organizers don’t make any money. The sponsors don’t make any money. The competitors don’t make any money. But rather than up their own game, rather than demonstrate their more valuable abilities, they demonize the competition.
    Now, I’m not saying this is the case with all photographers (or any other profession, for that matter), but I just can’t feel sorry for anyone complaining at the relative ease of entry to market. Those who provide the most meaningful benefit to the customer will always succeed.

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