Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Perceived Value of Certain Things

I've earned a living as a photographer for about fifteen years now, and have also worn the hat (made of wool, but not itchy at all, oddly enough) of a "graphic designer" for most of those. In that time, there have been numerous occasions where I was asked to produce work for somebody else in exchange for "the countless promotional opportunities that the public distribution of said work would bring me," instead of, you know, actual payment in cash. Rarely if ever do these work-for-free-publicity arrangements ever result in tangible increases to my bottom line due to an onslaught of new clients and "for pay" job opportunities. After sampling this work model early in my career (before it was actually my main source of income), it became very apparent that the promised "free publicity and advertising" promised wasn't actually FREE since I wasn't being paid for the work up front. I, and everyone else who accepts this deal ends up PAYING what they should have EARNED from the client for the services.

I write this today to remind others, who may be starting their respective careers in a creative industry, that they need to be paid for what they are worth, and what the work they produce is worth. There are very few instances where working for free (ie: in exchange for promotional inclusion or some other form of mass-produced bartering) is justified. What will happen instead is, by working for free, or below the "going professional rate" (ie: drastically undercutting your competition), you are devaluing the services provided by your colleagues and harming the future earning potential of yourself. It may not seem to be a big deal when you are just starting out, but the pay rates of certain creative jobs are quite precarious and volatile. In some cases it has taken many years for people in creative fields to earn the professional respectability required in a particular industry so that they are treated and compensated at similar levels to people in creative, but different fields.

This is important. Yes, it may look cool and earn you a few bragging points on a resume to have your work (and name) published someplace in exchange for your donated time and efforts. This rarely leads to actual increases in your earnings, though. And money, afterall, is what everyone ELSE charges people for stuff.

Thanks to all for taking the time to read this. Now enjoy a well-spoken rant on this subject by writer Harlan Ellison.


Kelvin Kao said...

Lots of beginning actors work for free, though, in order to build up their resume. That just seem to be the way it is. But they are not exactly freelance people. I'd say it's fine to start out by doing free stuff for friends, but if it's just some "nice" random guy that's giving you this "great opportunity", you are better off getting paid for your work.

Twila said...


my word is bryyak.

about jenji said...


Okay, I'll pay you with the photo that you've been begging to receive as a reciprocal courtesy for the gift.

btw, internships suck when it comes to working for free too and most creative jobs require that you complete internships that are Unpaid, yet expect you to relocate. THAT blows fat fly farts!


chet said...


LOL... that DOES blow fly farts!

You got me thinking about internships, apprenticeships, and the like. The pay is very low, or non-existent, too, but I'd say they are quite different from the case of random freelance people charging ultra low fees to undercut working professionals in a given field.

Apprenticeships and internships are very valuable at teaching the craft and allowing a person to gain experience, so I think in those examples, not being financially compensated at the "going-rate" is acceptable or the most part. In fact, it's a much better way of networking, and making a name for one's self, than just jumping into the professional fray and charging peanuts to clients in an attempt to get the work, gain some experience and name recognition. It also won't lead to being disliked and not respected by one's peers.

In most (I sure hope it's most) cases, internships and apprenticeships don't harm the creative industry that they support. Interns can do a pretty good job at bolstering performance of these places, actually, and allow some smaller creative companies an affordable opportunity to add the intangible value of fresh ideas that new minds bring to any team, where they could not have done so by paying a full salary.

Now about that photo... ;)

about jenji said...

Yes, my comments regarding internships was entirely separate to my thoughts about freelance work. So, please don't think I was implying anything or any relations between the was just a simple jenji moment wherein it became all about me! lol

I'm just saying that yes, internships/apprentice opportunites are an extraordinarily valuable experience, wherein the majority of these positions in media/film/tv industry are UnPAID/Low pay internships, wherein you have to relocate to NYC or LA and the lot.

Even with low pay, you cannot live off of that, so it makes it pretty difficult to commit, as it barely makes sense economically speaking.

They require a full-time commitment, so how does one pay their rent, their bills? You cannot take another job b/c you're working 13-14 hour days learning the ropes. It just makes no sense. Unless you already live locally.

It was truly a struggle for Fozzie in NYC (the internship year as a junior, not the year he got the actual job) and he was unpaid, but he luckily had help from his family.

Sigh. I miss my Fozzie.

Anyway, tis all. Oh and a spider just bit me on the shoulder. FYI. I could totally die. I won't, but I could...


chet said...

Ah yes. So true, jenji. And I remember some of the stuff Fozzie went through that summer. In a perfect world, there would be money available to qualified, talented interns/apprentices to offset the costs of relocating, and a pay scale (or some other low-cost living arrangement) for the these positions that reflected the economic realities of the cities where these opportunities exist.

I think this is the perfect use of Union funds, and I think a certain amount of industry profits should support ventures such as this. Afterall, it is these new talents that will be the potential future of creators of media that will drive profits years down the road.

It shouldn't always be just the silver spoon-fed types and lucky few who can make the sacrifices who should have the ONLY chance to show the industry insiders what they can do, and have an opportunity to learn the craft from the inside. There should be more ways to do this that wouldn't cost "the industry" a ton of money. This might even get a few more fresh minds into the creative fields of writing and production, so that we can squash this tide of sequelitis, reality-show-itis, CG-itus, and the general mediocrity that defines so much of what media has to offer these days.

And if you turn into a superhero from the spider bite, I'm SO gonna design your costume!


sandreamer said...

Hi there nice to stumble upon your blog. I am an artist and have been for a really long time. I have done alot of FREEBIES for family and friends that has taken more effort than a 'hired' job because of the sheer scrutiny you're under trying to please them and hope that (a dumb hope) they can get you exposure but alas thay are just keeping it for themselves. I don't put as much effort into a paid job....maybe I should? I like your bubble by the way!

Jake Titus said...

I totally see your point. So I'll take this time to make a firm commitment to you. If I had even an ounce of creativity in my body I would grossly over charge for my services. As apparent by my blog, I don't. Should beer farts and random dick jokes ever become a creative niche please let me know. I will happily demand top dollar for my spewing of literary diareaha. Until that day, be well.