When you see somebody talking on the telly, do you assume they have been paid? You are right to. Unless they are a member of the public whose opinion or testimony has been sought by a news crew, or an audience member doorstepped by the host on an audience show, or they are questioned in a news studio as a representative of either a political party or a private company, then they will usually be paid an appearance fee.
This will be nominal, but it covers their time and their expertise, and reflects the fact that – like an actor in a drama, or a singer or dancer in a chorus – they have helped to make a TV programme, and without them there would be a person-shaped gap, which will never do. TV programmes have budgets, and from those budgets, fees for actors, singers, dancers or contributors are found. (It goes without saying that there are many, sometimes hundreds of people you don’t see on the telly who are just as vital to the making of the programme, and they will be paid too, but this will effectively be a non-appearance fee.)
However, it ain’t necessarily so. Because James Gandolfini sadly died, I was contacted yesterday morning, by email – via the Guardian as it happens – by a broadcaster who requested my presence on a live studio discussion about Gandolfini, to take place at 4pm yesterday afternoon. Having just gathered my thoughts sufficiently to write a blog and be filmed for the Guardian video obituary, I felt confident I could make a good contribution to this show.
However, having agreed on principle with the producer to be at the studio for 4pm (which just happened to be geographically between the British Library, where I was writing, and 6 Music, where I was headed for an appearance on Roundtable, so it was all awfully convenient and meant to be), I was then told, “It’s not actually our policy to pay guests.”
Without wishing to come across as some kind of bread-head, I rather insisted that I would expect some recompense for my time and expertise, and after a couple more emails, during which the producer went to their editor and came back, we hit an impasse, at which the producer said, “We’re going to have to go with someone else.” This meant somebody who didn’t require paying. Fair enough. I had pushed for payment and they’d called my bluff. To be honest, it was one less extra thing to think about. I am currently writing a second draft of a pilot sitcom script to a deadline after all, and I’m being paid for that.
Having worked for 25 years in the media, I would say I have a realistic view of my own importance. I do not delude myself. But I do believe the mileage on my clock gives me a degree of authority and I like to think I can string a sentence together on a good day. I cannot build a wall or fix a radiator but I can talk. A tradesperson is rightly seen as someone who is paid for their time and expertise. If you can plaster a wall yourself, you have no need to call in a plasterer; if you can’t, you must expect to pay them for the work, and they must be expected to do that work to a certain standard in return.
I once entered some provisional talks with a small, independent publisher about publishing my “selected works” in a book. It never happened, but I had a title: Punctual. I have always been proud to be reliable, to write to length, and to deadline, to turn up on time, and to call ahead if unable to do so. These boring qualities go a long way in showbiz. (I have heard of certain performers who are apparently a nightmare to work with, but you have to be pretty bloody good at your job to get away with this.) I have never fooled myself into thinking I’m some kind of literary, verbal or televisual genius, to whose door broadcasters will constantly be beating a path.
Now, if I had accepted the no-fee and given my two penn’orth to the broadcaster today at 4pm, here’s what would have happened:
- My face would have been on the telly.
- Some people might have seen it.
- The whole thing would have lasted a matter of minutes (which, when you build in the travel at either end, plus the buffer of some green-room waiting time, makes the appearance a tiny percentage of the time and effort expended).
- The broadcaster might have used me again in the future and on that occasion maybe even paid me.
Also, I suspect, if you’d seen it, you would have assumed I’d been paid. But I wouldn’t have. It would have been voluntary work, except not voluntary work for a worthy cause.
I declined, politely. So I wasn’t on. I kind of wonder who was? But it doesn’t matter. The world kept on turning. But what right does a broadcaster ie. employer or client, have not to pay for honest work? Every TV show you watch will probably have interns working, often unpaid, on the first rung of a TV career, but that is their decision, and a time-investment in exchange for “work experience”, which can be invaluable. Also, you get free coffee and get to work on a TV programme. Me? I’m 48. I don’t care about free coffee and I’ve seen hundreds of TV programmes being made. I have written some of them, and been in some of them. I no longer need the work experience.
Richard used to take the piss out of me for screen-grabbing my occasional TV appearances, but these are my work. I don’t have a library of tapes, but I do have some grabs. Plus, they’re fun to look back at.
I didn’t get paid to be on Mastermind, of course – my appearance fee went to charity. Typically, they paid for my train fares. This is weird only when no fee is forthcoming. The broadcaster who wouldn’t pay my fee yesterday offered a car there and back. What a waste of money. It’s nearly always easier, and quicker, to get about London on public transport. Why would I want to be in a slow-moving car? Think of all the money they could save by not running a private car hire service. Pay contributors with that instead!
So, what else could I hope to gain from a brief, unpaid slot on a news programme? An ego boost? Those who still think I am on the telly all the time as a pundit or “talking head” may assume I have some need to be seen in pubic. I don’t. I may once have been excited by it. But not any more. This is why I have consciously scaled back on the frequency with which I say “yes” when asked to appear on stuff. Because my mobile number is on some general BBC contributors’ list somewhere, and I haven’t changed it for a long time, I am called up by researchers looking comments all the time. I decline almost all of these requests, as I find they take up more time than they are worth in nominal appearance fees. (When I used to write books, I would appear on anything in order to promote them – you do not expect a fee in this instance.)
If I was on the staff of the Guardian, or Radio Times, I might happily be ferried to a TV studio for an hour or two, just to get out of the office, but I’m not on the staff of anything. (I explained this to the producer who wanted to not pay me yesterday, so there was no confusion.)
It’s a burning issue in the media. Barney Hoskyns, the august music scribe and curator of Rock’s Back Pages, has started a campaign for media freelancers called Stop Working For Free, whose Facebook page is here. (I can’t access it as I’m not a Facebook member, but you might be.) While people with “proper” jobs might think that media work is cushy and “a laugh” – which to a degree it can be – it is still work: a case of time taken and effort and expertise expended, both of which should by rights be recompensed, by verbal or written agreement with the employer. I’ve complained before about how much free work – “on spec” – you must do as a writer, and how many meetings you must attend for no financial return or “call-out fee”. You accept this as part of the world you work in. But exploitation is never far round the corner, as Barney’s manifesto makes plain:
STOP WORKING FOR FREE.
Calling all freelance content providers (musicians, writers, actors, photographers, designers etc): Join me in WITHDRAWING UNPAID LABOUR from the creative and media industries. The exploitation of freelance content providers has gone on too long, and we are all responsible for letting it happen.
Things have got much worse in the digital age, of course, where images and words are shared around as if nobody is responsible for them. (Hey, I write a blog; I bet at some point I have used a photo that an agency, and therefore a photographer, should be paid for. I do my best not to, but it’s a wild west, isn’t it?) As a creative person who gives a lot of writing away for free – which is my choice – I feel I am on the moral high ground, but there’s a lot of grey here.
I would be interested to hear from people in and outside this weird industry. How do you feel about anybody working for nothing?
In the meantime I’ll leave you with more of Barney’s stirring words:
If you allow yourself to be seduced by the myth that your unpaid labour will “look good on your CV” (or equivalent blah), please try to see that you jeopardise not only the welfare of your replaceable elders but your OWN long-term economic future. You set up a paradigm whereby you in turn become replaceable.
I agree with all of this. I don’t work in the media. (I write a blog, but that’s very evidently an unpaid labour of love, or hobby.)
I work in the law, where there can be a similar resentment on the part of some clients to pay for work done. You know the sort of thing: “He just wrote a letter/spent five minutes in court and charged me (insert ridiculous amount of money) for it!”. Actually, I used my several years of training and 20 years of experience to deal with your case, and I’m charging accordingly. Write your own letters and defend yourself in court, free of charge, if you’d rather. That’s what I do, and like you, Andrew, it’s all I have to sell.
Re: the Celebrity Mastermind thing. Contestants in quiz shows don’t get paid, do they, although they help to make the programme. (I’m talking about civilians, not the hallowed celeb versions.) Fair enough maybe if they’ve got a chance of a big pay-out, but on Mastermind, Univ Challenge that isn’t so. Or have things changed? (I haven’t done one since the early 00s.)
I don’t recall the Collins family being paid for Telly Addicts in 1990, although they paid our petrol and gave us sandwiches. So you’re probably right. (The appearance fee for Mastermind may well only be for Celebs. Can anyone confirm this?)
I got £50 for being a contestant on Mastermind – and a souvenir pen. 🙂 That was in the early 80s. I lived close enough to the filming location for travel expenses to not be an issue.
Totally agree and coincidentally this comes at the precise same morning someone has asked me to do a radio show for them on a weekly basis and I know they expect it for nothing !! Great Blog
Agree with this (almost) entirely as it’s so frustrating that to get a foothold in this industry you’re expected to do hours of unpaid work – I often wish I had been born with the ability to fix a toilet or mend a car as just being able to string a sentence together doesn’t seem to carry much currency at all.
Imagine handing your car over to a mechanic and telling him you’re not paying him for the work he’s doing and he should be thankful he’s getting the chance to work on such a vehicle. But he shouldn’t worry, he can tell everyone about the work he’s done and someone might be so impressed that they may just offer to pay him. Madness.
The only bit I didn’t really agree with was the unpaid internships, as this creates a a situation whereby only those who can afford to do unpaid work will get on in this industry.
There’s a great piece on SevenStreets about the media freeloading going on in Liverpool, well worth a read http://www.sevenstreets.com/23480/the-liverpool-contra-affair/
Good point about unpaid internships, although I’m sure I’m right that universities encourage them, as it’s invaluable work experience. Mind you, successive governments have made sure that only those who can afford it go to university, by and large. My first job in the media was, as is legend, as an assistant in the NME art room. I did have to fetch and carry things, and do dogsbody stuff, as well as Letraset headlines and – eventually – design things. I was paid the going day rate for whatever the starting-level pay grade was. I was getting invaluable work experience (which set me up for a career), and I got paid. This seems only right and proper. I don’t think the term “intern” was in UK parlance in the 80s, though.
I do think unpaid interns in the media is a real problem. I think we need to differentiate between genuine work experience which might be for a relatively short period of time during something like a degree course, and essentially staffing up a production with lots of people who will work for coffee and sandwiches thereby keeping costs down for the producers.
The reality is that the media industry is colossally middle class, since interns almost certainly need free board and lodgings. And for the most part that means parents paying. It becomes a particular problem in London where living expenses are high.
So much media work is in London, and a main way into the business is the unpaid intern route. So you have to get yourself to London and somehow support yourself whilst not being paid. Even getting around town is expensive. You end up with a self-selecting group entering the business, and that can’t be healthy.
I agree with Adam. I’m currently pursuing a career in radio/comedy and the only way to do this is through work experience or internships and work up a list of my own contacts as I don’t “know” anyone in the business.
I am at a massive disadvantage because I do not live in London and I’m from a working class background. It is impossible for me to support myself so in theory I’m, not allowed to get the job I want for things beyond my control. Obviously there are ways around this which I will try to the best of my abilities but it is endlessly frustrating to read recent posts by paid people in the media having to sacrifice or miss out on the occasional fee when there are hundreds of keen and capable young people potentially having to wait months and months without receiving a penny for potentially working 12 hour days for months on end.
Yes it is our decision to want a career in the media initially, but it is certainly not our decision for this to be the legitimate process in which we have to embark on. I want nothing more than to work in the media, I am passionate about it and I genuinely think I would work well in such an environment and it is soul destroying when I have to miss opportunities that could be the initial first step I need, because I cant support myself for no money. It is never my decision to work for free, it is obliged of me if I want to get where I want to be, and it’s a real shame.
Let me add to this… I am a club DJ/Promoter/Producer/Radio presenter in the music industry for over 20 years now. I run an event where I give new DJs the opportunity to play to a crowd they wouldn’t necessarily get to play to and also to be on a line up of some of the world’s best artists. People jump at this chance.. I cannot afford to pay many of these young guys however would totally understand if they declined to play for free… that is their prerogative.
I have flown around the world and played at events for free, in return for, let’s say, 4 days in the sunshine in a luxury villa in Bali all paid for. It was my choice. It is a tough one indeed. If it is in your interest to do things for free, I think people would be foolish/stubborn to INSIST blindly for some kind of payment.. If you were asked to appear for free on a TV show interviewing one of your all time idols Andrew, would you turn it down ? Did you get paid to play the drums (or was it guitar) at that gig you blogged about some time ago ??
When I drummed for Cud it was a dream come true. I would have paid them to let me do it. It wasn’t work. (It was for Cud, who got paid.)
It’s really simple. If your business model doesn’t support paying for the expertise you’re presumably making money out of, you don’t have a viable business model. Bully for you on flying around the world – how were you paying your bills at that time?
And it is not foolish or stubborn to insist on payment. I insist on payment all the time, because I’m a professional, I’m bloody good at what I do and because I have a mortgage to pay. That includes always asking for (and chasing up) fees for precisely the kind of appearance Andrew discusses here, which I do a bit of.
If everyone said no to being expected to work for free, whether they’re just starting out or experienced old lags such as Andrew and me, the pernicious sense of entitlement that you display, Andy, would have to evaporate.
I have to agree with Kate. The program Andrew was invited on airs through paid adverts and (unless there’s something I’m missing…) should adjust their rates accordingly for whatever talent needed to make their show work. I did a story ages ago, however, about a division of CNN where at the time they refused to pay their talking heads (ex-presidents, politicians, celebs) because of the exposure they were receiving on national television
Sorry Kate, maybe I didn’t put my point across correctly.
In answer to your questions.. I already had many paid gigs, I was trying to get across it was MY decision to fly to Bali for an unpaid gig because it had value to me, a trip that would otherwise have cost a fair bit of money.
When I say it is foolish to blindly insist on payment, I was thinking about people who COULD benefit from the opportunity the exposure may bring, again bringing value of some sort.. if there is no such value then of course decline. If you read up the page a little you will see I actually whole heartedly agree with Andrew’s blog so my addition to my original comment may seem out of context.
I also believe that if someone was asked to interview one of their heroes at the last minute but alas there was no fee (for whatever reason, there could be many), then I think 99% of people would jump at the chance.
I have no sense of entitlement whatsoever
Interesting article: I think you are right. What’s a shame -and a total bind- is that free guests are increasingly relied upon. In my experience while TV programmes may have budgets radio programmes, very often, do not. It’s quite normal to be expected to produce a programme with nothing more than enough cash to pay your presenter. The regrettable result of that is that the only people who will appear as guests (for free) are those with something to sell. This is not only quite pernicious, but results in more boring and commercially driven PR appearances, and fewer interesting contributors for their own sake.
This is happening everywhere. I am a Print Finisher (Bookbinder in old money) and this happening in our trade as well. The company I have worked 24 years for often quotes for jobs that customers want at cost or even below. A Championship Football team whose programme we have produced for years threatened to take the job elsewhere if we didn’t drop the price to below cost. We had to say no and it was only when the other firms in the area also said no that they came back to us at a reasonable price. This attitude is going to send lots of companies to the wall. Everybody has to stand together to stop this happening.
I know times are hard but not paying people is not going to make things better.
This reminds me of the poor dairy farmers, who have to sell their milk at a loss to the big supermarket chains. The chains have all the power.
I’m a fulll-time professional photographer, and we get this kind of attitude a lot – “Oh we can’t afford to pay you anything, but we’ll give you a credit.” Magazines, blogs, and wedding venues all seem to expect freebies, despite the fact that photographs are indispensable to their product or service and they don’t give that away for free.
Wedding blogs recently have been insisting that photographers provide images without a logo or watermark – so the chances of anyone knowing who took that photo are vanishingly small. And of course once an image is online it can easily get “borrowed” and used elsewhere without a fee being paid.
I agree that it’s important for creative people to resist this sort of thing – but it’s hard to compete with folks who will happily provide photos or other creative material in exchange for seeing their work in print or on the telly.
I was told by my publisher that I was welcome to write a new chapter for one of my books, and they’d even print it in the next run, which they did, but they had no money to pay me to do it. (In the past, when I’ve written a new chapter, I’ve been paid a flat fee.) I suspect this is due to the precarious nature of the print industry; a sign of the times.
You’re right, it is hard to compete when undercut by competitors, especially if that undercutting stretches to “voluntary work”. Often a gardener or a tradesperson will knock a bit of money off if you allow them to leave their sign up outside your house once the work’s done, but that’s not the same as working for free in exchange for “a plug” (which is something I often hear – you can plug anything you like but we can’t pay you for being there – the ultimate figleaf).
I scull about the lower end of the music business on a thoroughly amateur basis – I’ve been featured on a couple of very, very minor recordings and helped arrange a trumpet part for a band who got signed, got to no.43 and got dropped within six months in 2004. For none of this have I ever been paid.
I now do a podcast (I’ll name it if you’re interested, but won’t inflict it on you) and, because of the economics of podcasting which I don’t need to tell you about, no money changes hands. This doesn’t bother me in itself, but the inordinate amount of time it takes up makes me wonder why I do do it for free. The show takes a couple of hours to record and a couple to edit. I have a family and a full time job, so fitting it in is a real juggling act.
And yet I resent the music work far more, because I was promised I’d be compensated and then never was, and by people I liked as well. I do the podcast for nowt because no-one is going to pay me and my on-air oppo for our opinions, but we like doing it so keep it up. Maybe our sizzling repartee will get us noticed one day. But having been taken advantage of (and had a couple of bollockings from significant others about just how long it took me away from the rest of my life) has made music, beyond the wedding gig circuit, something I am far less ready to do again.
Where am I going with this? Yes, that’s right. As an amateur I don’t expect to get anything for what I produce. But being creative is your job. There is nothing unreasonable in saying no to the opportunity to get ripped off but something very unreasonable in expecting to get services for free from someone whose job it is to provide those services. If I was asked to fix computers for free I’d tell whoever was asking to piss off.
As an artist, you get used to being treated that way. It’s wrong but many times I’ve been asked for a ‘quick sketch’ of something that might take a few hours to actually draw to their specifications.
Many art residencies out there are for no payment, just the chance to show your own work, and even though its hard to get your work ‘out there’ I just can’t afford to take unpaid residencies that could stop me having a paid ‘day job’ or completing a paid commission. I can also show my own work for free at open studios via my website/facebook page etc.
I did a school workshop recently for free for my sons school. I did it as he’d asked me to, not the school but have been asked before (and since) by schools who don’t want to pay an artist as they have no funding. I don’t feel bad saying no, you are effectively teaching for a day, I’m sure the teachers wouldn’t do it for free either.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certain things that need volunteers. I volunteer for a local charity, a nature reserve as an artist. I really love it there and want to help encourage visitor numbers so more people can see it and enjoy it and I do get time to make art sometimes whilst I’m there. I do this voluntarily as I’m passionate about it and as they don’t have much funding. I’m not passionate about spending an unpaid day drawing a picture for someone elses website, newspaper or magazine, or come to that I’m not keen on paying out a fee to enter an art competition or exhibition and compete with thousands of other paying artists either.
I still have a family to feed and bills to pay just like every other ‘tradesman/woman’ out there.
I think you did the right thing saying no, I’d have done the same.
Excellent article Andrew! Whilst I don’t work in Media myself, I can relate to the problems addressed because they are rife in the music industry too. Too many times gigs are offered to bands “for exposure”. Exposure is definitely valid compensation, but only if the exposure is worth it. Playing in a pub to 20 people who aren’t listening doesn’t count as exposure. Once you factor in travel expenses (not to mention the other expenses for bands such as rental costs on rehearsal spaces), bands often end up playing at a loss. It’s not my goal to make a living out of music, but I don’t think it’s asking too much for expenses to be covered.
As it often gets said, “you don’t get something for nothing.”. If bands are willing to play for free (or media types willing to work for free), oftentimes you get what you pay for, which in turn results in lower quality output all round.
I think Andy Ward’s point about offering DJ’s an opportunity to play to crowds bigger than they would usually attract is a good example of the level of exposure that can be justified as payment.
Reblogged this on gary burt and commented:
Great post from Andrew Collins about being paid for work. Thinking about this, it is interesting how many commercial news services rely on (free) guest posts and comments without paying contributors whilst happily charging subscribers or more commonly advertisers.
i used to work for a well known football club in the media dept. there was a pre season tour to ireland and they wanted our office to go, but to pay our own way – flights and, i think, digs. i said no chance. the rest of them – who i liked and got on with really well – did it, leaving me to point out we would never get better conditions if they were prepared to work for free, which they were basically doing. working in football media is particularly grim for this sort of thing. im fuming now.
Intersting article Andrew. Unfortunately unpaid work is becoming more common elsewhere aswell. I work in the construction industry as a professional. It is now pretty common for practices to ‘use’ graduates in an experience-for-work deal where students gain the hours they need in professional practice in exchange for working. The problem, in the current climate, is that it is self-perpetuating. As soon as one set of students accrued the hours they need, they are shown the door as there are another batch of fresh-faced recruits waiting to step in.
This in turn drives down the salaries of already qualified professionals – after all, why pay a reasonable salary when you can use students for free ? (believe me, practices are fully prepared to drop experience in exchange for free workers). Subsequently many in our industry are working longer hours for less than half the pay we used to receive.
Unfortunately I have in the past been lured by the “looks good on your CV” dangling carrot, but later realised that I had simply been used and to make it worse I was complicit in my own exploitation.
In relation to interns and those getting unpaid work experience in the media, I find that the majority of those prepared to work on film production or in a news office for nothing come from quite wealthy families, so they don’t really have to struggle. This of course denies the possibility of people from less privileged backgrounds getting a foot in the door.
Whenever I was asked to help with a TV or Radio prog when I was on the staff of The Indy I always asked for and received a fee for doing my thing. They wanted me, they paid. Very simple. This morning I needed a ceiling plastered, I paid. Always charge for your expertise and time, if you don’t value your work no one else will…..Brian Harris photographer
Excellent stuff, made more valuable (to me at least) by it having been written by someone who I consider way out of my league regarding visibility and status. If Andrew Collins is being stiffed, then at least it makes me feel a little bit more as if we really are all in this together. I’m a writer with 24 years’ professional experience and I am currently finding it difficult to claim a 14p per word fee from some of my (Spain based) clients. As one of my friends said recently, brains are the cheapest commodity of all.
I totally agree,it’s also generally a myth that by doing a client a favour it will lead on to other bigger and better things.I’m a photographer.In my experience (a while back now I admit because I no longer entertain it) at best you may get some jobs but you will always be the cheap guy,those big ones still end up with the people who said no.
The whole culture of internships well thats another matter and one I think is being exploited to the hilt by every industry,who can afford to work for free,well off people thats who.The argument that it’s a leg up and makes work experience and therefore otherwise difficult careers to break into accessible to all with talent is a myth.A few days or a week’s work experience I think thats fine, get a taster,meet some people,try and impress,but long term work for free,I’m glad I’m not just starting out thats for sure.YTS in another form ! Rant over
I think the big problem with the argument is based on the fact that creative people, journalists, musicians, etc., are doing something that they love and that they’re passionate about. I write about South American music and have written lots of stuff for free. In a couple of weeks I’ll even be taking part in a discussion in London about a new film about Brazilian music. I’m doing this for free. I never even asked for money or transport. If I wasn’t involved in the discussion then I would most likely be paying the entrance fee. For me, it’s not even an internal discussion.
This is why I think that the argument that writers are qualified people too and need money for their time and expertise is different. Engineers need money for their time because the only (or at least the main) reason they’re doing the job is because of the money. If the only reason you’re a writer is to make money then the argument would make sense, but if you’re doing it because you like the job then I don’t see why there’s such a problem with doing things for free. Do it because you love doing it, surely that’s what it all comes down to!
An interesting angle, but deeply flawed. And since I write thousands of words for free on this blog, I think that proves that I love writing. I do. I also need to eat and pay my mortgage, which is why I rely on “jobs” to pay my the money for that purpose. I can’t build walls, or mend pipes etc. I am qualified only to write and talk, and to edit, and these are my chief sources of income. Just because I get pleasure from these things, it doesn’t mean all of my work is a pleasure, as deadlines and revisions make writing “work”. I suspect if you play an instrument for a living, you love playing it, but that doesn’t mean you should be expected to do it for free. It’s an insane argument.
Have to agree with Andrew here. It’s ridiculous to suggest that the likes of engineers and scientists — most of whom will have specifically studied for several years to become one — have any less passion for their jobs than writers, musicians or other artists. The vast majority of the ones I know eat and sleep their chosen profession, but we still expect appropriate compensation.
Andrew, the kind of situation like the one you describe in your blog happens across many different sectors… and even when people do get paid, you often find that the effective rate of pay for this kind of work falls below the minimum wage.
Given that we have the minimum wage, there’s an argument to be had for extending the idea to paying for work to be done by people that aren’t employees… and there’s a good argument for increasing the minimum wage too. This isn’t some “crazy lefty agenda”. Quite the opposite. It’s simply not good for the economy to allow highly profitable corporations to effectively obtain free/subsidised labour because those profits aren’t real profits. They’re being made at the expense of the tax payer. because what happens at the moment is that many people have to rely on handouts from the state to top up their incomes eg in the form of tax credits.
Today, we’re seeing new business models emerge that allow large, highly profitable corporations (that don’t pay any tax as it is) to not even have to pay miminum wage to people to carry out their operations. A classic example would be Amazon, which uses couriers that don’t employ drivers but instead work on a network of self-employed drivers that don’t get paid a salary. Rather they get paid a set amount per package delivered. This turns out to add up to way less than minimum wage in many cases.
This kind of thing really is a big issue for the country.
It’s interesting that you mention content in the digital age towards the end of your piece. Digital is my area – has been for 15 years – and in that time I’ve seen online content grow from almost nothing. I’ve read many previous think-pieces about whether writers should work for free when supplying content online – this happened especially, of course, when Huffington Post launched in the UK, whose whole set-up is based on people providing their content for free.
I don’t approve of writers/photographers working for nothing in the digital arena, and I absolutely think that publishers should be paying. However, I do think part of the blame must lie with the absolute slew of content – in particular, comment rather than fact-based articles – that these online sites publish. For instance, does the Guardian’s Comment is Free section really *have* to publish so many pieces each day? I’d really be interested to see how low some of the stats must be for people clicking on them and reading them in full. If there’s that much content, and if publishers are expected to make profit, then of course they’re going to try and get content for nothing.
I think it’s time for two approaches:
i) Online publishers looking at how much content they’re publishing. It’s time to put quality over quantity, just as they would do in print. I’d rather that newspapers and online publishers published less material, that was better written, better thought-out and didn’t sometimes have the feel of just being written quickly and barely edited because they contributors weren’t being paid. There would still be plenty for the public to read, but a lesser amount would hopefully lead to better quality.
ii) In the online arena, contributors should perhaps start diversifying. I hate to say it, but we now have an absolute glut of personality columnists, lifestyle articles and opinion pieces (sometimes all merging into one). Yet fewer people want to write factual pieces that require in-depth research. I’m sorry, but if you’re yet another person who wants their own column and you’re battling against 500 other people who want their own column, then the publishers who want content might take you on – but it’s a bit much to expect them to pay all of you.
In short: too much content, too many writers. But yes, I still think contributors should be paid – there just needs to be fewer of them.
Excellent points, well articulated.
I’ve been bumping around at the bottom of local radio for about 20 years … And I’ve written some magazine articles and books of film criticism and have had one or two trips on the media gravy train. All the while, I was amazed that people were willing to pay me for simply uttering my thoughts on radio or typing them up. I never really felt like a professional. So, I understand why people are flattered just to be asked and are nervous of demanding money.
I now teach media occasionally and my students (at whatever level) are, generally, incapable of structuring an argument or researching a subject. Why? Because they only research on the internet and, at cursory glance, the information there is pretty poor. (Apart from Wikipedia, of course, which is the entirety of the unvarnished truth in all its complexity).
Last year I spent a while writing for an on-line film magazine but the gloss quickly wore off when I realised that the editors were making money from a million plus hits a month while the dozens (now hundreds) of writers were doing it for free. We were being held to professional standards but were not being treated like professionals.
So the internet is, by and large, written by amateurs for free. And the rest of the media is catching on!
Why should they pay for something if they can get something that looks as good, for free? It won’t have the substance or the authority or the depth, in all likelihood, but it may well have the appearance of those things … And that seems to be enough.
What’s the solution? Over to minds infinitely superior to mine …
Working for free is a problem throughout the UK. I know someone who was told there were no jobs going at her local supermarket, then in the same week received a letter saying she’d have to work at the same supermarket branch in order to keep her benefits! When I worked in a supermarket at minim wage, working at least an hour unpaid a day was expected and needed to get everything done. If I refused, the work would not be done, disciplinary action taken and I know there are plenty of people wanting to fill jobs of anyone fired due to too many disciplinary strikes. I’m gearing up for about 5 years of free work to break into a new line of work too, but that industry has a decent rate of pay for those who are skilled/waged. It’s part of UK life now. At least Mr. Collins is in an industry that pays more than minimum wage, when they do pay.
Because most work in the media, whether visible or otherwise, is paid through short contracts, there is no minimum wage, and very rarely is a rate based on hours. There are industry standards, but it’s a free market and each production will have a budget. Through my agent, I can negotiate a fee for writing, talking or corporate work, but there always comes a point when you have to either accept the money offered or turn the work down. (And you have to build in the percentage you pay to your agent.) So it’s incredibly insecure and something of a free-for-all. In this regard, it’s more woolly and exploitative than other more conventional industries. You can pay a plumber by the hour for labour and materials can be added on top. This is not so easy with, say, brainstorming ideas or pitching or even editing or performing.
Capitalism is the villain in all this, and successive right-wing, pro-business governments (in which I include New Labour).
Unpaid work is rampant in the performing arts, so much so that the trade union Equity has won 3 cases for the National Minimum Wage, BECTU (the technicians union) one and the NUJ another.
Actors Minimum Wage http://actorsminimumwage.wordpress.com/ deplores unpaid work and its normalisation in all areas of work. We need to change the culture. It is not acceptable to condemn workers to expect to work for nothing to get a foot on the ladder.
Thanks for your great article. This is something that has been troubling me for a while and I know it affects far more than just the media/arts industries (although I think artists gets the worst end of the stick). I work in video/film production as a writer/filmmaker and coinciding with the vast knowledge & experience, I have a ridiculous amount of hardware/software to ‘keep current’. Yet because access to consumer equipment has made making films more ‘easy’, clients believe I can do what I do for next-to-nothing or less!
I am very much for this campaign and look forward to a swing towards better times for work in general in the UK.
I make music videos, problem is most of my favourite local (North East England) bands are skint, but because I love their music I do their videos for free/very little money.
Recently I’ve realised though, I put a lot more effort and time into editing their videos because it’s for the love of doing it, whereas I find myself knocking out corporate videos in a day or so, and some of them pay loads!
I’ll always work for free as long as I like the band/artist/company/whatever, luckily my job is also my play,
It’s nice to have the option to do work you love for free, or to help others, but then it is – as stated – voluntary work. Voluntary work is admirable. It is also a choice, one funded by paid work, whatever that work may be. I write my blog for free. I maintain the Thomas’s Fund website for free (for self-evident reasons). I don’t have to do either. For two years, I made a weekly podcast for free. This is another growing area where the Internet both creates opportunities but also operates outside a traditional funding framework. You can get a blog or a podcast out there for free, but it’s difficult to get funding for doing it, because people expect stuff to be gratis online. It is this culture that works against workers’ rights.
The important thing is to draw a line between choosing and having to work for free.
Harlan Ellison’s words on this subject are succinct and clear: GET PAID- amateurs undercut and it leads to a race to the bottom in terms of viability and quality:
Excellent post, Mr C. I feel slightly uneasy about the fact that it has an embedded advert at the bottom, because I know that pays the hosting costs of the blog, but gives nothing to the actual writer of it. Which is rather the point of your piece! I’ve joined that Facebook group now.
As someone else says, although the campaign is commendable, I don’t know what one can do about stopping people working for free, short of legislation and some sort of union system, as there’s no shortage of writers keen to build that CV. Too many people want to write, compared to wanting to do the services that always get paid, eg operate TV cameras, run server hosting companies etc.
To thank you for this post, and others, I have instead ‘paid’ you by finally buying one of the things in your shop (a podcast CD). Am trying to do that more often, as a Responsible Blog Consumer…
If a lone blogger one enjoys has a ‘shop’ tab, or a ‘buy stuff’ page, or a ‘donate’ button, one should always do the honourabe, karmic thing.
Yeah, I forget about the embedded ads (as I don’t see them!), but by accepting them, I get to use WordPress for free. I’m all about cutting costs, like everybody else. I don’t mind writing this stuff for free, but it would be hard to justify doing it at a loss!
Thanks for buying a CD. More than anything else, I’m happy to help support a small indie with a big heart like Go Faster Stripe.
As you know from my “shop”, there are few direct links – you can buy my books wherever you like (I don’t even get royalties on two-thirds of my memoirs!) … and now that I’ve packed in the comedy, it’s unlikely there’ll be much in the way of new merch. My best hope of income is from scripts I’ve written, and the only thing you can do to help that is to watch the programmes I write, IF they ever get on telly! I really don’t blog with income in mind. I’ve long since stopped dreaming that a national publication will contact me and say, “Hey! Wanna write a paid column for us?”
Of course, the whole concept of “The Big Society” is about getting people to do stuff for free. Here in Lincolnshire, the Council have recently announced plans to sack staff at half the county’s libraries and instead “encourage” local volunteers to run them. This current Government is embedding in our society the idea that it’s OK for important public services to be delivered on the cheap by volunteers.
Quite right all of it and one of the reasons I’m not doing the jobs I want to.
I’ve a mass of experience, two degrees the whole shebang, but all the jobs I am massively qualified for in the creative industries are now filled by temporary contracts, people working for free / volunteers or occasions when three positions have been merged into one and I’m only really fine for one third of them. None of which was the case when I studied for the post graduate which I thought would be my ticket, then wasn’t. I’m a bit stuck.
really excellent post. thank you. as an artist I am often in this position. what I really resent though is that it can take several emails before they admit that they are asking me to do something for nothing. The awkwardness of the exchange has to be their responsibility but I find that it is me being tied up in knots, apologising, and not knowing how to ask if this is paid work or not. And the other side is surprised that I would be so crude to mention money. I’m getting better at having these conversations, and very heartened to read your post and hear about the facebook page and campaign.
“Capitalism is the villain in all this, and successive right-wing, pro-business governments (in which I include New Labour).” I agree, but I think all out refusal is impossible to organise. We’re too far gone down the “volunteer culture” road.
Brilliant post Andrew. I’m a freelance writer and I write thousands of words for free too on my blog and for a site that uses elements of my blog posts. However, I have drawn the line at writing for magazines or websites for free. I have had pitches taken up by well-known national magazines and been told that they have no budget for content (!) which is crazy, what on earth is a magazine without content? I write (paid) copy for websites that is very often excruciatingly boring, but it pays me a decent wage, fills in the gaps when magazine work is thin on the ground and allows me to keep working from home while my children are young. It’s heartbreaking to turn down jobs that yes, might get me more exposure and therefore more paid work, but the hope of more exposure, and a bit of an ego massage is definitely not going to pay the rent at the end of the month. If more of us stopped working for free then things would have to change but this market is so competitive. I always talk about it in terms of calling out a plumber and telling him that I have no budget to pay him but boy, will I tell everyone who takes advantage of running water in my house what a great job he did!
This reminds me of the old musician’s joke. Someone is booking a function band with seven members. The band quotes £1,000. The customer suggests that this is an extortionate amount. The musician replies “Tell you what, find out what it would cost to book seven plumbers for four hours on a Saturday night and we’ll do it for half that.”
http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/walters_07_13.php, bit late to this party, I know, but here is an interesting article by another writer basically saying the same thing…
You may or may not believe that we face the same sort of issues in the financial advice sector – historically advisers would have meetings with clients, sell them something and get paid by the product provider. The client therefore felt like they weren’t actually paying for the work that had been done by the adviser.
Now we have to charge the client in a much more transparent way (since 1 Jan this year – I’m simplifying a bit for speed), and they don’t like it. They expect an adviser to come to their house, spend a couple of hours with them, go away research into various solutions and then produce a report detailing everything all for nothing. Just not a business model that works
I think you’ve got a lot of good points here, but it’s not just in the media. For authors, there’s the whole issue of events and festivals. Children’s authors, in particular, do a huge number of events every year as part of their work, and most of them would be paid, but we still get people asking us to travel and perform somewhere for free (while there may be a charge for the audience), often with no guarantee of a minimum audience or any decent PR. I’ve blogged about it here: http://www.oisinmcgann.com/blog/?p=3415
Point 4 above is a little optimistic:
“The broadcaster might have used me again in the future and on that occasion maybe even paid me.”
I think it’s more likely that in future, they’d have asked you to appear for free again. Working for free usually only leads to more offers of unpaid work.
When I’m asked to work for free with the possibility of future work, I usually say “Pay me my fee for this occasion, and I’ll do a 50% discount on the next two jobs”. No-one has taken me up on that offer, so I call bullshit.
It was meant to sound optimistic, hence the “might”. No guarantee. I’ve just realised that I’m effectively on a zero-hours contract, which is no contract at all, with most of my employers. I used to get called up the night before when I was the “emergency plumber” on 6 Music if someone was sick, and if I wasn’t available at short notice, the job went elsewhere (which is understandable, but left me with zero security, and all the card held by my employer).
Excellent article and equally excellent replies. Personally speaking, this is probably the second item on my agenda. The first being copyright and image theft (I am a photographer) – however combining the two the big picture is a spectacular lack of understanding of the value of something, especially when created by an individual who has a craft or skill or has immense knowledge acquired over time. Someone with a craft or talent has to nurture it, let it develop so ultimately work becomes a way of life. When I was in my teens I spent 110% of everything I earned (which is 400% more than regional newspapers are paying now) on photographic paper and chemicals as I learnt my craft. Yes, back in the 80s people used to moan and say synths were killing music – but you still had to have the knowledge of keyboard skills and have the creative talent to be the next Kraftwerk. Nowadays I see youngsters whose work is shoddy and utterly poor due to a severe lack of understanding on the time it takes to be a self-apprentice. What is equally of not more alarming are those who see this shoddy work as more than acceptable so that it becomes the norm. Society is in a mess and it needs sorting. Working for free AND copyright are huge issues that we are all facing. Those excellent replies from financial consultants were very interesting yet sadly eyeopening, I’d personally pay you every time for your expertise and advice but sadly people have no value or respect to others. Work is more than being in a factory! The amount of times I have arguments when people steal my work and the line of “its only a picture mate” comes hurtling back at me. Musicians I know who the pubic think are loaded and therefore its OK to steal from them. Stick together people. And once again an excellent article but great replies.