I know that we the New Slaves

Barry taught me an important lesson when I began getting invites to write stuff or do speaking engagements all over the country. He explained that if you agree to speak at an event or contribute content for free, make sure it’s because it’s some place that you really care to be seen. Otherwise, insist on money or say no thanks.

He explains that a few times when he’s agreed to speak at an event for free, he’s been looking at an empty room. The reason is that the event’s organizers don’t bother promoting if you cost them nothing. But if they’re writing a check (or several checks to several speakers), they go absolutely out of their way to pack the room and get the maximum bang for their buck. It was an important lesson for me. Now when I appear somewhere to speak or I write something for someone’s publication, I insist on payment – that way I know there will be a push to get my “content” seen and heard.

In the New York Times this weekend, Tim Kreider explains the New Slave economy, in which writers and creators are expected to make internet stuff for “exposure” or “eyeballs” and not anything so passé and boringly conventional as actual US dollars…

People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it. “Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to offer compensation to our contributors…” is how the pertinent line usually starts. But just as often, they simply omit any mention of payment.

A familiar figure in one’s 20s is the club owner or event promoter who explains to your band that they won’t be paying you in money, man, because you’re getting paid in the far more valuable currency of exposure. This same figure reappears over the years, like the devil, in different guises — with shorter hair, a better suit — as the editor of a Web site or magazine, dismissing the issue of payment as an irrelevant quibble and impressing upon you how many hits they get per day, how many eyeballs, what great exposure it’ll offer. “Artist Dies of Exposure” goes the rueful joke.

Forbes and Huffington Post are essentially built on the fiction that giving a platform to a hundred thousand wannabe opinion writers and citizen journalists is somehow a potentially lucrative platform for anyone other than their own ad sales team and its pageviews / impression count.

With syndicated content, I’m happy to place existing things I’ve written just about anywhere I think they’ll get a new audience that my own site wouldn’t ordinarily reach (you can frequently see my stuff on Business Insider, for example). But as far as me taking the time to do original content for another website or print product, these days I must insist on some filthy lucre.


Slaves of the Internet, Unite! (New York Times)

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