I drew a line in the sand the other day. Or chipped it in granite. Or something.
It was the same line Will Wheaton drew with the HuffPo last year – saying ‘no’ to commercial enterprise offering ‘exposure’ in lieu of actual payment to authors.
I’m approached reasonably often to contribute to publications or give a talk or appear on TV shows or other stuff, as a subject expert on some historical topic or other. Until recently that’s always been on a professional basis. But the last couple of TV approaches carried on the ‘well, it’s exposure’ line.
My reply? If you hired a plumber to fix the toilet and said ‘well, I can’t pay you, but I’ll tell all my friends about you’, they’d laugh.
And expert knowledge is expert knowledge. Go to a medical specialist who has 30 years experience? You’ll pay $300 or more for a short consultation. Go to a lawyer, and you probably need to re-mortgage your house.
Spend the same time learning history or writing professionally, to the same level of expertise, and the expectation is that you’ll give that skill away for nothing.
Now, I understand it’s a social thing. The arts aren’t valued like medicine or plumbing, and those who get involved in them are widely viewed as hobbyists.
And yet these TV shows are made for profit, and everybody in them gets paid. So why shouldn’t the experts they interview also get a fee?
My rate is $150/hr for expert professional advice in my recognised fields – mainly history and writing. Minimum fee for a specific project is 4 hours. As you can guess, “4 hours” paid time usually requires a LOT more unpaid time to prep, quite apart from costs, tax, overheads etc, so the rate isn’t swingeing.
What happened? Of the two most recent approaches one accepted the point and came to the party.
The other crowd first wanted me to sign a document stating that they weren’t paying me to say something they’d instructed me to say, as if I were some kind of mercenary (what do they think the phrase ‘independent professional advice’ means?). And they never responded after I gave them my rate – not even a note to say they weren’t going to use me. These are people who were, themselves, being professionally paid for their own time. But apparently my daring to ask for the same consideration meant I was written off and ditched instantly – no longer even due any courtesy or a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’. Nothing.
All of which would still suck, ethically, if they were doing it at their own cost and risk. But they weren’t – they were getting funding from New Zealand on Air, which is funded by me as a taxpayer. Speaks for itself, really, and I hope New Zealand On Air sits up and takes notice of the ethics shown towards professional services by the people they’re supporting.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016