Why I said ‘no’ to the old ‘get paid by exposure’ trick

I drew a line in the sand the other day. Or chipped it in granite. Or something.

Writing fuel!
Writing fuel!

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


10 thoughts on “Why I said ‘no’ to the old ‘get paid by exposure’ trick

  1. I don’t mind giving promotional copies of my work away to reviewers, or even, upon occasion, to friends or charities. This is a calculated move in the hopes of “brand building.” But I couldn’t agree more that the arts are a profession, and practitioners should be paid accordingly. Especially since I have from time to time observed attorneys who weren’t worth the fees they charged and collected, usually in advance. (That one comes under the category of “Don’t get me started…”)

    In the end it comes to this: if we don’t demand the respect symbolized by being paid for our expertise, then we won’t be respected.

    1. Too true – the perception that the arts are somehow a ‘hobby’ and therefore ‘free’ pervades. And it’s perpetuated because those who are doing them usually HAVE to treat it on a hobby basis. The sea-change that’s come with the advent of social media and the democratisation of publishing through Amazon has made that one worse, not better.

  2. It is a hard choice. People at a voluntary society were surprised that my gift to them was worth £40k, but I gave it freely. Even if we choose to do pro bono people need to understand that.we are.professionals just like the lawyers, accountants and others we work with.

  3. I agree with every word. I agreed to provide expert info to a doco maker and it turned into 5.5 hours of filming on a Sunday, and a further 3 hours researching photographs for them to use.
    Then they tried to get me to sign over the copyright on MY photographs to their company.
    Never again.

  4. It seems to be a general attitude that we should be pleased to be asked, read, or whatever. A friend was surprised when I said of people sharing copies of my book, that if they had booked a professional appointment their friends would not be able to use that as an excuse to obtain a free appointment.
    Although my series is fiction, I have put many years of research into making the time period as accurate as possible.
    Stick to your guns Matthew!

  5. Oh gosh- this is a thing now??? I’d say well done for saying no, but I wouldn’t expect any less- because this is a lousy deal and I can’t believe people actually get on board with this. How do these people that offer exposure think people pay bills?

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