This is off-topic for beer, cider etc but I thought it went here rather than on my seldom used other blog – it really goes out to other bloggers and people who enjoy writing about beer – and people who are interested in doing business with them/us.
Discussions on writers getting paid for their work seem to be coming to a head in the media at the moment. A couple of weeks ago Philip Hensher raised the subject when he was branded ‘ungracious’ for daring to ask for payment for something he was asked to write. A couple of days later, I was shocked to read about a science writer being called a whore when she politely declined to write a piece for free. (Which raises another subject – I doubt the same language would have been used if she were a man.)
Last night on Twitter, Boak & Bailey and Zak Avery were discussing an email that has done the rounds that essentially asks bloggers to give consultancy services for free for a big beer brand – so we’re not even talking the old language of ‘exposure’ here, they simply want to gather expert opinion without paying for it.
I have an alarm that goes off about this kind of stuff now. It starts clanging when people ask if they can ‘pick my brains’ about something. If I’m lucky, they offer to buy me a pint in return for information which, if I’m any good, could eventually lead to a major profit opportunity for the company asking.
It’s not a cut and dried issue. We live in an age where content is increasingly expected for free, where a generation simply doesn’t see why they should pay musicians or filmmakers for their work. Our society increasingly assumes that economic value is the only form of value worth talking about, yet paradoxically, creators of cultural or artistic value are expected to go, “No, you’re fine, I do it for the love, I don’t care about money, that’s for squares, man.”
Writing is now my full-time profession. I worked two jobs for years to build up my skill and reputation to a point where I can just about scrape a living from writing. It’s a much less lucrative job than the last one, but I love what I do, and that makes me very lucky, I know.
But I still have to make a living. Some weeks I’m ferociously busy, travelling around the country, doing events, writing stuff, and I get to the end of the week and realise I’ve done nothing for which I can raise an invoice. The bills and mortgage still need to be paid, and I am currently the main breadwinner in our household. I know some professional writers who can make as little as £200 a month, some months. During such dry patches, you’d be better off on the dole.
What we do must have some worth, some value, otherwise people wouldn’t ask us to do stuff for them.
Of course, bloggers write for free every time they blog, and this somehow creates the expectation that we’ll do the same for someone else’s website or publication or brand. We’ll do it for love, or for that seductive but non-nutritious drug, ‘exposure’. This expectation that we’ll write for you for free because we’ll write for ourselves for free has unsavoury parallels with those seedy blokes who see a girl ‘put out’ for one of their friends and therefore think that she’s ‘easy’ and will oblige them in the same way. Maybe the girl was into your friend and she’s not into you. And anyway, at all times, it’s her decision.
Different bloggers have different motivations. For professional journalists (no superiority implied there, I just mean people who make their living from writing) a blog can be a shop window that gets you more paid work, a place to put ideas that don’t fit anywhere else or that publications won’t buy, or a place to try out different stuff stylistically, to be more personal, more experimental. Citizen bloggers with other jobs who do this for a hobby have their own reasons. But just because any of us write for free sometimes, that shouldn’t come with an expectation that we’ll be happy to do it any time for anyone.
So here’s what I reckon: collectively we need to alter the establishing perception that it’s OK to expect a writer/blogger to do something for free. It’s OK to ask. But in most cases, I’d like to think that writers and bloggers will politely decline. And that this demurral will be accepted with good grace. This needs to become – or remain – the accepted norm.
Occasionally there might be a cause or an opportunity where after giving it some thought the writer might say, ‘You know what? I’m really interested by this. I’ll happily do it for free because it’s something I believe in/am excited about/might allow me to get to meet Vanessa Feltz/Eamonn Holmes.’ (I did a bit of telly once where I got to be interviewed by Peter Purves! Dreams can come true in the strangest ways.)
But if, as in the examples quoted at the top of this piece, you are offended by a polite refusal (and our end of the deal should be that refusals are always polite) then screw you. Especially if you are asking in a role for which you are being paid handsomely yourself.
If a publication/organisation is asking a writer/blogger to do something from which they expect to make a profit, the writer/blogger deserves a cut. I can’t believe that even needs saying.
As bloggers, we give content away to our readers. That is a choice we make. It is not the same as giving content away free to brand owners/brewers, agencies, beer judging competitions, and other publications or websites. Especially if they are going to profit from it. The expectation that we will do so has to stop.