Yesterday I went to an electronics store to purchase a big, shiny new TV.

The clerk dutifully informed me that it cost $1299.00 plus tax, to which I responded, "Actually, I'd like you to give it to me for free."

He seemed unpersuaded.

"I can't pay you for the TV right now," I explained, "but if you think about it, it's better for your business if you give it to me for free.
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" Again, he failed to grasp my logic. Carefully but forcefully I pointed out that I like inviting people over to my house to watch movies and sports, so a lot of people – potential customers, one and all – would get to see the TV. "If the TVs you sell are any good, people will be really impressed and come here to buy one of their own!"

He regretted to inform me that I must pay for it.

"I am paying for it, just not in money.
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I'm paying you in exposure, which is worth more than money." To sweeten the pot, I offered to throw in a couple of beers for the store clerk and promised him that I would order pizza when the TV was delivered and if there was any left over, the delivery people could have it.

Still nothing. I grew frustrated.

"Don't you see???" He did not see. "$1300 right now is only worth $1300. If you give me the TV for free you won't make anything today, but you'll make $1300 many times over once everyone sees this TV." I admitted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I do charge people a $5 cover to watch sports and movies at my house. But that's beside the point, it's unfair to say I'm "profiting" off the TV just because it does all the work and I charge people money to see it, of which I pocket 100%.

He asked me if it wouldn't be fair, hypothetically, to share that cover money with the store. But don't I have a right to make a few bucks for the overhead costs – those lights aren't free! – while the TV is getting all that really valuable exposure? "I'm doing you a favor here, man!"

Suppose my logic was valid, he asked, making sense for the first time that day. Let's say ten of my friends come into the store to buy a TV of their own after seeing the magnificent beast in action at my house. What's stopping those ten friends from also expecting the store to give them the TV for "exposure"? When in this chain of Being Exposed does the store actually start to receive money for its products?

"If you're worried about making money, dude, you're in the wrong business. You should be doing this for the love of selling TVs."

As security escorted me off the premises, I could not help but wonder why a business model that is so successful at compensating the products of creative work – writing, comedy, music, art – could not also be applied to retail. I guess I just don't understand the Free Market.

46 thoughts on “NPF: PAID IN FULL”

  • That was great.

    I once overheard a Wamu branch president ask a Subway line-worker – who had come in not in any working capacity but for some personal transaction – to cater a regional bank meeting for Subway's (presumably that particular Subway?) exposure.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I'm forwarding you the bill for cleaning the pants I just pooped and pissed in, from laughter!

    I guess that's the cost of doing business for you.
    Sucks to be you…

  • Although this can easily be applied to the creative fields, it even happens in the technical fields such as engineering and computer science with alarming frequency. People that can program are constantly being asked to whip up some project that will "undoubtedly" be the next Facebook. Of course, there's no pay up front, but why should you care when you will be a billionaire later?

  • @Graham; have you looked into selling some of your work to the stock photo businesses? I don't know what kind of deal you could strike for yourself, but I know a number of people (myself included) with a monthly subscription to stock-photo companies. At work, I'm constantly being told, "We need a picture of X for our presentation" or "Put a picture of Y on the website". Downside; you would no longer have copyright of your images. Potential upside: you could sell work you don't particularly care about.

  • Ah yes, the phenomenon which is best answered by "fuck you, pay me" (credited to John Scalzi). The problem is there are too many people who are desperate enough to produce for the sake of "exposure" or "demonstrating a solid work ethic" or whatever other nebulous concept they think they can use to exploit you. I sort of (but not really) have to laugh about the demonization of poor immigrants. If we do away with immigration and have the food producers start hiring Americans to harvest their crops. You know John and Jane Q. Public are going to be screaming about the rising cost of food, because they feel entitled to cheap food just as they feel entitled to cheap gasoline.

  • Sock or Muffin? says:

    As a graphic designer, thank you.

    "We can't pay you, but it will be good for your portfolio!"

  • @Sarah; I've had this very discussion about cheap food with the farmer who runs my CSA. She has an awful time trying to hire help at harvest time; it's a balance between what he customer will pay for fresh produce, and paying the workers enough to actually survive on.

  • I recently met with the director and head of communications for a national thematic film festival to discuss the possibility of my organisation doing a joint screening with them.

    They were both lovely and professional but in their early twenties, which seemed awfully young for the type of work they were doing. (One of my friends was the director of a large international film festival, and that both ate her entire life and situated her firmly in the cultural establishment.)

    I walked the director to his next meeting, and he was asking me about my organisation and the number of staff that we have. Then he asked if any of the staff were paid. Of course, I said. All of us are paid. He was astonished, and told me that he was paid for a few hours(!) a week, although he was working full time, but that all of the other staff were interns. I was astonished right back at him that anyone would this was okay. (Or lawful, but that's another story.)

  • A few days ago I was taking photos of a band at a local bar. A couple of guys from another band were there havin' a pop or six and one of them told me that he was going to put a webpage together and would like to have some photos of the band's current lineup. I told him that I would be happy to photograph his band as long as they were playing local and I could get into the venue without paying a cover. He told me about a couple of dates this week and next and I said I would make at least one of them.

    The other guy (who was playing with a different band last summer) asked me what I got paid for taking photos at X bar–the one I have been doing it at for years–I told him, "Zip". He said, "Oh!" and the other guy said, "Hey, you wanna Bud?". Truth be known, I don't photography anyone or anything for THEM. I do it for me. They can have all of the photos and if they want to give me something, fine. OTOH, they NEVER get copyright (not that it matters a fuck of a lot, these days) and I tell them that if I ever see one in a magazine or on a billboard, they'll be hearing from a lawyer. Other than that, I don't give a shit.

    Everybody is a photographer, just like everybody is a "recording artist" or a "writer". The ubiquity of technology has made it so. That many are not any good at their chosen avocation or whatever they want to call it is evident by the fact that so few of us are in demand to perform or exhibit our work*.

    I had a guy who was replacing me as an office manager (I'd been fired with three WEEKS notice) tell me that my attitude was not pro-company and that I needed to learn to put the company first and I would be rewarded down the line–he meant in my next "career path". I told him that I didn't, don't and won't work for free to please anyone. If I choose to work without recompense (something I do a fair amount of) it will be MY choice not the choice of the puppetmasters in corporate.

    * Yeah, if there's something exceptional in that batch of 900 digital files I made last night, you'll only see 899 The really good stuff? it's not free and you don't get to see it until we establish that.

  • Another variation of this is the charity auction. I know quite a few painters and potters and many of them get frequent requests to donate work for charity auctions. The arguments are a mixture of exposure and for a good cause. This goes wrong for the artist in various ways. Many of the charities don't actually do anything to promote the artist's name at the event, the auction is all about the cause and the artists are never mentioned by name. It's also common that the auctions refuse to set minimum prices and the work winds up selling for painfully low prices, it's hard to watch and for artists with local/regional followings it undermines the market for their work. Why pay gallery or art show prices when you can get things for pennies on the dollar at a charity auction?

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    Alas, even clients who promise payment often Welsh on it without explanation or repercussions. An invoice is a grown-up version of a prayer.

  • Guy Incognito says:

    You know, my first impulse is to say, "well, if all your allegories are so heavy-handed, no wonder you can't get paid", but sad to say there are probably people who wouldn't see the point of this.

  • As I more or less said on your Facebook post (yes, I'm that Ursula, with the broken sarcasm detecter), you could be getting paid for this content. I don't really want to see you leave this space – when bloggers go to big conglomerates, the comment section is the casualty, and the one here is (for lack of a better word) amazing – but I am hard pressed to believe that anyone would stop reading if you had some ads on the site.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I agree with you.
    I'd read Ed even if there was a blizzard of ads – like on Salon, or the GREAT Charlie Pierce's site!!!

    Those stupid ads are the shells that I'm willing to break through, to get to the nut.

    NOT that I'm calling Ed or the commenters here, "nuts."
    I know I AM!
    I can't speak for the rest of all ya'll…

  • yeah, I have stopped doing spec work upfront. There are occasions when i will spend a little time on pre-design work or initial code reviews, but I pretty much only do that for clients who have already engaged me for prior jobs and paid for them.

  • Alas, even clients who promise payment often Welsh on it without explanation or repercussions. An invoice is a grown-up version of a prayer.

    Yeah. I had a guy tell me to send him an invoice after our last meeting, and at that point he was happy with the work. But now he has called me, because he 'has some questions' about the invoices. Pretty sure he doesn't want to pay.

  • @1:35 PM:

    We prolly agree on a few other things, I've never let how my friends feel about my other friends or how I feel about their other friends get in the way of anything (some of them may have done).

    "Alas, even clients who promise payment often Welsh on it without explanation or repercussions. An invoice is a grown-up version of a prayer."

    I did a "work for hire" a while back and had to wait about 60 days for a check. This was after telling the client that they could set the rate–they declined–and charging them somewhat less than anybody else would have. After about 58 days and a couple of gentle reminders (we're talking about $2K and I had NO income that year other than the one job) I called the art director and told him that all parties should be aware of the language in the contract that they had signed which stipulated that they owned the images–as soon as they had paid for them. I had the check in about 36 hours and not a whiff of a job, since then. Fuck it, I don't like being jerked around.

  • I've definitely seen that the Bush Economy took hold in 2008, that payment schedules have edged up toward 60+ days for many clients. I have become much less reticent to call and say "Where the hell's my money" like Mojo Nixon sang.

  • Speaking of Networks, think also of all the free "talent" TV stations get on their cooking shows, reality shows and contestant shows.

    It sure must beat paying for actors and professionals.

  • Sock or Muffin? says:

    This talk of free acting talent reminds me…

    Living in the new southern Hollywood (Atlanta) and owning an early sixties vintage vehicle, I often get propositioned by production companies. Every few months some flunkie posts on a club forum "we're looking for such and such year motorcycle/car, bring it and let some actor drive it around while you sit and wait all day for nothing to happen with no compensation." Also some friends in the industry will email me directly with requests.

    No, never.

  • I actually thought this was about the NCAA failure to pay student athletes when they rake in billions of dollars. I guess it can be broadly applied.

  • "I actually thought this was about the NCAA failure to pay student athletes when they rake in billions of dollars"

    There seems to be an awful lot of people expecting other people to work for free out there.

  • @SeaTea and Scotius: historically/technically the NCAA did "pay" their athletes. It's called a fullride sports scholarship. However, that was before millions were being made off the backs of these kids, and they were actually supposed to be getting an "education".

    When I was doing design I often encountered the F*ck You! Pay me! scenario.
    There was one agency I worked with that handled the "suit" work. After a couple of 4-6wk waits—funny that landlords and utility cos. aren't into "theoretical money"*—I told them the client could either put me on to their books as a temp hire and pay me directly, or they paid me an upfront deposit. I basically quit taking their calls.

    I also hated the cycle of having to do spade work to find work (ie not "working" for a designer), being too busy to scratch (ie do spade work for when this gig finishes), and around it went. If a steady consistency of work could be achieved/maintained then the hiring of a proper suit would have been possible.

    *Theoretical money: money that has been invoiced for but has yet to appear in the bank.

  • This is my big problem with Cory Doctorow. The only reason anyone has ever heard of him is because back in the 90's he set himself up as the guru of this new scary thing called the Internet. His one and only message was that artists can get rich giving all their work away for free, in return for exposure. He pointed to himself as proof; after all, he wouldn't have a career if he hadn't given his work away for free, thus establishing himself as an Internet Guru who makes a living getting paid by corporations to give talks about the need to give everything to them for free.

  • I thought this was going to end up being a parable where you're a sports team owner, the salesman is a municipality, and the TV is a stadium.

  • OK, I was ready to contribute to the blog after freeloading all these years, but I can't find the "contribute" button. And I don't want a poster. Any ideas?

  • I'm not accustomed to giving Ed verbal BJs, unlike some G & T readers, but I've got to say, that was pretty great—not just the analogy, not just the reductio ad absurdum, but the parody of the puffed up, patently phony, heavy-handed, rightwing "this is what I told 'em" parable disguised as a personal anecdote, all at the same time.

  • "I'm not accustomed to giving Ed verbal BJs, unlike some G & T readers"

    I've not had one of those. I've had a few of the other sort and I think that they are a whole lot more fun than, "You go, Ed!", ymmv.

  • Cory Doctorow actually did parlay his exposure into a career and his free books shtick has helped his paid book sales. There are a number of bloggers who have turned labors of love or at least labors of publicity into books, products and careers. The problem is that this doesn't work for everyone. If you were someone with a high hit count blog that often reviewed new products, like David Pogue, you probably could have gotten that free TV, though you would have had to ask someone higher in the company than a salesclerk.

    On the other hand, one of the big problems we face in this country is that ever since maybe 1980, paying someone for actually working has been considered a sucker's game. You can see it in the declining share of labor income as a fraction of the economy. Eventually more people will catch on, the we'll go down the old Soviet road where "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work."

  • I likened this more to the television prosperity preacher who absolutely promises your gift of money will come back to you four-fold.

  • @Kaleberg:

    my problem is Doctorow is that his career is predicated on being the first and loudest proponent of the Doctorow Method.

    "You, too, can build a career, just like I did- using the Doctorow Method! What is the Doctorow Method? Simple: just become the first and loudest proponent of the Doctorow Method! Then every single one of you will have a career as *the* first, foremost, and unique Guru of Doctorow, just like I do!"

    Never mind that the Doctorow Method kind of fucks over everyone who *doesn't* establish themselves as the One and Only Guru of Doctorow. Maybe that's why a key part of the Doctorow Method seeems to involve vehement denunciation of everyone who criticises the logic behind the Doctorow Method.

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