There was a lovely young couple living upstairs for the first few years I was here, and by lovely I mean when they walked by you could only stand there gaping in wonder at their sheer splendor (especially in combination). One Brazilian and the other Welsh, they had both undoubtedly been models at some point.

My neighbors were high-fashion photographers at the beginning of their careers, with a full studio set up in their apartment (probably illegally), and there were always gorgeous, exotic six-foot-tall stick girls knocking on our door. Vincent would answer and smile and point to the sky to indicate they were one floor short (no names or numbers on our apartment doors in typically efficient French fashion).

One day the Perfections and I were chatting on the sidewalk and they told me that fashion magazines, even the big ones, didn’t want to pay them for their work, claiming the exposure they’d get and the portfolio they were building should be adequate compensation. However, landlords don’t take payment in magazine spreads any more than they do in blog posts, so the Lovelies were forced to move out of this neighborhood, all the way to the outskirts of Paris. Shame.

Evidently graphic designers have the same problem. Designer Ben Crick created a manifesto for designers…

There exists an unfortunate cultural history of exploitation in Visual Communication, and indeed the arts in general. Designers, especially young designers, are expected to work for little or no money, either to prove themselves, gain exposure, or provide spec work.

…and a charming set of posters to illustrate its four main points:

Read the rest of the manifesto and see the other posters

In a discussion I had with a writer friend the other day on the topic of blogsploitation, I tried to pin down for her why some people (like me) have a problem with being asked to blog for free and maybe why others don’t, and why many websites don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with not paying their bloggers.

I think part of the problem is the concept of “blogger.” The general consensus (among the kind of people who think Amazon and Facebook are the Internet) seems to be that bloggers are ordinary people — pilots, housewives, nurses, mechanics — who just decided to start writing about whatever popped into their heads. People tend to place blogging in the hobby rather than the profession category, and they write off bloggers and blogs as amateurish and not to be taken seriously. I think traditional media and big online media capitalize on this perception to keep bloggers in a journalistic underclass.

At a certain point, though, if a blogger has been writing enough, and well enough, to have some significant content on the Web to point to, whether or not he or she’s ever been paid for any of it, that blogger should be taken seriously as a writer or a journalist (depending on what he/she blogs about and how).

Blogging is essentially self-directed OJT for writing and/or journalism.

Another part of the problem is related to what a blogger’s profession is in the first place. While a nurse might be excited to blog for a large platform for free (at least at first), a writer might be more indignant about being expected to do so. In my case, I was getting paid to do tech writing, translation and many other kinds of writing for years before I started blogging, so it irks me to write for free unless it’s for a good cause, or to help a friend, or to share something I’m passionate about.

Ideally, if you end up writing for free for a website, there should be a time limit to it. Give ‘em a free sample of the milk, but not a lifetime supply, ya know? Companies should have the courtesy to define trial periods after which they agree to pay for the content you’re producing, vest you in the company, or offer some other arrangement.

For example, after you’ve written X posts per month for X months or years, you’ll be paid X per post (or maybe X to start, with increases down the line), or own X shares of the company.

If your writing’s no good, or you’re flaky, or not a good fit, the company should send you on your merry way before the trial period ends, which can only improve the quality of their site’s content. In fact, if it’s true that bloggers don’t draw that much traffic to HuffPo, maybe it’s because HuffPo doesn’t actively separate the wheat from the chaff. I stopped reading it about three years ago, when I saw a celebrity gossip blog post about Tom Cruise…

If you are good, and your content resonates with the site’s audience, it’s easy to quantify your value based on the number of comments you get (and “Likes” and tweets) as well as your stats. The site you write for is tracking stats, and should tell you your “popularity” ranking relative to other bloggers, or the ranking of your posts, and should share your stats with you (number of views, external links to your posts, etc.), so you can judge just how much “exposure” you’re actually getting for your efforts. If it’s clear your content is popular, the company using you should recognize and reward your contribution in some way.

It’s just a question of doing the right thing.

I may continue this discussion. Might talk about the open source philosophy (Vincent thinks I should), intellectual property, Flattr, faux celebrity, and the reality of the situation, which is that most of us do write for free, despite everything I’ve said. Or I might not. We’ll see.


*Shit my pre-Sexual Revolution mom said.

Read the first post on this topic, Give me equity or give me a break.