Buy the milk, pay the cow.

One thing I’ve had to battle against constantly in my creative career (meagre though it may be) is people who want something from you for free.

First, don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of these folks don’t understand what they’re actually asking of the artist/photographer/writer/musician. Their request is sincere, and naive. They presume that the artist will give of themselves out of the goodness of their heart.

But… there are some people who ask — almost demand — that the artist give them their work, with no recompense. The (supposed) carrot, dangled in front of the artist, is EXPOSURE. These people know what they’re doing. Promising nothing for something. Exchanging something intangible and ultimately without value for something tangible and valuable.. What they’re doing is stealing from the artist. Because…

I’m putting on my Harlan Ellison hat, here.

Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, [EXPLETIVE].

I have argued (with less than successful amateur artists, tbh) who have insisted that EXPOSURE is the magical unicorn of happiness and success and that every artist should be humbly, bow-and-scrapingly, grateful for any of it. Any and all exposure, they say, is good and will be nothing but a benefit for you. So when a company such as Smith Micro comes along with their “influencer” program, promising exposure to thousands (literally thousands!) of people as recompense for their talent and labour, artists should line up and take what they’re given and say thank you*.

(*”I Was a Smith Micro Influencer”…another story for another day)

Nope. No they shouldn’t.

Wait, what? Isn’t exposure what every artist wants?

Yes, every artist wants their work given exposure, but every artist deserves to be paid for the hard work they’ve done, that is given exposure.

Giving someone the magical mystical non-monetary unicorn poop that is EXPOSURE in return for their work is cynical and mercenary.

Listen, artist: Your work has value. You deserve to be paid for what you do. You have the right to request payment when someone wants your work. You have the right to demand payment when someone wants your work for free, when they are potentially benefitting from the use of your work — or in any way benefitting from your work, even indirectly.

For crying out loud, even the 15 year-old kid cooking the fries at McDonald’s gets paid for his time!

So you’re going to tell me that after you’ve worked hours to produce artwork you’re proud enough of that you’ll put your name on it, that someone should get it for free so that they can benefit from it?

If this is what you think (remember, I’m wearing my Harlan Ellison hat, here) then you’re a shmuck. (Note: Harlan Ellison would have said you’re an asshole.)

There’s so much more I could say about this topic, but ol’ Harlan can say it so much better, in his singular Harlan Ellison way.

Pay the writer. (Pay the artist. Pay the musician. Pay the photographer.)

FYI, NSFW for language. Because Harlan Ellison.