Tim Krieder, author of the excellent We Learn Nothing, wrote in the NYTimes recently on why it’s a mistake to work for free, in an article called Slaves of the Internet Unite. I don’t agree with him and here’s my response:
- There are kinds of compensation other than cash. Exposure and experience are valuable forms of compensation. Sometimes these rewards are more valuable than cash. If you were a guitarist and could play a gig with U2, without pay, would you do it? I’m sure you would. No amount of money could equal the exposure you’d gain. How much exposure is worth working for free is up to you to decide, but any wise person has some amount where it’d be worth it as the only form of compensation.
- Any offer should be considered for its total value. Like Krieder, I get offers to work for free. I reject many of them but some I take. I base my decision on the total value of the offer and I recommend everyone do the same. To reject all non-cash offers limits your opportunities. Many non-cash offers will be lame, but some will be worthwhile.
- There are many paid jobs that are unfair. Being paid does not guarantee fairness. You can be paid far too little, or even be paid fairly but asked to give up most of your rights to the work you made. Negotiations for writing, music and film contracts are largely about control over different kinds of rights, and not just revenue.
- If I could work with someone I admired, on a fun and challenging project, I’d certainly consider doing it for free. Or if the idea I’d get to work on was interesting to me and the opportunity was the only way I’d likely ever do the project.
All the posts on this blog are free. Many videos of my lectures are free to watch. My Twitter and Facebook accounts let fans read things I write for free. Every guest you hear or see on radio and TV shows are never paid anything and when I’ve appeared on these shows I was working for free. These are all creative works I am not paid for, but I believe the total tradeoffs of these actions are worthwhile, even if I don’t make a dime from them directly.
Would you ever work for free?
[This post is a revised version of this post]