The value of “exposure”…

By now, everyone’s heard the whole Wil Wheaton/Huffington Post debacle. If for some reason, you’ve been under a rock, the short version is:

Huff Post liked a post Wheaton had on his blog. They asked to use it. He said, “Cool, how much do you pay?” They said, “Oh, we pay in exposure only.” He said, “No thanks.” Internet war ensued.

I was all set to ignore the mess – yes, I agree, exposure is a great thing for beginning writers. But I also think creative types should be paid for their work.

Then a Huff Post writer penned “The Top Ten Reasons You Should Work for Free – Unless You’re Wil Wheaton“. Yeah. OK. Enough.

The reasons…

10. Exposure is Everything! ~

No, exposure is not everything. It’s a good thing, but it is not the end-all and be-all of a creative career. Yes, it’s going to cost something, and sure, working for a prestigious title can help boost that. But exposure is a balancing act. What are people seeing you do? What are you getting known for? And is that going to benefit you in the long run?

9. Branding is a Good Thing ~

Yes, it is. And I am incredibly protective of my name for that very reason. My name is my brand. Do I really want my brand to be known for writing free stuff for a site that has lost whatever journalistic respect it may have once had?

8. Credibility is Important ~

Yes, credibility is important. However, as a former editor and content manager, if a young writer came to me and said their only experience was doing free pieces “for exposure”, I’d be looking very closely at those things. The right kind of work can make your career, while the wrong kind can break it.

Is the company’s name going to add real value to your resume?

7. Networking Rules ~

Yep, it does. And there are plenty of places to network with other writers and editors. Once again, look at the company and decide if their reputation will add real value to your experience. Are there writers who’ve been through the ranks with the company who can say they gained something valuable from their time there? Paid staffers do not count.

6. R& R Baby; Resume and References ~

Consider how something looks on your resume. If you’re interested in a career in serious journalism, doing work for a tabloid is not going to look good. Everything is a niche market today.

One point made was that “no one needs to know your financial arrangements” – well… true. But when the company is known for paying their freelancers in “exposure”, potential clients already know you’re available on the cheap. The real cheap.

5. Taxes Suck ~

Guess what? Even if I get paid as a freelancer, I can still write off all those same expenses. Unless the company is treating me as a regular employee, I’m “self-employed” and taxes suck whether I’m getting paid $500 or $5 for a piece.

And trying to tell a struggling freelancer that they’re better off taking jobs that don’t pay actual money because then they can write more off, and have less income to declare is ridiculous reasoning at best.

4. You Get to be the Hero ~

What? How?

So… associating with a company (for exposure) makes me a great person! Or occasionally gets me the opportunity to do cool stuff. Or meet cool people.

Guess what? I get the same benefits when I work for companies that actually pay me.

3. Practice Makes Perfect ~

Yes, it does. Writing is work. And this is why I say that working “for exposure” can be a great thing for beginning writers. So can guest blogging. So can taking small (paying) assignments. So can lots of things. But at what point does this unpaid internship end?

2. You get to choose ~

What? I get to choose no matter what. I’m a freelancer. I can say “no” to a client. Whether or not I’ve put something out there for free is irrelevant (if I’ve put it out there, I’m in complete control of it).

If I’ve written something that is popular enough to attract attention and a company wants to use it for their benefit, then I should be paid for it in some way other than “exposure”.

1. Because You Love It ~

Yes, I do this because I love it. And that’s why I maintain a blog. It’s why I participate in writer’s forums. It’s why I write short stories for fun. It’s why I’ve written several novels. It’s why the majority of my career has been in writing or editing.

But, that does not mean I should not be paid for my work. You want to try that argument on a doctor? Hey, doc, you love medicine and healing people, you should do it for free. Y’know, for the exposure.

Wil Wheaton’s post on the subject.