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Working for Exposure is Not Exciting

Sonal Panse,

The question of working for free rears its ugly head every now and again. I get emails to the tune of 'We love your work, but we're not paying anyone for our labor of love'. Which makes me think, then, in that case, why don't you shift your labor of love off the job market, why reach out to professionals or have them reach out to you by phrasing it as a 'job'? It is wasting everyone's time.

So, anyway, as I was dispatching yet another of these missives to the trashcan, I got an email pointing to an umpteenth new discussion of Tim Krieder's The New York Times article 'Slaves of the Internet Unite!'.

I've been following discussions on this article at several places online. All of us Internet Slaves, you know, we all jump on the band wagon of outrage when something like this gets published. Some of us because it salts an already aggravating matter, and others to reap the attendant attention coming from tomtomming The New York Times topic that everyone is talking about. It is what the SEO gurus advise ad nauseaum. Take a contrary position and enjoy the traffic of people coming to correct you, and they often do; it's a psychological trick, target people's fervent beliefs and they set aside their functioning brains. Of course, if you do this too often and with the wrong people, you might end up without a brain yourself, but that is another topic for another day.

To get back on track, it is curious how the 'for exposure' idea is considered justified in some areas. People writing for The Huffington Post, for instance, seem to think it worth their while to do it for free, and this even after all the hullabaloo over AOL buying the site, when Arriana Huffington got the lion share of that million pie and the writers not even a crumb. Why is it still such an honor to write for that site?

Someone else mentioned a hypothetical situation - if you were a guitarist and the music band U2 asked you to play with them for free, wouldn't you just jump at the opportunity? - imagine the exposure!

I considered it and my take is, just let U2 have the bloody cheek to ask me that, just let them. I know what I would do. I wouldn't jump for my guitar, I would find another way to wear my fingers out. You know, leave the guitar frets alone and take to the keyboard instead to write an indignantly incendiary blog/press release about how terribly unfair and crass it is that this super-rich band is expecting me to play for free. Dear Bono, I would say, if you want to get rid of world poverty, this isn't the way to do it. Then - oh, the joys of the Internet! - I would forward this blog to all the social media and news sites on the planet and lap up the exposure that came with that.

Exposure was the goal after all, wasn't it?

I do not see the logic of setting aside all self-respect and rolling over just because someone famous wants a freebie that will really benefit them, not me.

Some people - the contrary ones - talk of 'attendant benefits', and how you might be harming yourself if you ignore those. You might not get noticed by the 'influencers and their audience', for instance. You might miss out on new traffic that could lead to new business. I'm not bothered by the first, but the second intrigued me. The person suggesting this idea said, insist in the contract that they have to send this and this amount of traffic your way and they get penalized if that doesn't happen. Once you get the traffic, it is your responsibility to convert that to new business. The whole point is get as good as you give. Which is agreeable enough, but I'm not sure how you would go about penalizing someone for not delivering. Would you take them to court? What? If anyone tries this or has tried it and it worked, I'd like to know more.

On the whole though, I'm not too keen on the barter system. There is a good reason it is not as prevalent as it used to be in human economics. It is too much trouble to figure out what is worth what, and what you have to offer may not be what I want/need. The electricity department, to give one example, will not be delighted if I tell them I'm forwarding traffic to them and it is their responsibility to translate this to business that will give them the amount I owe them.

So, no, the 'attendant benefits' are not a lure for me. If it is a job, if someone is profiting from it, I believe it should also benefit me monetarily. The way I see it, 'attendant benefits' puts it in the 'I did you a favor' category and then it does not exactly qualify as a proper job. People are paid for proper jobs. That is why many of them do them (the love of it factor aside, which, by the way, is intensified when you get compensated).