Shop Talk

Open Discussion: Should You Ever Work For Free?

More and more the creative industries are experiencing a torrential flow of corporations that are paying low amounts for creative work to their employees, or simply nothing at all. It has become common practice for companies, created with the intent to make money, to not pay their designers, artists, writers, or photographers anymore. I wanted to continue our series of open discussions after the interesting responses from Eddie’s question, Why Do You Hate Self-Promotion? and I invite you to please share your experiences with working for free (or not) in the comments below. 

So why is there a never-ending list of companies that need creative content to survive not paying creative workers? Because publishers and executives and senior members of staff, across a myriad of creative industries, don’t pay creative people for work because they know they don’t have to. Let’s be real here: they’re not holding meetings about whether or not they need to pay the advertising team. They’re not wondering if the accounting team will work for free or for the sheer love they have for spreadsheets, big numbers and gratitude towards their work. Nobody has had that conversation, ever.

But is that ever okay?

When you strip away buzzwords like, “exposure for pay” or “free engagement” or “publicity for time,” it is sobering to realize that people who consider themselves professionals can start a for-profit business that has no intention of paying many of their workers. They’re banking (literally) on utilizing the skills, services, and time of a number of trained individuals to build business and capital for them. For freezies.

"Eagle princess" by LorenAssisi

So is there a time YOU would or should ever work for free?

Here are my thoughts, and I hope you share yours in the comments below: I would only ever work for free if someone who is an expert at what they do, also happens to do something that will directly help me gain a specific skill I couldn’t get any other way.

This could be canvas stretching or jam making or any creative pursuit. For me, it was working for free on an art theory book (my “payment” was getting published in the book, but I did hundreds of hours for free on top of my writing), to work alongside an editor who is a world famous niche leader in their field of art history. I could sleep the peaceful sleep of innocent children at night, because it worked for me.

I’d also work for free if Steve Buscemi asked me to join him as a gangster in dapper suits on HBO, or if Mr. Baxter told me to, because All Hail Baxter.

"Flying Over City" by Vera Kalinovska

Let us know what you think in the comments below.