Sunday 7 June 2020

“Pay Me” is not an offensive term, by Dawn Finch

Copyright Gecko&Fly

I’ll be honest with you – I love free stuff. Who doesn’t! Getting something for nothing when you live on a wage low enough to make people on regular wages spit their tea is absolutely the BEST. If I can score a bargain or a freebie, I’m there.

However, as an ethical shopper I will never push for a discount from people who can’t afford it. In small shops and independent retail outlets I won’t ask for a discount, and I’d never expect those people to give me something for free. The same goes for creatives.

The Lockdown has seen a huge rise in creative people giving content away for free. Every day I see another author, illustrator, poet, singer, actor etc offering up a video or other content free of charge. Amazing, what a hugely generous thing to decide to do. Sadly, I am also seeing a huge rise in expectations that everyone can afford to give away their content for free. In preparation for writing this article I did a bit of research just on Twitter and found endless requests from people directed at authors asking for free stuff, or for them to hand over permission to perform or reproduce their works free of charge.
Copyright Gecko&Fly

I am very concerned that there seems to be a shift towards an expectation of free content, and that it is somehow selfish or greedy for creatives to ask for payment for their work. I see creatives who are afraid to say “no” for fear of bad publicity. I’m also seeing creatives who have already had their work taken and reproduced online without payment or permission, and they are afraid to look like ogres if they ask someone to take it down.

There has never been a tougher time for people in the creative industries. Incomes were already incredibly low (and opportunities slim and fragile) and when the virus hit, many creatives instantly saw their incomes vanish. Having been shoved off the gangplank into the deep and cold waters of the digital world, creatives rapidly adapted and began to seek new income streams. Virtual visits and talks, digital content, recorded presentations of materials – all showed potential for a new way of digital working and of earning a living. Then the free stuff started flooding the market and the demands for free stuff ramped up.

We all want to support our audiences, and we felt a strong emotional need to reach out to them. Sharing our work when we are locked down felt important because it allowed us to feel in touch with real world – the world outside. Many of us felt that without our audiences, are we even still creatives? The need to maintain contact with our audiences was (is!) vital not just to our incomes, but to our own mental health and wellbeing. We love what we do and we fear that being taken from us! We also wanted to do our bit to help people and to support in any way we could. 

Unfortunately, as the weeks ticked by, people found the demands for free stuff overwhelming and felt hugely guilty when they needed to say no or to ask for payment The most important things to remember here is that this should always be a choice, and that it’s not greedy or selfish to expect payment for your work. You should never feel bullied into giving away your rights or permissions, and absolutely never feel ashamed for needing to put food on your table.

This isn’t always easy, so here are a few tips - 
  • ·     Make sure you have a set of rates in mind for reproduction of your work.  You can set these as you see fit and the Society of Authors has a page with loads of advice to help you set these. You can find those here -
  • ·         If someone (be it individual or organisation) asks you for free stuff, be realistic. There may well be times you want to do something for free because you know the organisation or you feel that it may be mutually beneficial – but be honest with yourself. People die of “exposure” and it doesn’t pay the bills!
  • ·         Don’t be afraid to refer someone to your publisher or agent, and if you are a member of the Society of Authors you can always double-check with them.
  • ·         If you do provide permissions (or digital content) make sure that you are fully aware of what will happen with the content. Is it freely available via open access? Are people paying to see it? Is the platform showing your content making money out of it? How widely is it being reproduced? Can it be re-recorded and shared by others?
  • ·         Think about how much you are giving away for free. Is it an entire work (poem, picture book etc) or is it a sample? Is someone using your work for entire lesson plans? Is it a simple reading, or a whole performance?
  • ·         Is the work yours to give? If you are a picture book writer, have you sought permission from the illustrator too? If your book was written on a single book contract, do you have permission to share it at all? Does your publishing contract allow you to give your work away for free? If you have an agent, what do they think about you doing work for free?
  • ·         Check your contracts. If your publisher is planning on doing something new with your work (such as making it open-access or turning it into digital content) check what your rights are. If this is a new version or format of your work, you may be entitled to either veto it or to claim a fee. Once again, this is a good reason to join the Society of Authors as they can check your contracts for you.

A very important thing is to not feel bullied into this. This is your income, your career and you have every right to expect to make a fair living at it. Just because you enjoy what you do it does not mean you shouldn’t be fairly paid for it.

Dawn Finch is a writer and librarian and the current Chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee


Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Dawn, and for all your research into this, and the links.

Lots of good advice for when those awkward suggestions or offers arrive.

Susan Price said...

Agree, Penny. -- Dawn, I'm absolutely with you on this. The people who ask you to work for nothing are usually being paid a steady wage and often not the minimum either. THEY should be ashamed to ask us to work for nothing -- we shouldn't be at all shy of saying, 'No.'

Anne Booth said...

Thank you, Dawn.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Well said, Dawn! If someone offers a freebie I thank them and at least give the work a plug if I can. But asking for free stuff is not on. Even less so is book piracy - I’ve had my stuff offered free without my permission, more than once - I usually let my publishers know and leave it to them to get it taken down. My work has even been published in a book of texts for exam preparation! And that WAS making money for those publishers, and nobody asked permission! My own publishers checked it out and, amazingly, nobody at that press admitted they knew who had been responsible. There was a disclaimer at the front of the book saying that they had made every effort to get permission for the texts used. A lie, of course. It would have been quite easy to contact my publishers, whose address was in my book.

And don’t get me started on Internet Archive...

dihofneyr said...

Very well put Dawn. Thank you for this. And yes we are made to feel curmudgeonly and mean-spirited. Too much emphasis is put on... yes but this is all such exposure for your book. As you put it... too much exposure, and you die of cold.