I’m no longer worried about the recession; I don’t even need to worry ever again about a lack of money or losing my job. I have a plan! I’m off out in a moment to Tesco’s petrol station to fill up my van with diesel. Yes, fuel is very expensive now, but not for me. You see I’m going to make them an offer. I’m going to suggest they let me have their diesel for free, on the basis that they can then enjoy the fact that it’s Tesco’s fuel in my van and not anyone else’s. And if that fails I’ll use my trump card: if simple pleasure is not sufficient an enticement to give me something for nothing, I shall offer to advertise Tesco’s for them. Yes for just a single tank of fuel I will be happy to put a Tesco’s sticker on the back of my van. It can’t fail – I’m on to a winner – I’ll never have to spend any money ever again, as pleasure or a bit of promotion is all anyone seems to want in return for a product or service – or so being a photographer is leading me to believe.
Yes, I had to purchase several thousand pounds worth of camera and lighting equipment. Yes I have running costs, and camera equipment doesn’t last forever. Yes I have a mortgage. And yes I also have to pay utility bills. But don’t worry; I don’t actually want to be paid to work. I just want to work for nothing, content in the knowledge that people are telling me I’m a good photographer, and that I’ll soon have a huge portfolio of work with which to advertise myself, in order to obtain more work people will be happy to pay me nothing for. It’s great – if I don’t earn anything I don’t have to pay any income tax, either. I’ll be rich!
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth…
Sorry to have to let you down, but I can’t actually afford to work for nothing. During my waking hours at least, the ‘barter in return for advertising’ plan doesn’t actually work. No-one is stupid enough to spend money on capital, wear it our using it for work, and then ask for nothing in payment. Well, no-one except photographers, that is.
Photographers – it would seem - are a unique bunch of people: talented, dedicated, hard-working and unimaginably naive. It goes something like this: “if I give away my product or service for nothing, it will act as a loss leader, helping people become aware of me in order for me to start getting paid work.”
There’s a flaw in that logic, and it is this. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. In fact you are not only not alone, but you are multitudinous, numerous, even – it might be said – common. Yep there’s a fair few of you out there, all gaily giving away their wares for free. And the recipients of all these free products and services are not stupid. They are simply never going to pay for something they can get for nothing. Don’t believe me? Well maybe you haven’t noticed just how difficult it’s becoming to get a photo in a magazine and actually get paid for it.
“But it’s only a photo, and it was for a competition!” Well it’s not ONLY A PHOTO actually. It’s YOUR photo. You made it and its worth something. (Well, unless you give it away for nothing.) Do you honestly imagine that the magazine is then going to start handing out copies for free, as it didn’t cost them anything to fill it up with brilliant, beautiful, free images? Nope – they are going to sell it as usual, and make a tidy profit. If you’re really lucky, though, they might send you a free copy in return for your photo, but the council won’t accept that in return for taking your rubbish away each week. Sorry, but you will still have to pay your council tax.
“But I’m just an amateur. I’m not trying to make a living from photography – it’s just nice seeing my work in print.” Well, good for you! Don’t lose any sleep over the fact that - in doing so - you are permanently under-cutting all those hard working pros who ARE trying to make a living out of photography. I would have thought that, as a photographer – even an amateur – you would care enough about the industry sufficiently to support those who rely on it for their livings. It would seem not though. You have a job – you can afford to give away your photos – so hard cheese if you’re actually trying to sell something, you say.
Well, what goes around comes around, and one day you may be the one trying to break into photography as a career, and coming time and time again against the brick wall of “yes we’d love you to do some work for us, but its not actually paid. It will look great in your portfolio though.”
See how you like it then.
So, why the rant? Well, of late I am receiving more and more of these crazy requests for unpaid work, and all the time no-one it’s offering to give me anything for nothing. Indeed all my running costs are all going up and up.
In response to one such generous offer, I even went so far as to agree to a freebie, with the proviso that it would be a one-off, and that any future work would require a modest payment. Their response? Shock and rudeness that I had the audacity even to suggest that I might need to be paid for something else in the future.
Enough is enough photographers. Please don’t do it. You work is worth exactly what you get for it, and if that’s nothing, then you alone have decided that it is valueless – and worse, you devalue everyone else’s work, too.
Mat Mackenzie B.Sc. (hons), Ph.D.
Photographer, Web Designer and Data Management Consultant