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Giving Away your Photos & Writing

Everybody gets to make their own choices in life about whether to give away work for free. My answer to any situation where I’m expected to give work away for free, like the answer to anything worth asking, is it depends.

It Depends on Several Factors

Some people (usually successful people with an income) suggest that you do anything to get your work out there. Others (also usually successful people with an income) say never to give anything away without crossing your palm with silver. That’s kind of confusing and a little binary for the real world so I’ll put forward some of the factors that influence that depends.

It depends on whether the entity that wants to use your photograph or writing is making money out of it. You deserve to be able to buy bread to feed your family just like everybody else. Commercial entities, especially business entities, have slipped into the habit of sourcing free content for their marketing and web assets. Don’t be a schmuck – it’s called exploitation.

It depends on their reputation and intentions towards your work. In other words, is this somewhere you feel comfortable about your work being represented? It could be a photograph among prestigious artists on a well known website or it could just as easily be for a poster that will represent a political party that you despise. It isn’t enough to be out there… you need to be in the right places sending the right marketing message to the target segment that might do your business some benefit.

It depends on the relevance of the place that your photograph or content will appear. Is there a direct link that justifies your marketing investment? For example, this week I declined having my photograph used for free on a real estate website because there is no marketing correlation between the web page where somebody is searching for a house to buy or rent and my ability to produce photography. There is next to zero correlation between home buyers and Oh I think I might contact that photographer and buy a photograph. At the same time, real estate companies NEVER EVER work for free in my universe so it’s a little cheeky to be expecting it from me.

Had the request been to use a Holga photograph to appear in a plastic camera book likely to become popular then there may have been a direct marketing link that would justify my acceptance. The market segment buying and reading that book might well want to purchase a photograph and put bread onto my family’s table. However, even when that correlation exists, there is still a judgement call to be made. How do you feel about the specific situation? Because if money is to be made then you deserve to be included to the value of your effort (beyond a vain gamble that you will be noticed as the next Versace). Does the cab driver work for free? The supermarket delivery boy? Would you expect them to? No.

It also depends on prior relationship with the entity requesting to use the content or photograph. There may be social or relationship marketing benefits (such as tighter relationship bonds or deeper trust) that works for your business model over the long term. A total stranger may not deserve a freebie whereas a long-time customer or family friend or industry influencer could be perfectly justifiable.

But Respect Yourself & Your Skillset

I tend to agree with Harlan Ellison (best selling author and writer of Babylon 5) in his Pay the Writer rant. You deserve to be paid every time you do work. Who is Warner Brothers, cap in hand, to be asking him for a freebie? Fuck Warner Brothers.

So you can give your stuff away for free. But just because it worked for some famous people (every new business needs more than a little luck) don’t expect it to work for more than the barest few. Because everyone and their dog are giving it away for free… maybe one in a hundred thousand will enjoy successful businesses from that “free” strategy. The rest will just give something away for free but won’t be considered special… or someone else will out-free their free price tag.

Or free won’t be enough and they’ll expect you to pay them to display your content or photography. Don’t laugh… some arrogant pricks think you should pay them to allow you to do a fair day’s work.

There is legitimate marketing… and there is exploitation. The problem is that so many businesses have received free that they have come to expect it. If they don’t pay you… trust me, I’ve had this happen time and again when I gave away free web development to build a portfolio… they will not respect you in the morning.

Because if YOU don’t value YOUR WORK then why should they?

Also, ignore what anybody tells you to the contrary. Google “Profit Pool”. Your industry has a finite profit pool. I can bet you that whether you work for free or not doesn’t make a difference to the successful at the core of the industry but it does affect those eeking out a living on the fringes. Work that would be paid for that is supplied free shrinks the overall profit pool. Somebody loses.

Try to Identify a Direct and Logical Marketing Link

That’s my rant. All good business deals are win-win and if you can’t see a direct and logical marketing link between A and B then just say no. My example, the people looking for houses don’t give a toss who shot the photograph of Hobart on a certain web page. Why would they? They would be looking for houses not photographers.

I bet you anybody who is saying “This is how I made it in photography or writing” was the exception. Mostly, nobody will call you except to request more free work. Mostly. So respect your skills and market them appropriately to segments that might be willing to fund your food bill.

And sometimes free does make sense. When all the ducks line up. The trick is in understanding the difference between exploitation and effective marketing strategy. It’s either good business or bad business. As a business… well, it’s entirely your choice. But it depends.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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