GET PAID! – Dealing with the creative “Schmuck Economy”

Below is a blog post written for an editors blog back in August 2010. I think it’s extremely pertinent today, especially in light of articles like this in the Independent about websites creaming in advertising revenue whilst not paying their authors a penny. Unfortunately as far as I can see the post, and the rest of the blog, were entirely lost when Posterous stopped providing it’s blogging platform. Thanks to the WayBack Machine though, I’ve salvaged the post and here it is, with express permission from it’s author @I_Am_Hughes :


You may have seen an online hoo-ha yesterday, revolving around a Flash game designer’s open admission of the business equivalent of realpolitik. A blog post from said Flash game developer about how he uses the naivety of aspiring and amateur artists caused harsh reactions. The augmented and rationalised, but un-redacted post is here.[no link]

Now, any business should do what it can to get the best value for money, so this pragmatic approach (though brazen to the point of offensiveness to many) is just business. Issuing a how-to guide for exploiting schmucks, is not business, and it came across as rather truimphal, to me, but that may just be me reading more into than is there.

However, I actually hope it spreads far and wide, not for the benefit of those who exploit naifs, but to serve as a cautionary tale, and a wake up call to those who are so grateful for any exposure that they, wittingly or unwittingly, conspire to devalue every creative enterprise.

The rapid and broad exposure the internet provides has caused a huge surge in what I call the “schmuck economy” surrounding creative endeavours. Viral fame means lots of people think the right break will lead to global fame and fortune, which leads them to trade off proper recompense now in the fanciful hope of great riches later. And if it doesn’t work out, what have they really lost?

Well, a little bit is lost to everyone, every single time some wannabe gives their work away for free. The first thing I thought of when I saw the post in question was Harlan Ellison’s rant-of-great-justice, about how amateurs are screwing everybody. The following video is NOT safe for work. (It’s worth watching the whole thing, but if you’re in a hurry, you can skip to 2:02 for the kernel of the argument.)

[Video not present]

Sometimes I think Joe Pesci is just a Harlan Ellison tribute act… ANYWAY! There are people out here who make their money from their creative efforts, anybody who’s dumb enough to work for free is taking food out of their mouths. This is real life. If you’re serious about being in any creative industry, lesson number one is GET PAID. If someone says they want your work, make them pay for it. If they won’t, they don’t want your work, they just want a schmuck. If your work is good enough they want to use it, it’s good enough for them to pay for.

A schmuck doesn’t just let their own sweet selves get ripped off, a schmuck is screwing everybody. Every time someone gets work done for free by a hobbyist, it ingrains the idea that creative work is worth nothing, and that creatives should be glad to even be offered the chance to have their work seen. Fuck that. Get paid.
If you don’t know what your work is worth, find out. Or work it out. Place a value on your time, and work out how much time it will take. Multiply one by the other and GET PAID.

Doing favours for a friend is one thing, giving something away for a good cause is another thing, giving it away to build your own brand is different again; but if someone who is in business wants you to enhance their business, and to give you nothing in return but a namecheck and a bit of exposure, you’ll be getting screwed, and you’ll be screwing everyone else who’s trying to make a living at this.

Get paid. Day 1, even if you think you’re a hack, and you’re not that good yet. Value your time, and don’t drag the value of everyone else’s work down by reinforcing the idea that it’s of less value than it is. Get paid, first time, every time. Make it your habit. Insist on it.

Creative work is fun as a hobby, but like anything else done everyday, it gets hard, it takes effort, and it comes at a price.

Get paid.

Final word to Harlan – “I sell my soul, but at the highest rates.”


 Note: Harlan Ellison received no money for his appearance in this blog post.


Hughes has a  book you know, and it’s pretty good if you like sci fi

As a blogger I often get sent releases by agencies, or asked to write content with backlinks to client sites in order to either improve their pagerank or increase the visibility of their website. In a recent incident I got sent a pre written article, complete with images and backlinks for “guest posting”. I have no trouble writing content for my blog and laughed out loud when I was told they didn’t have a budget for the placement. I’m sure they weren’t being paid by their client either.