Pay up or pay the price

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to work for free I’d be a millionaire just like them.

Early on in my travel writing days, after years as a lifestyle journalist, I was summonsed to The Observatory Hotel by a woman who described herself as a travel writing genius.  She was to be the editor of a new online magazine for those who ‘understand luxury’ (or some such such yawn worthy prose). She told me to bring samples of my work and wear my Sunday best.

I showed up in polished shoes and clean underwear in the hope of securing some paid editorial work only to be greeted with earl grey tea in bone China as the said genius wafted on about her abundant life before pointing out in the same breathe that she has no budget to pay me but I will get to stay in the world’s best places ‘for free’.

The genius described a life of room service, spa treatments and turn down service, neglecting to mention hotel inspections, dinner with public relations professionals who would rather be at home with their kids and interviews with chefs and hotel managers that will never end up in print. The hours I would spend turning out a thousand words on the experience were considered payment by me to her for giving me access to such a glamorous life.

Needless to say the moment she mentioned ‘no budget’ I declined the second cup of tea, thanked her for wasting my time and went on my way. Bylines alone do not pay my rent.

Now when I hear the word startup I bring out my rates card to send them scurrying in the opposite direction. It is not my responsibility to help you make your millions at the cost of my own (well the millions I would have if I had learnt this lesson earlier, which I wish I had).

I believe people should be paid for their work in dollars or equity.  If you want to ‘pick my brains’ then pay me, and no a slap up lunch is not a worthy exchange for intellectual property that could earn you big dollars while it just contributes to my thighs. Of course friends and family are negotiable.

I loathe the word ‘intern’ when really it’s just a glamourised way to say ‘unpaid work experience person.’ I understand people trying to break into an industry may ‘give away’ their work in exhange for a byline or a referral or a testimonial but companies that base their entire business model on interns are making a statement on how they really value other people’s time and work.

I am not a charity and last time I looked your business doesn’t have charity status either,  though in my experience not for profit companies not only pay but pay on time.

It is a lesson that Moleskin learnt recently only too well, as noted by Mumbrella in this report. Moleskin notebooks, a personal fave, are coveted by hip urban designers, writers, journos and those with creative flair.

A recent competition launched by the company for Moleskin fanatics to create a new badge for the Moleskinerie blog. The company claimed ownership of all entries and the winner’s badge would be featured on the blog.  That’s a lot of hours of design work for free.

It backfired as graphic designers took to the Moleskin Facebook page, blogs and Twitter to expose the blatant free labour competition. All credit to Moleskin who listened to their customers, released an official statement and then changed the rules of the competition accordingly.

A lesson the Association of Freeski Professionals could take heed of.  The association is looking for an online content manager to report on the ground from their seven global platinum events in Breckenridge, Killington, Aspen, Snowbasin, Tignes in France, Whistler and the like.  That’s not all, the content manager will also remotely update the AFP standings from all AFP events around the world (there’s fifty a year).

It is a fantastic opportunity for someone with sound online media skills. This kind of job would pay anything up to $80k, normally. But the lucky winner of the Best Job Ever competition won’t get paid. Instead they’ll receive $10 000 to cover their travel, room, board and other expenses to attend each of the seven platinum events.

Trouble is the competition advertises the opportunity with the tagline “Travel the world like a VIP”.  They will need to add an extra zero to that $10 000 cheque for that to happen.

All the entries so far are impressive.  Young males (where are the chicks?) obsessed by skiing who can obviously film, edit and compile a story, some have already been published as journalists (hope they were paid).

I applaud the creativity of AFP to inspire the freeskiing community but come on, give one of these guys a real job and pay them what they are worth.

I’d enter but I’m too old to consider a shared room in the youth hostel ‘VIP living’.

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