Payment in Exposure

As a creative you have probably have been lured by opportunities of free exposure, networking, or some other intangible benefit. This is called “payment in exposure” or PIE and this runs rampant in the creative realm. Artists are constantly asked to work for free. This blog posts talks about PIE and the detrimental effects of working for free. Each of us artists and creatives have a role to play in continuing or ending this belief of paying artists in exposure. Saying no to payment in exposure means saying yes to getting paid to do what you love.

Professional: Being an artist or small creative business is a career. Just because someone is following their passion while making a living doesn’t mean they work for free. In addition to that, just because someone is skilled & creative, or that what they create seems “easy for them to do,” doesn’t mean they will do work for free also.

Regardless of where an artist is in their career, emerging, established, or somewhere in between, an artist deserves to get paid.

Paying the Bills: “Connections and exposure” don’t pay the bills. So, why do people assume that creatives will work for free? Art supplies, studios, insurance, marketing all costs money. It will cost you both time and money to make work for free. Take this into consideration if you are playing with the idea of working for exposure, you will loose money if you work for exposure.

If your still not convinced, price out the PIE in real dollars. How much would it cost to make and sell the piece that your planning on giving away for free?

Audience: When considering PIE, ask yourself is the audience seeing your free work the type of audience who would (or could) pay for the original work? Its important to think about who is asking you to make free work and who will the art be exposed to. Most of the time the people asking for the free work, can pay for it. And the audience who your work is being exposed to is not the type to help launch your career.

Perpetuating a Myth: Emerging artists often get lured into free work because others suggest that this will lead to exposure, fame, or future sales. These pitches oftentimes come from people outside the art world who don’t know what they are talking about. Be careful, when you work for free or undermine your prices, you are actually setting the prices for your other future work. Making art for free is undermining your future creative business and hurts other artists who demand fair prices.

Accepting PIE continues to perpetuate the belief that artists or creatives are “starving artists” or will work for free because they are passionate about what they do.

Re-Asks: Oftentimes, you will be re-solicited by that person or group to work for free again. You may come across some pressure or guilt tripping if you say no the second time around. People assume if you did PIE one, you will do it again.

Internships and Volunteering: These types of  “working for free” should be the only time when you work for no financial benefit. Volunteer because you are passionate about the position or opportunity. Intern to learn additional new skills or to complete a school program. (Internships are best when paid however).

These two examples are a bit different from making and giving away free artwork but can fall under a similar umbrella. Once an organization or company is dependent on your volunteering, it may be time to leave. Its also time to leave the internship when you are working the equivalent of a full-time job for little to no pay and you have completed the school requirement or no longer reap any benefit.

For both unpaid internships and volunteering, you should be receiving some sort of benefit or experience regardless of the lack of monetary compensation.

You should be building relationships or networks, learning skills, sharing your professional expertise or more. If you aren’t getting anything out of an internship or volunteer position then its no longer a fit for you.

Donations & Charity work: Often times, artists are solicited to donate art work for charities, auctions and other fundraising events. You may not be offered a cut of the sale. Sometimes the artist is lured into the donation saying that the donation is tax deductible but don’t be fooled by this. There are many grey areas when it comes to donating art.

Do your research here because you may not be able to write off the full value of the work donated.

Appreciation, portions of the market value, cost of materials and other considerations can all come in to play here. Its best to consult an accountant and possibly an art appraiser. You may need to request a statement of value to the IRS as well.

Other Artists: Believe it or not, sometimes other artists will try to sell you on PIE (I sure have!). Think about how working with another artist’s audience can actually give you expose. Your different medias may not cross, meaning, the audience for that artist may do little to expose or perpetuate your art career. It can be hard to say no if this is a well-known artist or someone who has made a name for themselves. It can be really hard as an emerging artist if its someone you look up to.

A true professional artist should want to collaborate, where you work on even playing fields and both reap the benefits, including the money.

Accepting PIE: While this blog post will not endorse working for free, here are some important questions to consider or ask if you are playing with the idea of PIE. The more information you have the more power you have in decision making.

  • How much actual exposure will there be with this free work?
  • What does the exposure look like? Online, in-person, printed on marketing materials, etc.
  • How will you be credited for your work, and where will that credit line exist?
  • What is the length of time of this exposure, is it indefinite?
  • What other benefits will there be besides “exposure?”
  • Are there any agreements and stipulations that we can write out into a contract?

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