Navigating Payment in Exposure Opportunities

Navigating Payment in Exposure Opportunities

As a creative, you have probably been lured by opportunities of free exposure, networking, or some other intangible benefit. This is called “payment in exposure” or PIE.

The offer to work for exposure runs rampant in the creative realm. Artists are constantly asked to work for free. This blog post 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.

You lose quite a bit when you accept PIE and the decision to get paid with exposure actually hurts other artists.

Being an Artist is a Paid Profession

Being an artist or small creative business is a career. People make a living off of being an artist. Just because someone is following their passion while making a living doesn’t mean they work for free. Regardless of where an artist is in their career, emerging, established, or somewhere in between, an artist deserves to get paid. 

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.

PIE Doesn’t Pay the Bills

Let’s be honest, “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 lose money if you work for exposure.

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

Payment in Exposure Perpetuates a Myth

Emerging artists often get lured into making free artwork 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 artwork. 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.

Other Artists asking for PIE

Believe it or not, sometimes other artists will try to solicit you with PIE (I sure have!). 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 even harder as an emerging artist if it’s someone you look up to.

Don’t ask other artists to make free art, or work for free, unless there’s a mutual collaboration where both artists are donating.

Varying Audiences

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? An even better question is, is this even your audience?

It’s 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 free work can pay for it. And the audience to who your work is being exposed is not the type to help launch your career.

Grey Areas when it comes to PIE

There are some areas where payment in exposure gets a bit unclear. However, some guidelines will navigate you so you are not exploited.

Unpaid Internships and Volunteering

These types of  “working for free” should be the only time when you work for no financial benefit. For both unpaid internships and volunteering, you should be receiving some sort of benefit or experience regardless of the lack of monetary compensation. Volunteer because you are passionate about the position or opportunity and want to give back. Intern to learn additional new skills or to complete a school program. (Internships are best when paid).

These two examples are a bit different from making and giving away free artwork. But internships and volunteering can fall under a similar umbrella. Once an organization or company is dependent on your volunteering, you can easily be overworked.

It may be time to leave the volunteer position or internship if:

  • your volunteer work the equivalent of a part or full-time job 
  • the school requirement is completed for the internship
  • you no longer reap any benefit from interning or volunteering
  • the organization or company relies on you completely for your role, work, and tasks (at this point you should be getting paid)

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 it’s no longer a fit for you.

Donations & Charity work

Oftentimes, artists are solicited to donate artwork for charities, auctions, and other fundraising events. Like volunteering and unpaid internships, if you are passionate about donating your work or supporting the organization, consider donating work.

When you make a donation, do your research. 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. You may not be able to write off the full value of the work donated. 

There are many grey areas when it comes to donating art. Appreciation, portions of the market value, cost of materials, and other considerations can all come into play here. It’s best to consult an accountant and possibly an art appraiser. You may need to request a statement of value to the IRS as well.

When to accept 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?

Comment below with your experience of payment in exposure. Do you have a great story to share, we’d love to share to help demonstrate why PIE is so harmful to artists in the long term. 

Instead of accepting PIE, head on over to other blog posts on branding and marketing, and social media if you want to build your exposure.

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