I'm a staunch believer of working for free.
Wil Wheaton is a staunch believer of not.
So it would seem he and I now have become staunch opponents.
We are at an impasse, Sir. Sheldon Cooper, I avenge you!
Recently, popular actor and sci-fi hero Wil Wheaton posted that an editor at Huffington Post contacted him to reprint an article he'd penned and they didn't offer compensation. It isn't The Huffington Post's policy to pay its contributors. Wheaton then posted a nice response on his blog titled "you can't pay the rent with 'the unique platform and reach our site provides.'"
In the post Wheaton makes solid points. The Huffington Post has a very large reach and it is no doubt making money hand over fist; however, the policy is they don't pay their freelance bloggers. My wallet says, "Preach!" but my business sense says, "Meh."
Freelancers do deserve to get paid. Period. However, Mr. Wheaton, if you are enterprising (see what I did there?) what you get from having your articles appear in the esteemed HuffPo can garner you cash beyond cash.
1. Writing for The Huffington Post or other premier sites makes me an expert. Maybe not a "top in her field" kind of expert, but it will get me there. Being a voice in a conversation, even if no one pays me to be there, gives power and authority to my opinions. Also, when people see you speak up on a topic or give tips on living their best life, giving them value, they value YOU. Value now = cash later, yes?
2. Being #TeamHuffPo gets me actual exposure. Some funny folks are saying the only thing exposure gets you is sunburn and frostbite. I get it. You're funny. However, if I get the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) just right or pull the right angle from the story of the day, other people will want to interview me or syndicate me or contact me for more information. It's a gamble, but it has paid off for me.
3. Peep my social proof, Wheaton. When it comes to sending my resume or social media credentials to other sites for which I'm vying for a paid opp, guess what? Having articles that have reached 6.5K likes (not views - likes) is a HUGE incentive for the publication to want me on their staff as well. It shows I know what's hot, how SEO works, how to make a story work (I wrote business advice for entrepreneurs based on Serena Williams' pre-match hype; it takes vision to make those connections) and that I am relatable. Yes, paid opportunities do that, too, but not every article I write will fit on every paying editorial calendar or in the niche to which I'm assigned for said sites. What should I do with that extra, juicy good content? Yes, use my trusted contributor position to pimp it out to free sites for a few more people to watch me work!
4. It's my money. I go back and forth with this often. There are those who believe because we aren't holding The Huffington Post and it's deep pockets to the fire that we are devaluing our work and our self worth and worse, we are creating a market where others won't get paid for their work because we are giving work away for free. Consider this: When you go on late night television as a guest and give them content in the form of funny anecdotes do you get paid? No, you give them that content in exchange for being on their show in front of their audiences. (Full disclosure: celebrities receive free airfare and hotel stay and a few other perks for being on the show. However, to Wheaton's point in his post, you can't pay your rent with free airfare.) Some things pay with money and others don't. I'm a big girl and I make my own money decisions. There is no finite amount of money out there and I'm not stopping anyone from pitching the paying sites. Is my free content helping The Huffington Post get richer? Yes, but if another freelancer wants to get richer they have plenty of opportunities to do so. Don't blame me if someone else isn't making money.
5. It's a blogger's dream. No, I can't speak for all bloggers, but when we first started blogging for free way back when, plenty of people saw writing for The Huffington Post as the Holy Grail of writing opportunities. For me it still is. The feeling I have hoping that this article gets published? Better than money, Wheaton. It is a contribution to a conversation to which my daughter will one day have access. It is a stepping stone to the next best move in my life. This is important to ME and there is very little price you can put on that.
6. If I understand marketing right, this can put cash in my pockets. Let's go for the big money example here, Wheaton. I could get paid $1,000 for this post, but in the long term having given people the free value (isn't that how sales funnels work?) over time I'll leverage this post or my contributor status for sales that will make me much more than $1000 during my lifetime. I'm not trying to eat just today; I want to eat for a lifetime. If I can cast a net in the ocean that is The Huffington Post, why should I care if they make money initially and I don't? It takes work to gain all the followers and advertisers and respect The HuffPo has garnered; I don't have that kind of time to build that kind of ocean and I'll gladly take a momentary monetary hit to fish in theirs.
Mr. Wheaton, Sir, I respect you. While reading your post I couldn't help but nod my head in agreement. I get it. I hope, though, that you also get what I'm saying. No, working for free isn't for every person or for every occasion. Working for free does have its place and for me that place is www.huffingtonpost.com. It would have been a blast to say I write for one of the same sites as Wil Wheaton, but alas. I can't afford to wait to make that claim.