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Where Is Your Free Line?

The debate about unpaid assignments for bloggers goes on. It’s been covered on MomCrunch in “Five Reason To Just Say No To Unpaid Work” and just today, I got a link to the other perspective, “When It’s Okay to Work for Free (Really!).

Every blogger I know is faced with this decision, usually very early in their blogging career. The dilemma is not without precedent in other industries. Before I did what I do now, I was a full-time graphic designer. In addition to my job running a design firm, I also taught a design course at a local university and served as President of AIGA-St. Louis. In each of these capacities, the subject of “spec work” inevitably came up. There were times that in my advocacy role, I had to write letters to companies educating them on the perils of of this practice and the official policy of AIGA on the matter.

Actually, AIGA’s position on spec work would be a helpful reference to bloggers as they navigate their our businesses. The official position clearly outlines the risks of engaging in spec work as well as including a number of reasons why a designer would choose to do unpaid work.

In the design industry, speculative work is work done prior to formal engagement with a client, and in anticipation of being paid. This is slightly different than many offers to bloggers — since spec work dangles the carrot of compensation of some kind whereas bloggers are often approached with no promise other than the possibility of exposure/increased traffic. Maybe. Or toothpaste.

The element that made “spec” work a 4-letter word was, in my opinion, the underlying abuse of power by a client into getting something for nothing. I find it particularly offensive when there is a threat of withholding future opportunities based on a designer or design firm’s willingness to “play along.” Such practices do devalue a designer’s talent, skill and contribution. It’s also just bad karma. A story that starts here inevitably ends badly… for both parties. This holds true in the blogging space too.

In the design industry, we had a policy in place to protect members through education and advocacy, encouraging designers to enter into paid engagements with their clients. But there is also the recognition that members ultimately have to make the decision that was right for them at the time.

A gut check about who we want to do business with and what we are willing to exchange and for what is always a sound exercise. I’ve never, ever had my intuition lead me astray in this regard… even if it’s a no and I see someone else fill that spot because that was what was right for her.

At the end of the day, I sleep better at night knowing I was honest to myself… and not resenting every minute I spend cranking out blog posts or editing videos or whatever it is I’ve agreed to do. That, in my opinion, is its own compensation.

photo credit: stock xchng

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