It can be a tough game as a creative these days. More and more often, people are contributing their energy and talent to submit blog posts, photos, and videos to websites that offer nothing in return except for the overhyped “exposure” that one would get should they be so lucky (sarcasm intended) as to have that outlet display their work. It’s a trend all too common, and as someone who found their calling in the creative content field just as the blogging/social media explosion occurred, it can be extremely frustrating.
I have a feeling that the reason so many people are willing to give away their work for free is due to unfulfillment. We all have an innate desire to be noticed, whether we admit it or not. In the creative field, appreciation is a form of currency, a recognition that what you are putting into the world is something positive for society. In this day and age you see many people overworked at a job they can’t stand to pay the bills for a life they wish they could escape. I speak in hyperbole of course, although I have been a victim of this circumstance on numerous occasions in the past. Ultimately the need to receive compensation for a creative outlet takes a backseat to a desire to be recognized as more than a cog in a gigantic machine. Recognition does have value, especially in this day and age where we are conditioned to conform. And so people willingly give away their work because their financial situation does not depend on it, although their self-confidence and morality does.
So therein lies the problem: people are desperate for exposure, websites are desperate for content, yet the exchange is extremely one sided. Here is one instance from my experience: A few years ago, the company Billabong shared one of my photos of Taj Burrow at Pipeline. I was still naive enough to think that exposure had any real value. In my mind (and I’m sure many others) I saw endless requests coming in from people wanting to buy my work and offer me more work. Here is the photo in question:
OK, so 20,000+ likes. Not bad, right?
Guess how many followers that got me?
Three. And that’s about all I got from the deal. Three people out of 20,000 who took the effort to “like” the photo (and countless more who viewed it) took the time to follow me. I realize that there are likely other factors to this: I only had 300 or so followers at this point, so that might deter people from my popularity, my feed is a mixed bag of photos and that might have put people off who only like surf content, but still, you would think that there would be a bit more “exposure” for having your work “liked” by 20,000 people.
Yeah, so what?
The need to be recognized is not only good for self-confidence, but also essential for anyone trying to break through to a wider audience. Logic would assume that bigger audience = more money in your pocket. For the most part this is true, but there are many other variables that maybe should be covered later in another post, but for now let’s just assume that to be so.
So there is a need to reach a wider audience, yet the keepers of that audience do not have either the ability or the will to pay you for your work. It seems that they hold all the cards, so what can you do?
The equation is too one-sided now. My goal is to even that out a bit. So when you have an article, photo, video, or other piece of content that an outlet would love to share, let them. But make sure you add a catch, and here’s the important piece:
Set a deadline for them to host it.
Let them host it for a week. Give it away, but make sure that it is crystal clear that they do not own the content and you are just lending it to them. If the content really is good and goes viral, they will want it. You will get the assurance you were hoping for. They will see the value of your work without taking advantage of you. Or maybe it’s crap and gets no online traction, in which case you can re-adjust or submit to another outlet.
Many people will laugh in your face, but if it’s good, they will want it. If you give them a week, or even a few days to try it out and it gets traction, chances are they will see the value in it and offer you something to keep it on their servers.
It’s time we as content creators take some of the control in situations. Otherwise the big media outlets will continue to take advantage of people like us who are looking to get our work out there. It’s a tough game, but here is one play that we can make to level out the playing field a bit.