The Pay Debate: Why low pay isn’t always exploitation

The Pay Debate: Why low pay isn’t always exploitation

By Sian Meades 12/02/13

In our ongoing Pay Debate, Domestic Sluttery editor Sian Meades reveals how she wishes she could pay her writers more, and hopes we won’t demonise start-ups...

Not every company that doesn’t pay well (or at all) is out to swindle creatives. There’s a huge difference between a small company trying to get started and a huge company that’s too stingy to pay its freelancers.

I began my career as a freelance writer but I’m now a business owner. I employ freelance writers for my website, Domestic Sluttery. But if I’m brutally honest, they don’t get paid enough. Once upon a time, writing for Domestic Sluttery didn’t pay a penny (and it didn’t pay me anything, either). It took six months before the site was making anything at all. Over the last four years, payments have moved from a varied and unreliable profit share to payment per post, with extra for special projects. If the money is coming in, the first place it goes is to the people who helped make it. That’s always been the intention.

But it wasn’t easy to get here and, as much as I’d love to pay more, I’d hate to start paying everyone twice as much and not be able to sustain that after a couple of months. Profits might be growing but for online publishers it’s a gradual thing. When you start paying regularly, no matter how small that figure, people start to rely on it, so you’ve got to be able to continue that. My writers trust me to do my job properly.

I’ve written for free – I still do. My career started when I wrote for Londonist for over a year. I didn’t make a penny; the entire website is voluntary. And I wouldn’t have jacked in my full-time job without that experience. But a huge company, sold to AOL for millions, should pay its writers; don’t call it ‘guest blogging’ and expect free content. Large companies shouldn’t be shocked when a freelancer asks to be paid for their work; offering ‘exposure’ is, frankly, wearing thin. Let the person on the receiving end decide if the exposure is of value to them. In my experience, it’s rarely worth as much as the company offering it would have you believe.

Some companies can’t afford to pay but are trying; the good ones will do everything they can to support you. I forward job ads to my writers (even ones for competitors, who pay more), I write references, I recommend them for projects they’d love to be involved in. I try and support their talent. And when I write for free, it’s for people who’d do the same for me. It’s certainly not cold hard cash, but it’s not exploitation.

Not every business wants to take creatives for granted and a small budget doesn’t necessarily mean they are. There’s a middle ground in the Pay Debate. It’s not always easy to put a value on it, but the value is there. And it’s growing.


Do you agree or disagree with Sian’s stance? Let us know, below...


More from The Pay Debate:

Member case studies: working for free

Is work experience worth it?

Daisy on unpaid internships

Is journo pay paltry?

Employment rights: the lowdown

Should employers of unpaid interns be arrested?

Working for food

Working with employers

Why we don’t pay performers


Image by Philip Taylor, used under a CC BY 2.0 licence.

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