I ask this question because some assume that while professional services like those of barbers, hair stylists, lawyers, accountants, and candle stick makers must be paid for, the services of a writer need not be. Indeed, some multi-billionaires have started websites (named after themselves) asking writers to contribute for free ('you'll get a lot of great exposure and can build a large following/platform/blah, blah, blah") and never get around to paying their writers, even after they've sold their websites for billions of dollars to a Fortune 500 media company. I won't mention any names here, but you may know who I'm talking about.
Can I pay my rent or my car loan in "exposure and an online following"? I've never tried it -- who knows, maybe it'll work. What I'm saying is that writers are like every other professional and every other person in this world: we got bills to pay and need to work to generate the income in order to pay our bills. I can't write for free because it simply isn't a sustainable business model, no more than a barber shop giving free haircuts has a sustainable business model.
Seemingly more than almost any other profession, writers constantly get asked to work for free. I literally get a couple emails every week "inviting" me to write free content for people and websites I've never even heard of. The emails are polite and might even praise my work, but they also go on to express how lucky I am to receive such a great opportunity to write for free. Really?! Mostly, I just respond saying that I don't write for free because I have to do things like eat, have a roof over my head, pay my taxes, etc., and writing for free doesn't help me. I then ask them to pay my normal rate for the written work. I haven't heard back yet.
I'm not telling you not to write for free. That's a personal decision. You may actually need exposure -- although exposure can kill you in the wintertime here in Boston -- and a platform (although they hang people from platforms, don't they?). It's your choice. If you are independently wealthy and writing is just a hobby, then write your heart out for free. If you're starting out and need to build clips in order to move up to getting paid, that's fine. Go ahead and write for free a few times. It's tough out there, I know.
But I believe writers have an obligation to value their work and demand that others value it enough to pay for it. Paying clients help you live your life by (get ready for it) paying for your skills and your time. That way, you don't need to go out and collect cans in the street in order to pay your rent.
Sorry if I'm getting all Marxist here, but I do believe writers have the same right to make a living by selling their services as barbers or bakers or Beyonce'. It takes years to develop skills and hours to produce content that's worth reading. That time should be compensated so writers can keep practicing their profession.
And yes, you are right, I AM writing this blog post for free. But I'm doing it for the love of it and (I suppose) am simply exploiting myself, nobody else. Every writer needs to make their own choices, but making a living is important and so is getting paid.
What do you think of writing for free, dear reader. I can't pay you a penny for your thoughts, but do hope you'll share your experiences and opinions below . . .