Monday, March 15, 2010

Low pay = cheap boss

So my clever headline is a play on the Globe and Mail headline that caught my interest today.

Does low pay = high passion?

It's a conundrum that writers and other creatives are often forced to face - must I live on slave wages for the rest of my life in order to do something I love?

Let me give you some context here. The Globe and Mail's Dave McGinn features an employer - internet entrepreneur Ben Huh - up top. Huh weeds out job applicants by posting entry-level jobs at low-paying wages. His rationale is that way, he'll find people who are passionate about the work, not the paycheque, and noted that those who focus on the $ tend to be the worst candidates. Huh blogged about this last month - read it benhuh!com.

Now, let's emphasize that Huh's talking about entry-level jobs here and I'm going to go on a bit of a tangent straight off. My issue is that way too many employers of creatives are using the same argument when filling positions that require experience. I know - until recently, I had been looking for writing work on and off for about a decade while freelancing. And I'm not alone - I hang out with other writers, along with a number of photographers, graphic designers and artistes. I now have a writing job I enjoy with a decent wage and other perks, so it is possible, folks!

There seems to be an assumption that anyone can do creative jobs, so we don't deserve a decent living wage but should be grateful to have someone to pay us pennies for our efforts. I've done a few 'writing tests' that resulted in nothing (one did, however, land me my last job featuring relatively low pay balanced by kick-ass benefits). Forget the fact that many of us are educated in our fields and have continued our education in order to stay on top of technical demands. Forget the years upon years of experience we have.

It's not necessarily better for freelancers. For years, PWAC (the Professional Writers' Association of Canada) has been lobbying for better freelance rates for writers. Bad Writing Contracts is a coalition of Canadian writers fighting for better contracts (read 'better pay') too. Writers' rates, particularly in Canada, have remained frozen for about 30 years.

Whether you're looking at staff positions or freelance jobs, the problem is the same. We're too often undervalued for what we do because we are artists. We are supposed to be flakey, fluffy, hippies who don't care about things like paying rent or frivolous purchases like groceries for our kids. We're supposed to be grateful for that ever-elusive byline. We should explode like KITH's chicken lady upon seeing our words in print. I call bullshit.

When you, my fellow creatives, don't stand your ground and accept less than you are truly worth, you devalue the work of every other creative out there. You give the man (sorry, slipping into that flakey hippie jargon), a reason to continue to devalue the work of other creatives too. And then this ridiculous cycle never ends.


  1. Interesting stuff. Thanks for writing this...and for the link to benhuh; very thought-provoking.

    I wonder, too, how much creative work is undervalued because it is perceived as "free". Newspapers, libraries, the Internet; no one has to buy a book or a magazine if they don't want to. If I don't have to pay for it, why should someone get paid for making it? goes the thinking.

    (Not that I don't support the free sharing of information and art, because I do. Just that its mixed-use places art outside the lines of traditional supply-and-demand, so people don't see its worth.)

    Even though I'm not in a place to market myself as a creative right now, I support the creatives in my life by buying books, paying for music, shopping for gifts at the online stores of websites I love. I subscribe to the (hippyish?) idea that if you want a lush, vibrant garden to enjoy, you have to water it.

  2. Some really good points, particularly about the whole perception of creative work being as free. I'm with you on the garden metaphor too.

  3. i don't buy it. i'm sure this guy doesn't apply the same logic when writing his own paycheque...