(This post appeared on my Patreon page on 26 February 2016. They see blog posts three days early — plus, when I publish a new eBook they get a FREE .pdf copy even if I charge for it elsewhere! So you should totally become a patron. Not only will I appreciate it, but my wife and three children will appreciate it too. New patrons cheer me up, give me a fresh shot of no, really, this writing thing will support us some day optimism. And that inspires me to write more, which is a good thing. Daddy gets crabby when he’s feeling pessimistic and the writing won’t flow.)
I think the general inspiration for this one is pretty obvious. There have long been unpaid internships in various fields, but there has been an explosion of them, and other unpaid work, of late.
“Exposure” is the coin offered especially to people who work in the various arts. I say “coin” but we all know how much exposure is really worth: pretty much zero. It’s a lottery ticket, basically — hey, write for HuffPo (yes, I mean to pick on them because they sure as hell pull down enough profit to pay contributors, though they are far from the only offenders) for nothing, and maybe someone will offer you a paying job! Maybe someone will start buying your work because they saw your name here!
And there is a pretty big population of people who just love to say, “just get a better job, you bum.” Well, that’s an easy thing to say, isn’t it? It spares the speaker from thinking, and erects a nice barrier of ignorance and not-giving-a-shit to shield them from having to consider that someone trying to make a living from the arts is an entrepreneur — something that type generally loves as long as it’s in a profession that’s respectable in their eyes, like building houses for them, fixing their cars, cooking their food, or cleaning their toilets.
But art, their thinking goes, is worthless bullshit. Some folks who should know better, like Arianna Huffington, think the same so long as the art — creative nonfiction, in the case of the website she built up and sold off for hundreds of millions of dollars — profits them instead of the creator.
That kind of dismissive and self-absorbed thinking, my friends, is the real bullshit, and it only makes it harder to become financially self-supporting as a writer or website developer or a maker of fine webcomics or videos or podcasts or whatever your creative poison is.
(Also, a coda: sometimes it’s damned hard to “get a better job,” too. Unemployment, at least in the US, is pretty damn low. But more of that employment than ever is either part-time, sans benefits, part of the app-contractor economy (think Uber and Lyft) that skirts labor laws including minimum wage, or part of the wage structure that has been losing ground to inflation pretty much every year since somewhere in the 1970s. It’s not going to get any better, either. Not only are unpaid internships and exposure markets (sounds like a sex crime, doesn’t it? But it’s not… quite) growing, but automation hasn’t even gotten properly started yet. There’s a lot of talk about it, and a lot of disagreement over just how many jobs it will ultimately take out of circulation, but look for the impact to be large over the next two or three decades. The number of “better jobs” is shrinking, and it will only shrink faster in the near future.)