The (In)famous Craigslist Post

The text below was originally posted on Craigslist (and quickly removed by admins) in response to the ridiculous job offers there soliciting creative services for free (or for very little money). I’ll be honest: I’m guilty of doing work for free. I tell myself it’s “good experience” or that I’ll get more money from the same client down the road, thereby justifying my acts of pro bono prostitution.

Some of you, like me, are just starting out in this industry. Some of you have been around for a while. I’m curious to hear what all of you think about this.

NOTE: I did not write the following text. It was posted anonymously on Craigslist.

Every day, there are more and more Craigs List posts seeking “artistsâ€? for everything from auto graphics to comic books to corporate logo designs. More people are finding themselves in need of some form of illustrative service.

But what they’re NOT doing, unfortunately, is realizing how rare someone with these particular talents can be.

To those who are “seeking artistsâ€?, let me ask you; How many people do you know, personally, with the talent and skill to perform the services you need? A dozen? Five? One? …none?

More than likely, you don’t know any. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be posting on craigslist to find them.

And this is not really a surprise.

In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are professional illustrators. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are SEVENTY times as many people in the IT field.

So, given that they are less rare, and therefore less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunityâ€? to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucksâ€? for “materialsâ€?. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even CONSIDER offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered “yesâ€? to ANY of the above, you’re obviously insane. If you answered “noâ€?, then kudos to you for living in the real world.

But then tell me… why would you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Graphic artists, illustrators, painters, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.

A few things you need to know;

1. It is not a “great opportunityâ€? for an artist to have his work seen on your car/’zine/website/bedroom wall, etc. It IS a “great opportunityâ€? for YOU to have their work there.

2. It is not clever to seek a “studentâ€? or “beginnerâ€? in an attempt to get work for free. It’s ignorant and insulting. They may be “studentsâ€?, but that does not mean they don’t deserve to be paid for their hard work. You were a “studentâ€? once, too. Would you have taken that job at McDonalds with no pay, because you were learning essential job skills for the real world? Yes, your proposition it JUST as stupid.

3. The chance to have their name on something that is going to be seen by other people, whether it’s one or one million, is NOT a valid enticement. Neither is the right to add that work to their “portfolioâ€?. They get to do those things ANYWAY, after being paid as they should. It’s not compensation. It’s their right, and it’s a given.

4. Stop thinking that you’re giving them some great chance to work. Once they skip over your silly ad, as they should, the next ad is usually for someone who lives in the real world, and as such, will pay them. There are far more jobs needing these skills than there are people who possess these skills.

5. Students DO need “experienceâ€?. But they do NOT need to get it by giving their work away. In fact, this does not even offer them the experience they need. Anyone who will not/can not pay them is obviously the type of person or business they should be ashamed to have on their resume anyway. Do you think professional contractors list the “experienceâ€? they got while nailing down a loose step at their grandmother’s house when they were seventeen?

If you your company or gig was worth listing as desired experience, it would be able to pay for the services it received. The only experience they will get doing free work for you is a lesson learned in what kinds of scrubs they should not lower themselves to deal with.

6. (This one is FOR the artists out there, please pay attention.) Some will ask you to “submit work for considerationâ€?. They may even be posing as some sort of “contestâ€?. These are almost always scams. They will take the work submitted by many artists seeking to win the “contestâ€?, or be “chosenâ€? for the gig, and find what they like most. They will then usually have someone who works for them, or someone who works incredibly cheap because they have no originality or talent of their own, reproduce that same work, or even just make slight modifications to it, and claim it as their own. You will NOT be paid, you will NOT win the contest. The only people who win, here, are the underhanded folks who run these ads. This is speculative, or “specâ€?, work. It’s risky at best, and a complete scam at worst. I urge you to avoid it, completely. For more information on this subject, please visit www.no-spec.com.

So to artists/designers/illustrators looking for work, do everyone a favor, ESPECIALLY yourselves, and avoid people who do not intend to pay you. Whether they are “specâ€? gigs, or just some guy who wants a free mural on his living room walls. They need you. You do NOT need them.

And for those who are looking for someone to do work for free… please wake up and join the real world. The only thing you’re accomplishing is to insult those with the skills you need. Get a clue.

77 Comments

owen

I have never had to work for free, not even while at uni. Everyone that gives their time (incl. interns) deserves to be paid. If they’re rubbish, fire them.

chris

totally agree. 100%. Working for free to build up a portfolio is monumentally ridiculous. Why do what someone else tells you to do for free when you could, as an alternative, set yourself creative briefs that more specifically adhear to area of work you wish to be recognised for.

jb

Working on jobs for little or no pay is a personal choice but one that undermines us all as an industry. A small business has little budget but does offer the chance for an artist to develop.
What really urks me, drives me totally INSANE – is agencys or film studios who we all KNOW have tonnes of money, expecting us to pitch against each other for free. A simple realistic pitch fee would make us all attack our briefs happily in the knowledge that bills will be paid.
Why do they do this? Because Coca Cola is holy or stately and needs respect? No my friends because they are better at business than we are, and are safe in the knowledge that we need their money.
With our industry being as connected as it is, how hard would it be to get us to unite – and just simply ask for a pitch fee?
If EVERYONE refused to pitch against each other for free – our world would be a much more respected one, and a little cash richer.

JR

Never underestimate the value of making connections. I lead a volunteer web development group that helps area non-profits with their web sites, and I frequently solicit free help from area designers. Many, if not most non-profits in our area are functioning on a shoestring budget, and cannot afford to hire professionals. I know a couple of professional designers that are always happy to help out, and I make sure all of my business contacts know their names. These designers have gotten a great deal of paid work because of this.

Dontregister

This is a good point.
I’ve always wanted to do so : never work for free.
Especailly for those famous companies that can afford to pay. The more money they have, the less they pay and the worst the project will long.
or sometimes some producer screwed up with working with a ‘low budget’ artist thinking he can save some $$ for him but in the end the job is not done and they come to you with half the budget he has already spent expecting to clean up the mess. That’s often how it goes. And that is not acceptable.

But to be honest i’ve been involved in non or very low profit projects just for the peasure of doing it. And now i realize that most of the jobs i get today come from this network of friends and old buddies.

So what to say. I totally agree.
But I also say that being passionate about my job, sometimes, i get involved in zero profit operations just for the pleasure. And that’s fine. Because i do it knowing i don’t expect nothing in return. I don’t believe anymore in Santa Claus so no free jobs, no contests not being paid.

But pleasure being invaluable, i certainly work for pleasure.

.DR.

Lilian

Someone once told me : either work for NO MONEY (just for pleasure) or work for A LOT OF IT…hmmm..what do you guys think?

Maybe a Design Union needs to really happen in the near future. The only thing that seems to stand in its way is designers themselves. At worst, we can be very selfish, and eager to eliminate one another, consciously or not. Thats quite sad.

KMFIX

I’ve helped my friends move…and they’ve paid me in pizza…

I’ve done motion graphics for friends who’ve also paid me in pizza.

Chances are…I will in the future, help a friend move and help a friend with some motion graphics work…

BUT THERE ALWAYS BETTER BE PIZZA!

finn mckenty

i didn’t read all this, but there are a lot of flawed analogies in there:

1. demand for neurosurgery is very inelastic. if you don’t get it, you’ll die. hence, they can command higher prices.

2. while there may be a larger number of people practicing, say, IT than illustration, clearly the demand for illustration is low, or artists wouldn’t take on sleazy craigslist work for peanuts.

adam smith might be dead, but the invisible hand lives on!

Steph

I’ve never really been one to mince words so I’ll just say this….

FUCK FREE … I want to get paid. I work really hard to do good work and I’m not running a charity where I do work for t-shirts and free samples of useless crap I don’t need. Sorry but that’s just me.

Love Steph

Cannonball 1978

I know what my work is worth. I have worked for free many times, and regret doing so. Working for free devalued myself and he value of my services. I wont do free work (and yes, spec work is free work) because if someone really wants my services, they can pay me what I ask, or go elsewhere.

I know some of you think that you have to suck up and swallow bullshit work when you need money, but in doing that you have made your need for money more important than your dignity and creative vision.

Remember when you were young and idealistic, and were ready to starve for your vision? Faced with the prospects of not getting paid when you stick to your guns, most people buckle and sell out their vision of the kind of work they want to do the minute you find yourself having to give up creature comforts.

I know I sound like a pretensious and arrogant prick, but I dont give a shit. I’m reading The Fountainhead, and everything in that book is right.

When you clear away all the bullshit, we still live more or less in a meritocracy, where you get paid for your abilities. The trick is to know what that is worth, and demand it. It’s what is owed to you when you work.

motional

Deep roots in apprenticeship model where students would get paid room and board for their work. But not exactly the same.

delected

ppl want to know.. which company is the worst place… some of studios really bad… am i wrong?
i think we should share information …..

umanoid

I believe free work will only net you free work as a rule.It devalues our industry by saying creative is worth nothing and that the creative process has no value.What becomes of value usually is the computer operation skills ( at least in the case of free pitching which we all do to some extent or another if you work in the motion buisness) I have been designing for at least 30 years and have worked in many industries. Spec is a four letter word as far as i’m concerned. After getting a copy of the graphic artists guild handbook i learned a thing or two about a thing or two.Its mostly a print organization but it has a great set of ethical guidlines and basic contracts as well as basic pricing structures.Invaluable for artists who are just getting started.

All of the previous being said Some of my most creative and satisfying projects are with my charity/pro bono clients..
I believe You have to weigh what taking on projects for ‘free” will net you. The “free” projects i’m talking about are for below market value,but pay for themselves in terms of the production.My time is free. When we take on these type of projects we demand creative control and freedom,otherwise we won’t take them on. By the end of the project we usually have a new portfolio piece that my client has paid for and can be put into festivals or work as a showcase piece that will get the next paying project.Its a balancing act. overall i agree with the sentiment of the poster..design has value and even if you are just entering the market you should be compensated fairly for your work.

umanoid

BTW i got into broadcast after i already had a career as an illustrator at the age of 27. I interned at nights at a post production facility in order to learn the equipment.I have had many interns in my own shops and do not pay them. I do train them and treat their internships like a class and have given many of them jobs when they are able to handle real world work.Internships are a valuable and solid way to break into the business..are they exploitive? Yes and no. if its a mutually beneficial experience and both parties receive something from the relationship i think its fair.Each one teach one.I learn from my interns as well as mentoring them.

Chris

I think as creative professionals we all have a desire to peak our skills on a daily basis, it makes us feel valuable and hopefully puts us a cut above the rest!

So many times I have put myself out there to do fee jobs or even low budget jobs and worked 5 times as hard and felt drained and tired regardless of the final result!

If you’re looking to advance your skills create your own project, there is way more value in doing it in your unique way than pumping out some corporate spot just so their logo is on your reel! If their logo has value in the market place, they have the cash to pay you!!

After all we are referring to more of the corporate thugs here… however if you have an opportunity to help someone or work on a project where you can invest time into something worthwhile that benefit others and yourself as a creative, then go for it!

Business is out there to get the best product for cheapest price… just look at the car your client drives and then quote the buggers!… well thats how it works in South Africa :)

Mary

I used to subscribe to the Craigslist job+gig lists, but I gave up after a while because there were so many people posting bizarre non-jobs. [“I have ten bucks and I need an intern to design a logo. It’s great experience for the right person!”] There were just a lot of people out there looking for big favors from strangers and it got irritating.

I’ll do low-budget work for people when I know the project just doesn’t have more money and I still want to do it, but I won’t do freebies for corporations or jerks. There are good reasons to do freebies, but they’re not “opportunities”, they’re favors — it’s cool to do them for friends [my bf got the titles and graphics to his documentary for the holidays], but there are definitely people who really want flunkies and minions and won’t find you more work or even remember your name in a month. If you’re new to this business, you’re better off *not* taking freebies and experimenting on something wonderful of your own.

Incidentally, an intern is someone who is either getting college credit or a low starter wage. Anyone else is really just a volunteer.

Ben

Wow, thanks for posting this Justin. Amen.

Brandon

thanks so much for this post. i don’t feel like the only idiot.

matt

NOTICE TO ALL : keep an openned mind about these things! The writer of this letter should have had one himself. I agree that all artists should be informed of such a perspective to avoid being cheated but I strongly believe that this document should have been a little less bias. Everyone would agree that some, although rare, oppertunities do arrive in the form of free work that could lead to incredible growth and profit. if the indipendent contractor can be trusted to truely carry the artist up with his rise when starting a business, can promises just returns AFTER the completion of the work or proposes any other respectable method of compansation then all of a sudden, free work coulds be a good idea. so, in some perspectives, artists (or all indipendants looking for work) could get exploited this way but, in some instances, great oppertunities could come up. My suggestion to all is this : do think of thoses things, written in that text, when hearing a proposition about free work but also consider listening carefully to avoid passing up on a unique growth oppertunity. the greatest businesses of our times started out with people in them that worked for free.

Arlan

Never, ever, ever work for free. It will not get you “exposure”. It will not “turn into more work down the road”. It’s a rip-off. Always get paid, even if it’s a pittance or a barter agreement for something you can use. Always get compensation. Always. If you don’t you’ll be seen as a chump. Once you’re seen as a chump, you’ll never be seen as anything else.

Mr. S.

10 years ago, when I was working at one of the companies listed in the Cream O’ the Crop over there, we used to have debates about whether or not to take spec jobs. Then after awhile the debates got quieter and mostly we just took the spec work if it was for a client we really wanted to work for. Then we just took spec work from any one who asked, for the most part. Why? Because our sales guy sucked. Giving stuff away is much, much easier than selling it. Of course, our sales guy worked 9-6– he didn’t have to stay late every night to do all this work that he was giving away– what did he care? Eventually, this played a big factor in my decision to leave this company– too many trips to pitch materials to people who seemed largely to be humoring us and whom frequently hadn’t briefed us properly. Why? Becuase our work had NO VALUE to them– it was free. Why not have us come in and show stuff– it didn’t cost them anything.
Here’s an analogy: Why would I pay for email or video hosting on the web when I can get that stuff for free? Well perhaps I need more control than the free services offer. So: some clients will pay big bucks for control of design, or for a certain level of service they can’t get for free– but the vast majority of clients would take the free service if they could. When you give work away for free, it becomes a commodity, and then its just about who gives it away the best.
Of course you’re going to give work away during your career. There are some good reasons– to work with a known talent you really want to meet or learn from, to support a good cause, to help a friend, or to gain legitimate exposure in front of an audience that you can’t reach any other way. But don’t fool yourselves about why you’re doing it. If you’re trying to build a portfolio, then you’re better off making up assignments for yourself and maintaining control. And yes, sometimes any money is better than no money coming in. But don’t give your work away just because it’s easier then selling it. Most designers/artists I know HATE the selling part. I know I do. It is, however, an essential skill, and like all the other skills you’ve developed, it gets easier with practice. ALWAYS ask for what you think you’re worth, regardless of what’s been offered.
Remember– everytime you give something away for free, you’re training that person that free is okay. And yes, I agree totally with one of the posts higher up– the free jobs ALWAYS end up being the biggest pain in the asses, largely because free jobs never seem to have real deadlines. So if you are going to give something away for free, to a friend especially, try and at least be upfront about how much time you’re willing to give away– a couple hours, a week, 6 months?

earlygrab

10 years ago, 99.9% of the studios on that list were still in school. Seriously though, you speak the truth.

edu

I think it’s ok to do work for free, if you’re going to learn something in the proccess. Of course once you get something out of it, it’s not free work, but you’re not getting money, so it’s “for free”. By that i mean doing some free work as an assistant, trying to learn as much as you can by working with someone who has a lot to teach you. But simply doing free work because the client is cool (wich is very subjective) is stupid at best. The client won’t respect you, and you’ll probably end up hating the work and not doing it as well as you should.
Use that free time for personal projects, you don’t need a fucking logo to do good work, quite the contrary. I have friends who got good jobs out of personal projects from college, and it’s way better as a cretive exercise.
Every time you do work for free, you are telling a client that it’s ok to do creative work for free. So, if you’re planning on making a decent living out of your work, think twice before you do that super cool job for free, it’s just not worth it. There are a lot of really cool clients out there who could use your free work for a good cause, just think about it.

jim johnson

i do all my work for free

sometimes people just give me money when i am done

xpez

This is aperfect example of the shitty contests MTV and GETTYIMAGES put on. These mega brands give you a few thousand dollars if you are the winner. Meanwhile they just consulted hundreds of design studios around the world for great ideas. I think that kind of research is more valuable than that by far. FUCK MTV AND GETTY for being such wankers and not appreciating all of the talented people in the world.

Eventually designers wake up and realize their worth with experience.

dummy

we work for them

Toks Ogun

The main problem is positioning, artist normally don’t have a good position. Artist are normally viewed as eager to work and so people take advantage of that. When the work that we do is considered a small part of the bigger picture people take advantage.

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