Take the plunge into the exposure economy at your own risk. (image via Edward McGowan)
Yet again, Google has led the way in defining the art of the profitable deal. In exchange for donating their labor and talents and finely crafted image files, a number of renowned illustrators were recently offered the opportunity to be exposed by Google. Yes, a week’s worth of work for the chance to have your illustration seen by millions. Any takers? You bet. (Let’s ignore those naysayers—they just don’t get it!)
News of this opportunity-of-a-lifetime spread fast. The smart set quickly climbed aboard. Rumor has it that both Sony and Loews are fighting ruthlessly to extend the concept. Get this—you independent filmmakers with your fierce independent voices—we’ll expose your films to paying customers in exchange for the donation of your months or years of work. Is there no end to this brilliant plan? Apparently not. A friend of mine who has worked as a chef in some of the better restaurants was recently offered the opportunity to have his stove-top artistry exposed to brimming rooms of diners in exchange for a non-paid 70-hour work week.
Seriously, the question comes back, naggingly, to the unresolved issue of free versus paid content—this time from the creator’s side of things instead of the reader. Is there a future for paid content when it’s up against the allure of free exposure? But then again, what happens after you’ve been fully exposed? Will you feel less inclined to work for free? Or does the sphere of exposure expand like the universe in perpetuity? Clearly, everything hasn’t been thought through, but doesn’t it make common sense that at some point, people observing, recording, interpreting, building, thinking, creating, i.e., working, need to be paid, and that revenue needs to be generated to pay them?
This week and last, CNN and the BBC have gained a windfall of free content by exposing tweets of those on the streets of Tehran. But no one seriously following the story can survive on tweets alone. On the finer points of Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s reformist point of view, wouldn’t you need some longer-format reports (working knowledge of the Farsi language a plus)?
Is this what it comes down to? If it easy to do or lots of people are doing it, then it’s free, but if the works require some sustained mental exertion and some measure of expertise, then you should be paid. Maybe. But, again, to repeat the question, Why pay someone cash money when you can you offer them full exposure in all its glory? C’mon, no one ever died of exposure.