Saying No and Not Working for Free

Ever since I started making YouTube videos I’ve been running into something I rarely encountered when I was just a blogger. People I don’t know are asking things of me. I get requests to collaborate on videos, to join networks, to post my videos on other people’s websites. It can get a bit overwhelming. I have a hard time responding to these requests. On the one hand many of the people asking seem sincere and enthusiastic about what they do, and I don’t want to be a jerk. On the other hand, a question that has to be asked is – What do I get out of this?

It’s very common in hobby-based content creation for outlets to only be able to “pay” you with exposure. Now, I certainly don’t write or make videos for money – based on the current balance in my AdSense account I should be set to receive my first ever cheque from Google sometime next year. After 6 years of writing here and 1 year of video making. I do it because I enjoy it, I answer only to myself, it lets me talk to people with similar interests, and because I like attention and people knowing my thoughts on things. However as soon as a third party comes in asking to use my work in some way, things change. If I’m asked to share my content elsewhere, do extra work, maybe commit to some schedule, then it turns into work. And honey, I don’t work for free.

What kind of collaborations and such I find reasonable will depend on what kind of effort is required from me, and what I get in return. As of now, the only request I’ve said yes to came from the folks at 1 More Castle (which has, sadly, shut down now). One of the site founders contacted me to see if I was interested in posting my videos on the site. I was really new to making videos and honestly I was just pumped that someone noticed me. So, after some back and forth on the details, I said yes. Luckily, I had only positive experiences with posting there. The requirements from me were minimal – I just made a post in WP to embed my video whenever I had a new one ready (along with some tags and a thumbnail and stuff) and let an editor know it was good to go. My videos stayed on my own channel and there was no schedule or rules to follow. I got a few more hits to my videos, the website readers hopefully had some new interesting content to peruse, and I made a bunch of nice new internet friends.

Currently I post my retro videos as user submissions on another retro gaming site. No one contacted me about this, I just thought it would give my channel more traffic. Again, the videos stay on my channel, I just email in a link and description for them whenever I make them. I get some views from this, but have not really felt any sense of community building. Low effort, low return.

When it comes to sites or people asking for original content with no compensation I have to ask – why would I do that? My bf let me know today that a gaming site was looking for staff writers to do a weekly column. It could be a good source of exposure so I checked out the posting and the application for it. Then I got to the fine print at the bottom, which quietly explained that they could offer no monetary compensation. Sigh. Exposure isn’t pay, and writers shouldn’t be asked to work for free.

Professional writers, especially in the video games industry have a hard time making a living wage. I’m not a professional writer. I’ve never made a pitch, I’ve never worked with an editor. I’ve been paid to write something a grand total of 1 time. However, because I think that writing and journalism should be careers that are viable for talented people, I’d never write for free for any site that collects revenue. The more people that create content for free, the more people think that this is the way it should be. That people don’t need to be compensated for their work. Why pay a writer when some schmuck with no business sense will do it for free?

I’ve sort of veered off topic (see? no editor). At least I resisted the urge to go into a tangent about game companies using fans as free Alpha/Beta testers. Oh wait, I guess I didn’t resist. Coming back around to the original topic… if you’re a content creator, how do you respond to requests for collaboration or for you to share your work elsewhere? My current tactic is to ignore anything I’m not really interested in, which is not the most mature response. I don’t want to be a jerk to people who are interested in my content but at the same time, there has to be something in it for me and I want to be sure I’m getting at least as much out of it as I put into it.

13 responses to “Saying No and Not Working for Free

  1. The more people that create content for free, the more people think that this is the way it should be.


    This is why unpaid internships make me so. white hot. angry. A company gets to use you as an employee for free, and people have been going along with it for decades because “it looks good on a resume.” Now after all these years it’s just expected that college students will work for free because it looks good. You are rendering a service (your work) for a company that is making money off it. STOP IT. RAGE RAGE RAGE ARGLE BARGLE RAGE RAGE RAGE.

    As for your specific dilemma, I don’t think it would be inappropriate to at least shoot back a short email that says something to the effect of “Thank you, but I’m not interested.” Leaving people hanging runs the risk of giving you a poor reputation, and then you might get left out when a decent opportunity does come along. I just watched a video from another YouTuber yesterday addressing this specific issue and apparently once you say no a lot of companies will still keep emailing and emailing, which IMHO sounds like a good way to weed out people you don’t ever want anything to do with.

    (Also, while I’m here, I did watch a little bit of your video on Snatcher because it was linked on your site. Your videos have come a long way. I’m really impressed with your delivery. *sniff* I knew you way back when…)

    • Unpaid internships are awful. Experience is nice, but it doesn’t feed you or keep a roof over your head. It’s awful that not paying interns seems to be the norm. Pay your workers!

      The strange thing I’m finding about people asking to collaborate is that it’s often obvious that they JUST found my channel. Like, I got a message that they subscribed, they commented on my latest video, then it’s “hey, want to collaborate?” I’m wondering if they’re just asking anyone with more subs than them? But I should probably respond.

      And thanks, I’ve been getting more comfortable in front of the camera.

  2. Damn. Yeah, you’re pretty much on point. I love doing it too, and I love getting the attention, and honestly, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve spread myself pretty thin along several places that don’t pay and may not pay for a long time. I DID apply for that specific gaming site that you mentioned, and I write for another one as well. I guess the difference is, the big name one will be paying me in exposure, and the smaller one is more of a passion project than anything. I don’t know. I’m rambling. I completely see where you are coming from, and I completely agree that people shouldn’t feel the need to work for free. I do think there’s a fine line, though, between working for free with hope of exposure, and work for free just because you love it. I dunno. Great post.

    • Thank you. I think everyone has a different idea of what kind of compensation is reasonable for their work. I can understand doing things for exposure only but for me, the effort required would have to be quite small to make that worth it. As soon as it starts resembling a job, I’m not interested in doing it for free. I also am a little iffy on doing things for exposure and gaining new subs and views at a rapid rate. As much as I like the attention and want people to see my content, I also really enjoy that I can currently reply to all the comments I get here or on videos. Also, with a LOT of attention, comes more of the bad kind of attention.

  3. I use adsense too. It’s nice to get a little something for all the effort you put into something you love.

    I’ve also been approached by a number of networks but haven’t joined any because I don’t really know much about them. I’ve written about it a few times hoping for some input from individuals who’ve had experience with them but there’s been no bites so nothing much has changed.
    Cymre recently posted..On The Hunt

    • Adsense has done almost nothing for me on my blogs. I’ve had ads on 2 blogs for about 4 years (granted, they are small and hidden at the bottom of the page), I think I had about $15 in my account after all that time. I’m getting more from YouTube though.

      Based on what I’ve heard, mostly from attending panels on Youtube at conventions or friends who have a bigger following, networks are generally not worth it. If you get bigger and start getting copyright claims and things I think they can help you take care of those, but otherwise they don’t offer a whole lot.

  4. Well said and worth saying. It’s your intellectual property and you should not give it away.

  5. Sometimes, it’s more a matter of “well, they’re not going to pay me anyway, so why bother asking?” At least, that’s been my experience. I’m lucky to get my pitches accepted at all, so I think that if I try to tip the scales in my favor (even if I have every right to do so), the editor’s going to revoke their previous acceptance. That includes reminding an editor that I’m working with them on a piece (I wait a month before I remind them what the hell; I’m pretty sure that’s too long). There are power disparities in all this that also need addressing.

  6. I agree totally with your stance. Plenty of passionate people work long hours on unpaid projects of their own making and design, but that is way different from contributing to someone else’s work/project for free. I think it drifts into the realm of being ethically shady when you ask people to contribute to your project for free, relying on them being flattered or too nice to say no or ask for fair financial compensation.
    Dahakha recently posted..Steam Challenge – Borderlands

  7. Andrew Oberhauser

    Hey, found your website from your YT videos. Deja Vu video was great. Was my least favorite of the 3 Kemco Point and click adventure games for NES, but still cool.

    As far getting something for your time, consider starting a Patreon account? I’d donate a buck or two per video.

    • That’s really nice, thank you. I’ve thought about Patreon (and support a number of other creators on Patreon) but I’m not sure if I’m ready to take that step yet.

  8. Pingback: My 2015 | Cannot be Tamed