free art sign

Image: my_dog_sighs under Creative Commons

EDIT – 31 May: A recent article in Guardian explained how an unpaid website intern celebrated court victory: she was eventually paid minimum wage for the hours she worked. What’s your opinion on unpaid work? Are internships justified or do they exploit young graduates?


Yesterday we posted an opportunity on Facebook calling for voluntary contributors to a dance publication that will be published during the Edinburgh Festivals in August. It sparked a few angry responses from some of our members who were, quite frankly, fed up of opportunities asking for free contributions. “Designers, writers and artists cannot live on good will alone.” wrote David Murphy.

I wanted to add a couple of my own thoughts to the discussion as like a lot of people I’ve done my fair share of unpaid work. Firstly, in journalism, this trend is becoming more and more common. There are several well-respected national magazines who have built their whole business model on not paying their writers and contributors. With the rise in popularity of online content, journalism is struggling – it hasn’t worked out how to make money from the web whilst also being hit by falling sales and advertising. This means that increasingly publications aren’t paying for web content and many are resorting to not paying for those writing articles for print either. This is a strange time for journalism and it’s impacting writers, photographers and illustrators the most.

Yet there are also a huge number of people who want to get experience and so are willing to work, initially, for free to get that. This to me makes sense. Where it gets complicated is when that initial experience doesn’t lead to paid work or when those who have reached a professional level have no option but to carry on working for free due to lack of opportunities.

I’m not sure what the solution is but I think that individuals have to draw a line, for themselves, at what they’re prepared to do without monetary remuneration. Will the exposure or experience you get be worth the initial expense? How and where you draw the line is up to you.

Let me know your experiences in other fields and where you think that line needs to be drawn.