Matt Davis is a writer, a reporter, and a longtime friend. At the beginning of the year, we had a conversation about him writing an essay for this website. I told him I could not pay him because no money would exist with which to pay him. Talks broke down when he said, “I do not write for free,” and I said, “Um, but it’s me?,” and he said, “I do not write for free,” and I hung up.
In September, I tried again.
Will you write a thing for my website please? I have a perfect topic for you and I think it’d be fun and easy and FUN
I would gladly do it but need some payment. What can you pay me?
We’ve been over this . What are you asking for
What do you think such an article, written by me, would be worth?
This is how negotiation works, Logan. Of course, depending on your courage and how long this all takes, you will probably get another article out of describing our negotiation. But that would be free.
You have probably realised I am an arch negotiator.
So I am asking you to trust me and negotiate.
I take it your silence is your negotiating tactic.
It’s a shame because I’ve been getting excited about writing this article, which weakens my negotiating position slightly. Just tell me a number so I can get on with it please.
This is a tricky situation, Davis. Very tricky indeed. Of course I believe that your work is worth something. I also believe that all of the work I publish on my website is worth something. But I do not pay the writers who give me their work (as I say in my emails to them, it’s a priority, but we aren’t there yet). So deciding to value your work over the work of other writers, whose work I publish each day without payment, makes me uncomfortable.
But even if I were to pay you—how would we come up with a number? Should it be based on how much money I think I’ll make off your post? (I don’t actually know how this works, but … it cannot be much.) How much money I would be willing to personally part with for your post? (Millions, would I had them.) How much I think your time is worth? How much your time is worth according to your salary?
Is it even a question of time? If you write the thing on the back of a cocktail napkin and it’s brilliant, should you be paid the same as if you would if you worked on it for weeks?
I don’t want to offend you with a hypothetical low offer, but I fear I’m going to.
PS What is your opinion of naked pictures as payment
My opinion of naked pictures as payment is very positive and could prematurely end this email exchange were you to dispatch them. Of course, in your readers’ interests, we could prolong the email exchange if you were to mail me the pictures at 123 Happy Street UK. And I could pretend that I had never received them. Also I prefer a few tastefully discarded/pushed aside clothes in my naked pictures as opposed to full nudity unless there is also food involved. You should probably know that.
In broad answer to the questions about the payment issues you asked, my new publication—about which I will not communicate over email or any technology invented before 1900—operates a transparent pay structure. That means that every contributor’s payment, as well as supporting contributions, are listed on page 8: “accounts.” I have a Pulitzer winner writing an article for free, while a few first-time contributors are working for £50.
I trust you may have received your commissioning letter on this subject, by now? If not it should be with you very shortly.
You are right to flag the role of friendship in influencing financial interactions. I will be printing any salary I draw from the publication, too. Because it is not something I am simply starting to finance my trips to Europe. I already live in Europe.
In many ways technology has made everything more complicated but here’s a question for you: Would you pay more for an article by someone with a higher Klout score? Or would you prefer to commission an article from someone who has spent the last five years living in a cave? When it comes to writing about personal finance, I suspect that the cave-dweller’s article would probably have more value in my eyes.
All this conversation is part of my belief that we need to revolutionise the way writing is valued in 21st Century culture, which is one reason for the transparent pay structure at the new magazine I have described. It’s also why I’ve just commissioned an article for £50 by a respected writer on Ariana Huffington’s belief that modern technology and non-payment of writers are necessarily congruent phenomena. Why should one’s readers value one’s product if one can’t even summon up the means to pay for it?
Is it even, really, valuable to us at all?
But yes. Naked pictures would suffice. Let’s say five. Although one needs to be careful. As Barbara Payton said in I Am Not Ashamed, a book charting her progress from $18,000 a night high-class-hooker to $5-a-time cheap trick, “Once you’ve charged $15, you never, ever go back to charging $20.”
So is five naked pictures worth it, to you?
Or should I be over the moon with only one?
If this were a romantic interaction I’d be bound to tell you just one would suffice.
Since it’s a negotiation, I’m trying to ensure, first, that my needs are met. On the other hand perhaps that’s what has always been wrong with my romantic life—that I cave in too easily.
I’m not terribly interested in getting into this argument with you again, but basically: We disagree. I understand your rule, and I respect your rule, I think, but I am frustrated that our friendship is not trumping your rule. Rules were made to be broken. WHY WON’T YOU BREAK YOUR RULE FOR ME?!
I have not yet received your letter—but I am intrigued by the scant details offered here. Given your characterization of it as a “commissioning letter,” I would like to offer to pay you whatever it is that you are offering to pay me. 1 nude photo = 1 nude photo. 50 GBP = 50 GBP. Undying love and affection = Undying love and affection. Please consider my offer.
This is an interesting proposal. If I agree to your offer, should we coordinate the sending of the payment or will it be based on trust? What if I say I’ll send you mine once you’ve sent me yours, but then renege on the deal? Or vice versa?
Perhaps I think I’m worth more than you are.
But I don’t. It’s just that on balance I like to get paid.
How about this: I would pay you £500GBP for your article, and you would pay me £500GBP for mine. But we would actually write checks and transfer the money, including the cost of the international transfer which is about $25.
Then I could say the last article I wrote for The Billfold paid £500. And you could say the same about my publication.
“No, I can’t pay you for your work, but I can pay $25 in INTERNATIONAL BANK TRANSFER FEES so that my friend Matt Davis can MAKE A POINT.”
Matt Davis lives in London.