Free is not a radically new price

Since commencing my career as a teacher in Australia, I have written many articles for free and presented at conferences at the same discount price, often having to pay to attend the event into the bargain. I did this willingly enough as I am passionate about learning, sharing and education but in more recent years, as offers to write and speak occur weekly, have become more enthusiastic, albeit conflicted, to be paid for my labour (as time management becomes more and more challenging).

If one looks at who owns the magazines and profits from the conferences, it is easier to make a decision about doing it for free or not. It is not always clear from their websites who does own the magazine but, after a little digging, often they are affiliated with larger, diversified, media organisations. Many, I’m sure would be struggling in the current media landscape but others do well as they successfully advertise education and ICT products.

The professional teacher’s associations have journals and increasingly are likely to pay for articles. Sometimes quite handsomely. Others have limited, smaller memberships and struggle to reimburse the writers.

Often we all do each other favours at ‘mates rates’ which usually, in my case, means for free. As it should be. Or there is collaborative sharing, like at a TeachMeetwhere everyone benefits, enjoying great collegiality.

Exposure

Doing it for free is often thought to provide exposure for the blogger, writer, photographer etc.. This is surely true for some but wont pay the bills for most. Interesting enough MediaWatch has run a number of stories in recent years that echo this theme.  What is of great concern is that people who need to make a living from their writing, photography and other skills are being asked to assist others make money for ‘exposure’ rather than payment. We all understand why this is happening, in an era of abundance, but it is important that behaviour from media organisations is ethical.

Many emails arrive each week asking me to tout products and services at my blog. I rarely respond nowadays unless they are written personably as it should be clear to anyone who reads my blog there is no advertising (except for the occasional worthy cause or of product I use). There is no payment in these cases. I have no real need to ‘monetise’ an online presence. My blog is increasingly expensive to host, for no monetary reward, but increasing traffic is not really that essential as it is to someone who makes a living from their website(s) and creativity.

Conclusion

Education should be free.  I am sure many would donate all their time for weekend conferences and write for free if this spirit prevailed.

Australians once, from 1972 -1989, could attend university, regardless of background but now it is very expensive. The Germans have recently made tertiary studies free but in most countries it is cost prohibitive for many. Once, our country had a public education system attended by virtually everyone. Now, that has changed dramatically as learning is branded and the user pays for the privilege.

What about you? Are you writing and speaking for free? How do you feel about this? Should educators be writing without payment for businesses keen to make a profit? How do Canadian, American, New Zealanders or British educators fare comparatively? How do editors feel about asking teachers to write for free? Should education be free?

DISCLAIMER: Adobe provide all their software to me for free. I especially love Lightroom and have no problem recommending it to all photographers.

Featured image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Alan O’Rourke: http://flickr.com/photos/toddle_email_newsletters/7002322316/

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DISCLAIMER

The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

4 Comments

  1. This is my number one concern, and really the number one reason I decided to do a PhD in media and not education. There is a serious ethical issue over ‘free’, because right now Brands (Google, Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung) are all using the ‘citizen consumer’ model and are exploring children as a market. It amazes me that the syllabus banishes ‘brands’ when it comes to technology (kids get no marks for naming a brand and lose them for not using the generic term). Yet conferences and school PD (even teachmeets) are routinely focused on commercial (not OER) software and content. I seems some of those with ambition to one day venture out and charge, will endorse brands, in the hope they might be picked from the crowd. To return to ethics. Teachers have unique access to children (and families) which brands otherwise have to pay-to-reach. Therefore what better way to sell your brand than though the trusted profession. At conferences teachers are bombarded with brands (technological and economic determinism) told to ‘follow’ dangerous experts – many of whom are a) not qualified in adult education, design, media or research and b) have no responsibility to the ‘audience’ once they’ve picked up a cheque and dropped vaguely plagiarised ideas.

    Dangerous experts under-value the contribution of others and over-value their own (these days fees of over $10,000 for a one hour talk are common – and public education pays it to a) entertain the troops and b) to appear less culturally conservative than it actually is.

    But then I don’t go to these things any longer, just as I won’t endorse brands – not least EDU versions of video games which I see as having no empirical or epistemological basis for being presented to kids as ‘the way to learn’. I’m even more vexed that Pearson will be overseeing the HSC ‘computerised exams’. But I’m called cynical and favour anonymous over captain obvious.

    Cheers Sir.

  2. I have no problem writing or speaking for free at conferences or events organised by non-profit organisations that exist to support education, especially when said organisations are run voluntarily by teachers devoted to supporting other teachers in their subject area. I haven’t yet had the experience of being asked to speak at a commercial event without charge, or of having to pay to attend an event I’m speaking at, so I haven’t had to challenge those aspects of my professional values – though I suspect I would generally be against it. I find it generally reprehensible when people try to exploit education for profit, because then the education of students is no longer the sole, or necessarily highest, priority.

  3. Lyndal Breen:

    This is a huge problem in our society, that certain things are free to such an extent that there is no prospect of earning a living doing it. Not only writing and speaking as described above, but much tutoring in reading skills and teaching of English to migrants is carried out by volunteers. Another area where volunteers carry the burden of providing their time and expertise for no remuneration is in much environmental action (Landcare etc) and again, this downgrades the contribution that is being made to a level of “people like doing this” (it’s a privilege to be allowed to contribute), not they are driven to work for free for the overall benefit to society.
    In the meantime, no one expects such massive free contributions from,say, the advertising industry, despite it’s overall lack of providing value to society.
    It’s one thing to support your colleagues, and but people’s work should generally be recognised with fair payment.

  4. WOW! Since I wrote my last comment on this post I have had a somewhat bizarre experience. I had offered to present (free of charge) at an upcoming conference – only to be sent an invoice for the cost of attending the conference!

    Forget the idea of organisations expecting people to work for free, but where the hell does any organisation, or even an individual, get up the gall to expect people to pay for the privilege of sharing your work in order to help them raise revenue through participant fees!

    I’ll wait and see what they say in reply to my last email, but I had never in my right mind expected to be charged for volunteering to share my work (plus the cost of my school releasing me for the day!)

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