Businessman shrugging shouldersDo you think that “That’s just the way it is” is an adequate excuse when one group of people is taking advantage of another group of people?

Yeah. Me neither.

Last week I attended a tech/start-up event called the Growth Hacking Conference. I was impressed that of the 4 speakers offered 2 of them were women, which is why I decided to go.

The man who organized the event was one of the speakers. Of all the presentations his was the shortest and was focused on using MeetUp.com to build community, ostensibly for  aspiring and current entrepreneurs. He talked about how it’s a fairly low cost way to build a relationship with potential colleagues and customers and create a sense of interactive engagements.

He said it really came down to four steps. Sign up to offer events through MeetUp.com, find a venue, invite a speaker and then promote the event through the website. Seems easy enough, and it particularly peaked my interest as a potential option for me as I’m working to build a new avenue for my speaking career.

At the end of his presentation he opened the floor up for questions. Someone asked…

“Do you think that events should be offered for free or should there be a fee to attend?” His answer was along the lines of “People tend not to value what they don’t pay for, so I think you should always charge for entrance.” He continued with “You’re offering a valuable service and so it’s important that you’re compensated for it.”

Excellent, that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

But then someone asked a follow up question…

“What do you pay the speakers?” and his answer shocked me. He replied with “I never pay speakers and I don’t think you should. In fact when a speaker is really good, they won’t want to get paid. They know that you’re putting them in front of people who might then buy their book or schedule a consult session.”

Any guesses on whether I agree with that?

I immediately raised my hand and said “So basically you’re unilaterally devaluing the very people who are creating the actual content of your event?’

He was rather quick to dismiss me and I decided to bite my tongue rather than push the issue in this arena.

During the break I was talking with a friend who had also attended who shrugged it off with a “that’s just how things work now.” He continued with, “speakers have a choice, they don’t have to say yes.”

Bullshit.

Yes. There has been a rather lengthy period of industries being annihilated by the “sharing economy” and there has been benefits as well as downsides to this new structure. But artists, writers and content creators are seeing the brunt of this new payment (or lack of payment) structure and thankfully the time has come when people are starting to speak up.

Recently Wil Wheaton posted an exchange he had with Huffington Post. In a nutshell, HP contacted him about republishing a blog post he’d written (on his own site) which was getting a lot of interest and traffic. When Wil inquired enthusiastically about what the pay would be they responded with a “most of our contributors are happy for the exposure” he replied with “if it’s good enough for you to want to publish then it’s good enough for you to pay for.” He pointed out that HP isn’t some scrappy start-up, but a hugely profitable company and that they could certainly afford to pay for content they desired.

Update: here’s another great article about the nonsense HuffPo spouts about not paying writers

To my mind the concept of building a for-profit business on the backs of the very contributors needed to create the thing that’s being sold is inherently unethical. In this case an event, which charged for tickets for entrance, but then did not pay the speakers that actually made up the event. This is not to say that monetary payment is *always* required, there are plenty of ways to show that a contributor is valued and for some contributors cash money isn’t the objective. It’s also not to say that there aren’t occasions when donating your time and skills IS an excellent opportunity; to build community, build a brand or build potential business opportunities.

But when someone makes a statement like “you should never pay speakers” when just moments before that same person has asserted that events shouldn’t be free because “people don’t value what they don’t pay for” the hypocrisy shined through like a big neon light.

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