Just Say No to Spec Work


I recently received an email request. This is not the first of such requests I’ve received, nor will it be the last. Perhaps you received the same request (or have received a similar one in the past). This request asked me for a spec article to be published in a print magazine. Spec in this case means working for free for little or no benefit to myself or my website.

There is a time and a place to work for free. Some of my friends have talked about the benefits of working for free, but this, my friends, THIS is not one of those situations.

Here, read the email yourself. I have edited the note to remove any direct references to the person or the publication. My edits are in brackets and italicized <like this>. I have also bolded parts of the note that I want you to pay special attention to.

–begin email–

Hi, Heather:

I am an editor at <Large National> magazine and a fan of your blog; hope you’re well. For our <Christmas Themed> special issue, which is on newsstands September 28 through December 28, I am putting together a story that features Christmas crafts made by bloggers. I would love for you to be a part of the story, if you’re interested.

In a nutshell, I’m reaching out to bloggers I admire and inviting you to submit a craft for possible inclusion* in the story. Of the submissions, we’ll ultimately choose about six designs to photograph.** The published story will include step-by-step instructions for creating the craft at home, as well as give full credit to you and your site for the idea.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you that our readers love easy, very doable and not intimidating crafts. Of course, the prettier and simpler, the better (one of our favorite crafts was a pine cone made out of felt and wooden beads), and any time an item can be used in a surprising way, the readers love it (for example, we’re doing a story about crafts you can make using candy in an upcoming issue).

If you’re interested in submitting a craft, I would need to have it here in our offices no later than Monday, June 21. And while, unfortunately, due to budget constraints, I cannot pay for the idea or reimburse for supplies***, I can certainly send you a UPS slip so that you can ship the craft to me free of charge. We’ll be putting the story* on our website, <LargeNationalMagazine.com>, as well, so I’m sure there will be additional opportunities for cross-promotion; the only thing I’d ask is that you wait to run the craft on your own site until our story hits stands.

That’s my pitch. Hope you’re interested, and happy to answer any questions you may have. Thanks so much for your time!

Best,
<Magazine Writer/Editor>

end email–

*possible inclusion, the story = they are asking me for spec work – a craft project with photos and written instructions – that MIGHT appear in their publication, but there is no guarantee that my work will be featured
**we’ll ultimately choose about six designs to photograph = again, a request for spec work that results in a lottery wherein the most suitable craft projects will be featured. The creators of these craft projects will receive “full credit”
***unfortunately, due to budget constraints, I cannot pay for the idea or reimburse for supplies = this magazine knows it doesn’t have to pay for ideas because people will submit free ideas just for the chance to be published. I wonder how many people will happily submit their ideas?

This magazine has a circulation of over 400,000 and a readership of over 2 million. Shame on this major publication for asking for spec work from hard-working bloggers.


photo by See-ming Lee

What is Spec?

According to No!Spec,

“Spec” has become the short form for any work done on a speculative basis. In other words, any requested work for which a fair and reasonable fee has not been agreed upon, preferably in writing.

There’s a movement that is well-known in graphic design circles known as “No Spec.” Basically, it’s never a good idea to do speculative work for no pay. Now, I think there is a time and place for spec work within certain circles. I think there are certain instances where doing spec work (such as a guest blog post) can be beneficial to both parties and can “pay” in different ways than monetary. Check Sister Diane’s article “What IS in it for you?” for more discussion on deciding when to participate in a non-paying opportunity.

When There’s Nothing In It For You

Yes, there are occasions when you might want to participate in a spec job, however, when a for-profit corporation that employs dozens or hundreds of people asks me to do free work for them because “they don’t have the budget,” I excuse myself and run away as fast as I can. If they don’t value content highly enough to budget for it, then their priorities are seriously screwed up and I don’t want to be affiliated with them in any way.

This request for free content showed me how this particular Old Media publication absolutely doesn’t respect New Media. Just because I’m online creating my own corner of the web and pouring in hours of work and sweat for virtually no money doesn’t mean I’d be glad to give you my hard work for nothing. I’m not such a rube that I’ll give into your request just because I’m flattered. And I’ll admit, I am flattered. Any time I get an email from a PR company or an editor (any level) of a print magazine, or someone connected with Old Media, my first impulse is to feel flattered. And then when I read further, I am either happy to discover that this particular member of Old Media values my work and is prepared to pay me for it, or disgusted to find out that they admire me enough to approach me, but not enough to pay for my “virtual” content to become hard-copy content.

There’s a reason why Old Media is becoming old.

What I Said to <Large National Magazine>

–begin email–

Hi <Person Who Approached Me>,

Thanks for thinking of me. At this point, I can’t do any projects on spec for no money. Let me know if you ever need any paid craft project articles!

Heather

–end email–

I wanted to write a lot more. My complete response is this blog post!

The Good Magazine Request

I should also say, as a happy postscript to this situation, that this week I got another email from another Old Media print magazine editor, who offered me money to reprint an idea from my blog. Money for content already created. Now THERE’S the example of one right way to approach bloggers for content.

Note to Old Media: I would also be happy to create new content for an editor who offers to pay me for my work.

(free hugs)

top photo: photo by kalandrakas

2 Responses

  1. Panda Says:

    Good article. Ever heard of spec in regards to techies? How about when someone you’ve known all your life asks you to “help” them with a little CSS or HTML? Is this spec?

    Dave

  2. Croq Says:

    @Dave, someone very important in my life is the family tech support (for everyone in his entire family, including parents & siblings), and while it can be inconvenient, tiring, or annoying, he pretty much always does it. And he wouldn’t accept any payment in return. I think any time you want to help ANYONE for free, it’s totally fine.

    I just think it’s kind of shameful when a big corporation who I have no personal relationship with expects me to work for them for free. Even when they tempt me with “free exposure,” generally THEY are the ones getting the best end of the deal. Sometimes “free exposure” is the only currency someone has to barter with, but in the case of a magazine with a budget for each issue, this is not the case. They are just trying to get something for nothing.

    I am even fine with you doing free work for other for-profit ventures (like if you helped with CSS or HTML for someone you know, even if you only “know” them via the internet). Helping others when it’s within your power to do so is beneficial in many ways. Maybe I’ll write about that next time!

    So back to your question specifically. If someone you know asks you to help them with a little CSS or HTML, check yourself. Do you feel resentful that they asked you to work for free? Are you going to help them for free, but feel begrudging about it? If they offered to pay you, would you feel better? If you are happy to do it for no pay, then go for it. If you aren’t happy to do it for free, then tell them that you can’t afford to do two hours of work for free, but you’ll do it for . Or if they have something you want (like, an advertising spot on their website or a mention that you helped them with a tech problem on their blog, and your contact info), then maybe you can barter for your services. Lots of times you can come to an arrangement that is mutually beneficial, even if no actual money is exchanged.

    Awww, this just became its own blog post. Here: http://croqzine.com/?p=1697