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The Changing Pay Rates for Creative Talent

by Grace Bonney

This year’s radio season is just about over, so for our 99th show, I wanted to address a complicated, controversial and crucial topic affecting our community: The Changing Pay Rates for Creative Talent in the Internet and Pinterest era. This topic is one I’ve wanted to discuss and have struggled with myself over the years. While I think most people would agree that anyone doing work should be compensated for their time and skills, these days the amount and method of compensation seems to be changing rapidly, and the idea of paying for creative talent seems less popular than ever.

So I invited Susan and William Brinson of House of Brinson, Sarah Brysk Cohen of Blossom & Branch and interior designer Emily Henderson to join me on-air to discuss the topic. Their insight on the idea of “free” work was both important and eye-opening. I so appreciated their honest and candid thoughts on what creative work is worth, why people seem to expect more for less these days and how best to counteract the trend and educate people on the value of experience and creative skills. If you only listen to a few shows this year, I hope you’ll make this one of them, because this topic is something that affects all of us, whether we create or consume creative content on any level. xo, grace

“It borders on irresponsible to start to take work for free. Exposure only gets you so far. The word ‘exposure’ gives me chills these days.”
-Sarah Brysk Cohen on After the Jump

“You can’t ever ask somebody to go out of pocket. If somebody goes to you – that’s one thing. If you have a business, you should be covering other people’s expenses for your business – bar none.”
-Emily Henderson on After the Jump

To Listen: Click here to listen online or click here to listen on iTunes.

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  • Grace,

    I’ve been listening to your podcast all year…more than a year. But it seems like just this year you’ve brought in guests to discuss payment and value of handmade products and design. Originally, I’ll admit, in my head I said “ugh, I don’t want to listen to this money talk.” And then I did. And then you wrote more about it. And talked more about it (handmade under $25 is a challenge, print magazines take a lot of work, these designers need to make a living etc.). And this Christmas, a majority of my gifts are from local, handmade makers. Don’t stop your work to bring awareness to pricing issues and problems in the design community. You changed my heart, challenged my habits, and I am fully on board. Keep up the great work!

  • I appreciate this directed conversation you led with some very interesting creatives — I loved getting their personal take on working for free, the value of experience and how their industries have changed over the past few years . . . I for one as a photographer, came up in the era of scrappy/blog world and have a slightly different perspective . . . I think the world of creative output will constantly be in flux (think about how new photography is in the history of art!!) and it’s up to the true innovators to see that as a push into new crazy realms rather than be worried about all the rest who are nipping at our heels. Great conversation about real deal stuff!! This definitely needs to be out there in the public realm.

  • It really hurts when friends expect you give your art away. They are saying your time and talent don’t count. As a teacher I have my students write a paper titled “Life Without Art” in an effort to instill some appreciation for those who create.

  • Great insights. We’ve become so enamored with the consumption of low cost mass produced imports over the last few decades that the concept of worth has changed dramatically. If someone doesn’t get “a deal” they feel cheated, regardless of the actual value of what they received.

  • This was a great insight into this unpleasant topic. For both; established businesses and folks who are just starting out. I’m somebody who is trying to be a freelancer and it’s really hard to decide which jobs to take on for free and when to charge. This podcast definitely helped me to be more confident about asking for my work to be appropriately compensated. Thank you for always having amazing advices!

  • This was a fantastic episode Grace. I greatly appreciated everyone’s candour in discussing this topic.

    Did I hear you correctly about next week being the 100th and final episode? I hope you meant last episode for the year and not the end of the podcast!!

    • Hi Joy

      I’m taking a hiatus from the radio show to work on our home (and still the site, of course!). I can’t record remotely, so I’ll hopefully be back in the spring :)


  • Although, I’m sad it’s the final (for now) episode, I’d like you to know how much this show has inspired and empowered me. I look forward to listening to this episode! Thank you thank you!

  • Grace: I’ve been listening to After the Jump religiously since your first episode, and since starting my business a year ago, I frequently revisit all the episodes over and over again. I have many favourites, but episodes like this one especially resonate. Thank you for all your hard work and honesty in bringing up difficult conversations on sensitive issues like pricing. I hope you have a restful holiday, and I look forward to another year of growth with you & the Design Sponge team.
    Best wishes, Lichia

  • This episode was fantastic and really honest. I think everyone faces a real challenge pricing their services correctly and even surviving no matter how successful they se

  • I am a conference interpreter and translator and it amazes me to see so many similarities business-wise.
    Clients come to us with the same mindset: because we love languages we are supposed to work for free.
    It gives me hope to see other professionals like you guys fighting the same battle but from a different front.

  • As usual, Grace, another wonderful episode. So much value is packed into every single sentence on the show! I certainly hope to hear you and guests once again come spring. Best of luck with the house journey!