I have never provided free labor, though I’ve not always worked for money. I’ve been lucky to have been granted immensely beneficial internships where I was provided valuable instruction regarding the publishing industry. An internship is a trade. The mentor provides training and key industry contacts; the intern provides assistance—and often content or a product to be sold. There is a bartering system in place. More importantly, a relationship between the apprentice and his or her mentor should be established and maintained, even as roles change. The apprentice eventually leaves to become a supportive colleague and consumer. Later, when the mentor withdraws from the field, he can take pride in knowing that his methods and values remain via the individuals once taken under his wing.
There is a cycle—one with positives and negatives. It allows for efficiency; correct instruction is necessary to produce quality work at a faster pace. It also results in homogeneity. Mentors often choose those who remind them of themselves and think as they do, inhibiting the introduction of new ideas and new voices. However, I feel that the negatives can be easily eradicated with blind applications or mentors who choose to cast a wider net when initiating a search.
If you can afford to pay your interns, do so. If you cannot afford to do so, list clearly what you are prepared to offer in exchange for their unpaid labor. Nate Cosby, who would actually make for a wonderful mentor for a young individual interested in the comics industry, recently posted an awful ad seeking an intern. The ad does him a great disservice given his knowledge and experience. It clearly lists what he needs, but does not list how he can (or even if he will!) fulfill the needs of his interns. What will he teach? How? These are important questions to one attempting to build a career or gain industry knowledge. And one has a right to be wary or even dismissive should those questions go unanswered.
In the same vein, Heidi MacDonald recently did some sleuthing in regards to Wizard World’s bottom line, discovering that the organization made $6.7 million in conventions in 2012.
“The report attributes the increased profits to ‘running better advertised and marketed events’ as well as increasing ticket prices and ‘overall size and scope of each event.’ Others savings for the year were due to ‘reducing stock based compensation to consultants, reducing web development fees [emphasis added] and reducing professional service fees.'”
I did some sleuthing of my own to discover that the organization is also seeking unpaid editorial interns to provide content and editorial/marketing assistance for its site.
“Wizard World is looking for an Intern who can help keep a website updating with news and stories relating to popular fiction, which include updates on Movies, TV, Video Games, and Comic books. Articles must be compelling original and well thought out. Other task would include online marketing of ones articles and re-purposing material for articles. This would include wrapping articles around original content produced by Wizard World’s Video Production team. Articles must be posted through multiple CMS systems that you will be thought [sic].”
No information given as to what Wizard World will provide in return. Frustrating. Adding to the frustration is a comment indicating that the CEO earned a salary of $510,000 said year. Less than a tenth of his salary would allow the company to pay its web contributors.
As I said, frustrating.