Freebies of Choice

A classic conversation is going on about genealogy, earning and freedom to choose whether you earn or not. I do not use “classic” in the snarky sense — this really is a tremendous outpouring of thoughtful posts and comments. I guess I’d start here, if you haven’t seen some of them. Or over here, where Thomas MacEntee adds to his GeneaBloggers roundup on the subject. Or maybe here, where Amy Coffin explains how “free” genealogy is never really free. You get the picture. Lots of good stuff.

As a professional writer, I know all about attempts to guilt you into working for free, as typified in the No Money, But Plenty Of Exposure want ad, whether in print or online. (Does anyone else find that phrase as pervy as I do?)

I really, really get irritated by the phrase “labor of love,” especially when it involves projects where writers are welcome to “contribute” for “nothing.” It implies that only money-grubbing meanies would scorn Labors of Love, as opposed to maybe being a person with people they love, whom they wish to help support with their talent. Or simply, people who don’t want to go broke.

So I’ve never been thrilled at the something-for-nothing mentality with regards to genealogy.

(I’m frankly amazed at how many individuals generously share extensive data on their websites and never even run an online fundraiser. As Amy points out, servers and domains aren’t free.)

Do labors of love have their place? Sure — depending upon the person, and the labor, and the love. And that is a person’s own choice — no matter how many examples one cites on either side of the aisle.

There is a fabulous story about the writer Colette being asked to contribute a piece to a literary journal. Upon inquiring as to her fee, she was told, well, 0 francs. She declined. The journal editor exclaimed, “But [Andre] Gide has agreed!”

Colette replied, “Gide is a fool,” and unleashed a terrifically stylish Colette diatribe about how writers who work for nothing do ALL writers a disservice by devaluing ALL writers’ work.

Should we be as harsh as Colette about those who ask for no renumeration? Nah. We can’t all be Colette, even though she had an interesting point.

But tell you what. Let’s also refrain from being harsh about those who strive for a return on their work. It’s an individual call.

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6 Comments on “Freebies of Choice”

  1. [...] “Freebies of Choice,” The Ancestral Archaeologist [...]

  2. Judy Webster says:

    I was interested in your comments, especially the one about ‘generously share extensive data on their websites and never even run an online fundraiser’. Before I allowed Google ads on my main Web site, I fell into that category. I tried ‘Donate’ buttons but the only people who ever used them were existing clients who had already paid for my services. That’s a compliment, but they were not the ones I was targeting! My point of view is on Genealogy Leftovers.

  3. @Kerry and Amy: Thanks. There’s been a lot of food for thought out there.

    @notednotes: Still, the problem of people not recognizing that even nonprofit ventures need *something* to sustain them has been with us a long, long time. I do agree that we’re at some sort of tipping point with regard to online information, though.

  4. notednotes says:

    I think you see this with all information. We are in the “Information” Age, where for the past 15 years the push has been on accessibility and making things “freely” available to the public (I can already tell I’m going to overuse quotes). There are a lot of issues with this idea, and I think that people (mainly content providers) are coming to the same conclusion: this is unsustainable.

    There’s the issue of not only the cost of providing information (staff, infrastructure, etc), but the value of information. Some information is more valuable than others, and some is more accurate than others.

  5. Kerry Scott says:

    Amen to all of this.

  6. Amy Crooks says:

    Thanks! That was very well said. I agree that volunteer work has it’s place, but I for one would like to be able to support my family with genealogy, and right now it’s not really happening. I have to rely on my day job, which as we all know when you are in manufacturing that can be percarious.


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