Pay the Pilot

Yes, I still get requests like this.

Way back in 2009, I blogged about a video of Harlan Ellison ranting against people who expect professionals to write for free. It’s time to revisit that topic for two reasons.

I Can’t Use No Stinkin’ Badges

First, a Facebook friend pointed out that Idiot’s Guides, an imprint of Penguin Random House, is looking for authors and editors for books and articles. Compensation? “Badges” and exposure. Apparently some writers have mortgages and utility bills that accept that for payment. (Sadly, mine don’t.)

That set off the usual discussion about new writers needing to break into the field and obtain “published clips” countered by my argument that if enough writers are willing to write for free, all the clips in the world aren’t going to help a writer get past the freebie stage because there simply won’t be any paying work for him/her. Publishers don’t seem to care much about quality these days — read most online publications to see for yourself — they just want words that Google well. That’s why there are so many content mills.

I am hugely opposed to writing for free for any publication that makes money from my work. If a publication values your work, it should pay you for it. Period. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be writing for it.

If you have a differing opinion and feel a need to voice it here in comments, be my guest. Just (1) stay civil if you want your comment to actually appear and (2) don’t expect to change my mind. You might want to watch that Harlan Ellison video first.

Promoting My Company on Your “Social Medias” Doesn’t Pay for Fuel (or Maintenance or Insurance)

Last night, I got the following email message, submitted using a form on the Flying M Air website; I’ve obviously redacted identifying information:


Source: A Search Engine

my name is ***** and I’m a landscape photographer. I am in Page now and I was looking for joining a flight over Lake Powell/Alstrom Point tomorrow 05/27 or in the next days if not available. I would like to know if you would be interested in a collaboration. I would promote your company through my social medias and I will give you the rights to use some of the images I will take for your promotional purposes (such as website and social medias). Also I’m traveling with my partner, the travel blogger behind *****.com and she would also promote you through her social medias + mention you on her blog. Kindly let me know if you are interested in my proposal. If you want to check out my work please follow this link: www.*****.com

Best regards,

I need to point out that this person didn’t think it was appropriate to include his phone number in the field conveniently provided for it. So if I decided that I wanted to take him flying the next day at a location 736 NM from my base of operations, the only way I had to contact him was by email or to go to his website and attempt to find a phone number.

Alstrom Point
The view from above Alstrom Point at Lake Powell. This is just one of at least a dozen good photos I have from this area.

And yes, Lake Powell is over 700 nautical miles from my base of operations. The same contact page he used to send me an email clearly displays my mailing address in Washington state. The entire site provides information about the tours and other services I offer in the Wenatchee area of Washington. So I’m not quite sure why he thought it was remotely possible for me to fly him the next day at a place 700 miles away.

I did a Twitter and Google search for this person. I could not identify his Twitter account and he did not appear on the first page of search results for Google. This pretty much confirms my suspicion that his “social medias” wouldn’t have any value at all.

My first instinct was to simply delete the email. And I did. But then I thought about how well it would work as an example for this discussion in my blog. So I pulled it out of the trash and started writing this.

Then I thought about responding to it. And I wrote a response:

Thanks for taking the time to inquire about our aerial photography services.

Apparently you missed the part on our Contact page — coincidentally the same page where you found the form to email us — where we provided our mailing address in Washington state. Lake Powell is 739 nautical miles from our base, so the possibility of us flying there today to take advantage of your generous collaboration offer is pretty much nil.

If you’re serious about flying with us at Lake Powell, you might be interested in this offer for next spring:

You might also benefit from reading and understanding the information here:

A “collaboration” has to be mutually beneficial. I don’t need aerial photos of Lake Powell — I have hundreds of them, some of which appear on the Flying M Air site. Some of the photos in my collection were given to me by photographers who also paid me for their flights. I can’t imagine how more photos or promotion on your “social medias” would help me buy fuel, pay for maintenance, or cover my $15,000/year insurance bill.

And by the way, which ***** are you on Twitter? I couldn’t find you. And a Google search for your name didn’t bring up any landscape photographer on the first page of results. Seems to me that you need to fix your “social medias” before you offer them up as compensation for services rendered.

Enjoy your trip to Lake Powell.

Maria Langer
Owner, Flying M Air

I haven’t sent it yet. Should I?

May 25, 2916, 9 AM Update:

Prompted by Brian Dunning’s comment below, I’ve recomposed my response. What do you think of this?

Thanks for taking the time to inquire about our aerial photography services.

Unfortunately, we’re not available at Lake Powell today or the 27th or any other time this week. We are planning a trip there in April. You can learn more about opportunities to fly with us there then on this page of our website:

You might also benefit from checking out the additional information here:

But your timing is perfect! I have a photography job here near our Washington base that needs to be done this weekend and I think we might be able to collaborate on that. I’ll need about a dozen 20 megapixel photos of the Rock Island Dam shot with a 10mm fisheye lens from a boat near where the water is released from the dam. I’m sure you have or can get the equipment needed for creating such photos. I would sell your photos to my client and mention your name to him; maybe he’ll hire you in the future! I’d also show them off on my social medias to help promote your work. And a friend of mine who has a photography blog might mention your name, too.

Kindly let me know if you’re interested in my proposal.

Best regards,
Maria Langer
Owner, Flying M Air

24 thoughts on “Pay the Pilot

  1. Old rule I was told when the I was young. If it felt good to say, you probably should have kept your mouth shut.

  2. Oh just printing that response here is enough for the majority of us to rejoice.

    There is something about machines that fly that attract two very special types of social media accounts: busty, half-naked women who promise to “get you likes” or make your wildest dreams come true (no use to me as I am currently not bi-sexual and see no other use for her if she doesn’t have a pilot cert – probably going to catch flak for that) and the ubiquitous travel blogger / photographer whose globe-trotting, nomadic experiences in the world have not yet opened their eyes to the realities of business run by real people who have to eat real food and pay real bills to continue their real life.

    • Judging from your response, I get the idea that you’ve gotten a lot of emails like this, too. Why should we help these people earn a living without getting anything of value in return? Right?

    • Right. Good collaboration is shared risk, shared reward. In this offer, you shoulder the risk, they receive the reward. I call that Charity (and for that, I give locally).

      Another way to look at it (and yes, I receive these requests about every 4 – 6 weeks) is from an advertising dollars point-of-view. If I risk my time, fuel, engine, prop and airframe reserve, how much business will the advertising investment bring me? Traffic across my website is not business, to me, and its value, as far as advertising ROI is concerned, is very limited unless the eyes on my site happen to have a pre-existing interest in flying and happen to be local, or coming into the area for vacation.

      Kudos for writing about this!

    • Unless the guy’s name is universally known, him mentioning me in a blog has zero advertising value. I’m so tried of being bothered by potential freeloaders. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this, either. But apparently I need to do it once in a while to (1) remind people and (2) get my anger off my chest.

  3. Send the email! When you give your services for free, the person doesn’t appreciate them or you… at least, that is my experience. At least your email may make this person think twice before offering a non-existent collaboration.

    • That’s the reason I wrote it: to sort of teach him a lesson. But some people don’t learn. For all I know, he sent the same email to any helicopter operator he thought might do the job — and likely does the same thing all the time.

      Trouble is, every time this ploy works, it convinces him to keep trying. Kind of like a Nigerian prince scammer.

  4. The better snarky response would to offer to allow him to come to Washington tomorrow and do some large photography jobs (requiring specialized cameras and lenses he’ll need to buy for the occasion) in exchange for a mention on your blog.

  5. Leaving aside his many multiple ‘medias’, you have to admire his low-budget chutzpah. He does not want to hire your services but is “looking forward to joining your flight” to lake Powell with his non-paying squeeze. Looks like the other passenger, as yet unidentified, is picking up the whole tab?
    It is too dumb for a scam, the plan would even shame a ‘Nigerian Prince’, the sort who wants $10k to help you link up with the lost $4 million inheritance you knew nothing about. It is just a kiddy wish.
    Why not write back saying that by amazing coincidence you are dropping people off at Lake Powell tomorrow but the helicopter is full on the way out, but if he and his gal can get to Alstrom Point by 06.00 you will land there and gladly fly them back to Page via the usual scenic highlights. Tell them to wear Hi-Viz for identification and to paint a 20′ red letter M on the rocks to designate a safe landing site.
    When he phones at 06.45 to ask why you are running late say that the red M was too small and you must have missed them.

    • I like that idea, too. Do you know how hard it is to get to Alstrom Point? You need a 4WD high clearance vehicle and, even then, its at least 90 minutes from Page on rough roads.

    • We’ve been over Lake Powell but never even heard of Alstrom Point until you mentioned it.
      Have checked it on Google earth and jeez, it does seem remote. Perfect for the revenge scam.
      They better start early…

  6. Nothing to add. Just wanted to reaffirm how much I love following this blog. This was fun to read. Cheap people suck. I was thinking that had you offered to fly them there is really no way you could guarantee they’d uphold their side of the deal. The offer to “mention” you. It’s frustrating to read that there are so many people like that out there. Folks who want something for nothing.

    • Thanks, David. You’re right: there are TOO MANY of these people. Usually I just ignore them. But this guy really got under my skin.

  7. I enjoyed the second letter, but in all seriousness, you’re going to get nowhere with that person. They aren’t smart enough to understand the lesson you’re trying to teach, and the snarky version will go completely over their head.

    • The second letter is the one I sent but you’re absolutely right: he’ll never learn and the snarky one will go right over his head.

  8. Trying to “pay” someone with nothing but hot air is hardly the exclusive domain of wanna-be “social medias experts”, if anything, they’re late-comers to the game. If you want to consult the REAL experts you have to talk to a preacher or a politician, two professions where hot air is pretty much all they have to offer.

What do you think?