Online entertainment retailer Zavvi, a subsidiary of The Hut Group, withdrew a tweet asking for for writers to work for free after being challenged by Liverpool Business News. Tony McDonough reports
One of the UK’s largest privately-owned businesses with annual revenues of almost £1bn has backed down after asking freelance writers to contribute to its website for no payment.
An editor at the blog section of online entertainment retailer Zavvi, a subsidiary of Manchester-based The Hut Group, had posted a request on Twitter for film review content from any writers with accreditation for the London Film Festival in early October.
On Thursday, August 29, Emily Murray, a ‘content and social executive’ at Zavvi, posted on the social media site: “Zavvi will be at #LFF and we are looking for writers to be part of the team. If you have got accreditation (or are applying for it) and fancy doing some reviews for us, drop me an email.”
And, in a line which brought a strong response from dozens of other Twitter users, she concluded: “Sadly, we are unable to pay for this coverage but will be providing interview opps etc.”
LBN contacted The Hut Group the following day and the post was deleted. But her request highlighted an ongoing problem for professionals working in the creative sector – the all-too-common expectation that they work for free, often with the vague and ill-defined promise of ‘exposure’. It is an issue frequently raised by people working in Liverpool city region’s rapidly growing creative sector.
Zavvi was formerly the Virgin Megastore retail chain which rebranded before collapsing into administration in 2009. The Hut Group acquired the online rights to the brand and it is now part of a stable of more than 100 e-commerce sites.
For the year ending December 31, 2018, the group reported its global sales had soared 24% to £916m and the company is valued at more than £2bn. It is moving into new £1bn ‘campus’ at Manchester Airport and last year created 1,500 jobs in the North West.
In a statement to LBN, The Hut Group said the post had now been withdrawn “on the basis that this does not represent Zavvi policy”.
It added: “Blogs and social media are a great place for people to share their views and we welcome contributions to our platform but it is not Zavvi’s policy to ask people to work for free.”
Leading UK freelancer network, The Freelancer Club, was established in 2008 after Matt Dowling spent his last £300 on a lawyer to recover £11,000 he was owed. Now, as well as running an invaluable resource for freelancers, it runs the #NOFREEWORK campaign to spread the word about the issue.
Some see the issue of working for free as a grey area – that working for free provides vital experience for people starting off on their creative careers. But Matt takes a hard line on this. In an interview with the Guardian last year he said people should only work for free “if it is for your mum”.
The Freelancer Club estimates freelancers working in the creative industries can lose as much as £5,394 each year through working for free. In a blog on its site, it says: “So it comes down to where to draw the line and knowing your value. That line falls somewhere between development and exploitation.
“Next time you are confronted with unpaid work, ask yourself, ‘What am I worth?’ before accepting the job. If you believe that unpaid work is damaging our industry and would like to make a stand, we’re asking freelancers and employers to sign our petition that says NO to unpaid work.”