COLM O'REGAN: Why do we deem some jobs and items unworthy of payment?

BEFORE I start, I should say that the Irish Examiner website is my gateway into the world. Occasionally, though, I will look at other newspaper websites — just to see what second- and third-best look like.

And, in recent days, on one of those websites, a little pop-up window has appeared, expressing the hope that I have enjoyed my 10 free articles this month and that I can continue to read more if I pay some money.

“Aha”, I think “the game is up”. They obviously weren’t messing. Initially, I feel a sort of indignation. How dare they take away the thing I was getting for free?

But it’s a hollow indignation, similar to when I’m stopped by a polite, burly security man, as I try to blag my way into a VIP area without the right credentials. How dare you enforce a fairly reasonable rule?

Partly thanks to the internet, we have an inconsistent view on what should be paid for.

(By the way, let’s leave W**ER out of this, as I have to be somewhere in 40 minutes and hadn’t allowed any time for a blockade.)

Comedy is one of the jobs that people often get asked to perform for free.

When it’s for charity, I don’t mind, but sometimes it’s not.

I will get an offer of work that will include the phrase “not in a position to offer a fee, but there is no doubt this would be wonderful exposure.”

Exposure — that old canard. To the best of my knowledge, exposure is not legal tender in most market economies.

Go into a shop and try and pay with exposure and you will, at least, be unceremoniously ejected and possibly be forced to pay a fine for exposing yourself.

I can understand why it happens. It’s very easy to perceive what I do as not really a job. It’s just talk.

On the other hand, if I operated a power tool no-one would ever go on about exposure. To paraphrase the Bible, the labourer is worthy of his plant hire.

It’s not all bad. Comedy comes under the umbrella of that iffy term ‘content creation’ and, apparently, creating content is one of those occupations that’s going to thrive in the future.

Now, it’s not the most essential job. No vehicle with a blaring siren attached to the roof has ever carved a path through traffic with the words ‘content creation’ written in reverse on the front bonnet.

I am part of the problem in breaking the link between labour and pay.

I have run a monthly comedy club, in Dublin, since 2010. When it started, NO-ONE was spending money in Ireland.

In order to entice the punters in, the entry to the show was free and they paid at the end what they thought the show was worth.

In theory, I have set myself up for a fall.

The gig does attract a few skinflints, misers, scrooges and cheapskates, who will continue to put a variety of buttons, hairclips, pieces of beermats and English tuppences in. But they wouldn’t have come anyway if there was an entry fee. Most attendees are just plain sound and pay their fair share for the (shudder) ‘content’ they receive.

It’s all about challenging the perceptions of what is a product and what should be paid for.

I think about that as I wrestle with the moral quandary of whether to watch movies for free on a file-sharing site.

I won’t tell you my final decision. I don’t want the exposure.


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