(Pace Jeff Jarvis.) For two months straight, I have received weekly inquiries about South by Southwest: Was I going? Or, as it was more commonly expressed, wasn’t I going?

No, I’m not. I’ve been there twice, presenting on both occasions, and, while I have admitted that it SXSW is a great time in which one is surrounded by friends, the conference is fundamentally exploitative. You pay your way and pay to get in. If you’re permitted to speak, you pay your way and don’t pay to get in. In either case you’re out-of-pocket, significantly so if you’re a presenter.

My anonymous detractors, like stopped clocks, are occasionally right: I do make money from public speaking. It has something to do with being a good public speaker, having expertise on topics few people do, and, in nearly all cases, custom-crafting a brand-new presentation for each audience. You get what you pay for. I get paid well and I deliver.

I can afford to attend SXSW. What I can’t afford is the opportunity cost of the payments I’d ordinarily receive for giving a presentation. I lose two ways: I pay the better part of a grand to get myself there and put myself up, and nobody pays me for my preparation or presentation time. You get paid for what you do, right? One of the things I do is present, and I need to get paid for that, too. This is a concept that is hard to get across to some people, all of whom earn money for their work while implying that I should not.

(Question, though: Are Malcolm Gladwell, Ana Marie Cox, and other keynote speakers paid to attend? If so, does this not imply that Kottke will be paid this year for interviewing Heather Armstrong in a keynote? Is this a viable alternative to blog micropatronage?)

Of course many of my readers will present at SXSW for free and love it. Of course you’ll think it’s an exciting opportunity, an honour, the gathering of the tribe, and suchlike. And of course you’ll be right. You’ll also probably claim that, even if you aren’t getting paid, it’s good for exposure. Freelance writers say the same thing about signing away their electronic rights; as I was the first person in Toronto to receive the Globe and Mail rights-grab contract that later prompted a class-action lawsuit, is it just barely possible that I know what I’m talking about when I tell you that people die of exposure?

South by Southwest lends itself to Marxist economic analysis. If you present there without getting paid, you really are working for the Man. You are enriching a giant moneymaking machine that has done a superb job of tricking you into believing that working for free is actually of benefit to you. For me, it isn’t, and what I’m telling you is that for you it isn’t, either.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.03.08 13:59. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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