Six years ago, when Lindsey Lee, a budding social media influencer and freelance model, was chosen for a Marc Jacobs ad campaign, she was thrilled. Her face was everywhere—magazines, billboards, shopping bags—across the world.
Guess how much she got paid for the campaign?
“…I only got paid $1,000…and to this day, that was my highest-paid gig,” Lee told Nilay Patel in an interview for The Verge.
So that’s when Lee decided that she wasn’t going to have it. With co-founder Isha Mehra, she started a website whose name The New York Times describes as “unprintable”—it’s called Fuck You Pay Me (FYPM).
What is Fuck You Pay Me?
Lee describes it as Yelp or Glassdoor for creators and influencers. “If a brand reaches out to you about a sponsored post on any social media platform, you can look them up on our website and see how much they paid other creators for similar types of sponsored posts,” Lee told The Verge.
The goal of this website is to essentially combat a malpractice in the creators ecosystem: brands reaching out to influencers for sponsored content work in exchange for little monetary compensation or—the worst—nada. Many brands use the word “exposure” interchangeably with “money,” which, quite rightly, pisses off creators like Lee and Mehra.
How does it work?
The first thing that influencers registering to use the site have to do is file a review of a brand. The membership is only for “true influencers,”—anyone who has signed a contract to post sponsored content online, Lee says. Users can then navigate to a brand and check out their details such as the average engagement payout, the type of content they usually ask for and other creators’ experience of working with them.
Is something like this needed?
The answer to that would be a big yes. Influencer marketing and the online creators ecosystem in general are relatively new. Thus, the absence of a fixed rate card often leads to unfair payment. There are already talks about the apparent sexism in the market, with male influencers earning $476 per post ($128 more than their female counterparts), according to a 2020 report by influencer-marketing platform Klear.
Aside from this pay gap, there’s also downright exploitative behavior that many influencers and freelance models, like Lee, have experienced.
One such influencer, with an Instagram following of 182k, spoke to Unboxed on the condition of anonymity: “I have always worked with an agency, so, thankfully, I personally have not faced non-payment. But sometimes, brands can really get after you,” she said. “They’ll approach you asking to choose a product, which they will then send to you for free. In return, like any regular collaboration deal, the influencer is expected to upload them on Stories and tag the brand. But some brands, in my case, have asked me to click photographs with each and every product they send, and put these up as static posts on your feed—that’s not how a collaboration usually works. They’ll keep hounding you until you do what they ask for, and you have no choice. They completely disregard the fact that they reached out to you, and not the other way around.”
We spoke to another influencer, the founder of a group of culture-based Instagram pages—one of which has a whopping 70.1k followers. On his personal handle as well, the influencer has an organic following of 15.2k.
“One time, a well-established restaurant came to me asking for a shoutout video. This was during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic when businesses were suffering all around. So we said yes and the brand promised to compensate us ‘suitably’. My crew and I took a day to finish shooting and editing the video, and the production cost turned out to be much higher than what they paid us—a free meal worth $20 or so… We must have used equipment worth $1400,” he told Unboxed. “Another time, a newspaper contacted me. They wanted to print one of my photos on their front page. I told them they’d have to credit me and pay me for it. But they went ahead and printed the photo, crediting it to my Instagram handle, saying ‘we are giving you exposure’.”
Stories like these are aplenty in the cold war between creators and brands. But with initiatives such as FYPM, the latter won’t be getting away with bad behavior (and bad business) for too long. Here’s hoping that influencers take it seriously when the website invokes this rebellious motto: “Your bank would never accept ‘exposure’ as payment. Neither should you.”