As creative and holistic people seek to create sustainability in work that they love and believe in, finding a path toward balance and stability is often a challenge. In the current climate, there are more and more festivals/expos/fairs that seek to give people an opportunity to come together and share their work, and for people to have the opportunity to explore and experience new things. Alongside this trend, I have seen an imbalance in reciprocity and integrity. Events that sell vending opportunities to hopeful people, and offering events at low or no cost to the public ~ where the event organizers are making money from the vendors, and the vendors may or may not make what they’ve invested back. I’ve seen this happen many times: a festival with more vendors than attendees, with terrible sales and the question of what went wrong. And at other events, where both the vendors *and* the participants are paying steep fees, and sometimes the presenters are either offering their work for free, or even paying to present their work. All in the name of exposure. Good ol’ capitalism!! If you can charge people for something, you have the right to do it!

In my opinion, the whole idea of paying for exposure is tired and completely out of integrity, and doesn’t fully respect the work of those involved. Music festivals make money on this principle, as do other holistic festivals and fairs, and as a musician, sound healer, and facilitator, I am not willing to do that anymore. If a festival or other event would like to have me there to offer my work, they will need to pay me what I’m worth. Unless the whole thing is free ~ ie, the organizers, facilitators, presenters are all there as volunteers, and the participants don’t pay to be there either. In that case, if I have the time and inclination, I may do it from a place of generosity. Beyond that, I have deliberately moved my work and focus away from these kinds of events, as I don’t want to participate in the imbalance. It doesn’t foster reciprocity, and in our American culture of “take take take” I am simply not willing to feed into that. But it’s still a very strong current in our culture, the “pay for exposure” idea.

Perhaps sometimes the “exposure” principle can be useful in terms of having a table or booth, where facilitators pay a fee to share their work and products. If an event targets a specific population or a specific region, it can end up with some degree of success. I’ll also add that some kinds of services and products have better responses than others in this kind of festival/fair environment, and it’s not always easy to know what will work and what won’t, especially in terms of public interest and investment.

In some events, where people are attending because the event has a low entrance cost with lots of free offerings, people are not necessarily looking to invest in something more costly. I used to be that person, looking for something nice to do to inspire myself with the tight resources I had. There’s a lot of people like that, especially in spiritual circles. In this kind of situation, it’s not always worth it to invest in paying for a booth at an event ~ because the target audience is not a fit. I attended an event of this kind a few months ago to support a friend with her booth, and she hoped it would boost her business. It’s hard to know if that happened or not ~ and so, there is little way to track metrics and evidence that it was worth the investment.

In other events where people pay a steep entrance fee, some come with money to buy products and services, and others spent all they had just to get into the event. In this case, it may or may not be successful for a vendor ~ depends on the population, again, and also the area. Will enough people come to the event? Will enough of those people come ready to spend money on services and products? What kinds of things are those people interested in? Does the event have a record of success among those who had a booth in previous years?

Several years ago, we decided to pay for advertising to promote a retreat we were leading. I took a chance and invested hundreds of dollars in ads in a few target publications. I know it’s not exactly the same as paying to vend / present at an event, but it’s still a similar consideration. We took the chance. I was even offered the “opportunity for exposure” through writing some articles for these publications (one print/online, one online only). We tried over two separate years, and two different retreats. Return on investment? The more expensive publication that was also print based ~ absolutely nothing. No evidence that our investment brought any meaningful connections for our retreats or our work in general. And, given that I have a master’s degree with a focus in creative writing, I felt taken advantage of ~ the publication got my money AND I wrote for them for FREE. It felt like a waste of time, and we ceased that advertising. The second, online only publication? We did eventually get some clients from it ~ and I received a number of communications from people who had read the articles I’d written for them, as well. It was much less expensive to advertise there, and we had expected the opposite result.

I’m sharing this based on a couple of conversations I’ve participated in in the past week, in which reciprocity was in question ~ one conversation from the perspective of presenters who are tired of feeling that their time and energies have been used in unbalanced ways within this industry; and the other with a festival organizer who was contemplating why someone wouldn’t want to invest as a vendor, which could bring them more opportunities. What do you think?

Paying for Exposure: The Festival/Fair/Expo Scene

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