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That Time I Was Asked to Pay Six Hundred Dollars to Speak at a Conference

If you are on Twitter, you may have seen this tweet a few weeks back:

The For Exposure account exists to call out people asking you to work for free, and while this quote has no attribution, it feels very real. It is not, however, the worst example  of a conference organizer asking speakers to work for free.

I had been meaning to post my experiences with a DC-based trade group that actually expected conference speakers to pay to attend its annual conference, and now is as good of a time as any.

The group in question is called Association Media and Publishing. It helps nonprofits with publishing (books, web, magazines).

I have belonged to the mailing list for 7 or 8 years, but never had much to do with the group because its interests are so divergent from my own. But when I got an email in March with the news that AM&P needed someone to talk about ebooks at its June 2019 conference, I saw it as a great opportunity to speak on something I know, and network with other attendees.

I applied, and in early April I was told that I had been accepted as a speaker. And that is when they told me about the fine print.

It seems that I was welcome to come speak at their conference, and I could come for free – just so long as I left right after my session. If I wanted to stay for the rest of the conference, I had to pay to attend.

Since I was not a member of AM&P, I had to pay $600 to speak at their conference. And here’s the kicker: since I wasn’t an AM&P member, I also had to rope in someone who did belong so that that person could be my co-speaker. That person would only have to pay $350 to attend, however.

I am sure you are having trouble believing this (I don’t blame you) so here is the relevant page of the speaker manual (PDF) for the conference:

I had been expecting to speak for free (and if I was lucky, maybe getting a free exhibitor table as a quid pro quo). I figured I could make the investment of the cost of commuting to DC and the two days spent developing the presentation pay off.

This opportunity was not worth a $600 cash outlay, and so I backed out.

I don’t know about you but I have not seen anything like this before.  I was basically asked to participate in particularly ridiculous example of multi-level marketing by people who absolutely had more money in their budget than I, and all I was going to get out of it was the privilege of speaking at their conference.

Yeah, no.

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Michael Anderson September 26, 2019 um 2:18 pm

In my field of science/engineering all I can say is ‘it depends’. For a conference I am about to attend, I am giving a talk and get a ~75% discount on attendance … but still pay hotel and air. But I am not an invited or keynote. And I have seen that type of thing quite a bit in technical conferences – you are sharing stuff with a conference of peers, not being a featured speaker.

On those occasions where I was featured/invited … my credit card never left my wallet. One of those was in Park City Utah … and OMG that was wonderful.

So I am not necessarily outraged, because for me the context of the conference and my place in it is everything.

Nate Hoffelder September 26, 2019 um 4:01 pm

I wonder if they assumed that everyone interested in the conference would be working for organizations like the ones that belonged to AM&P, and that the employers were picking up the tab?

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