Dealing with offers of help

It’s been almost four months since India Ink launched and the response has been overwhelming. Before we launched, we were mentally prepared for a long hard grind – a period of publishing content that no one really paid attention to as we slowly built an audience. Luckily, we managed to skip that stage and attract a decent amount of attention from the beginning.

In fact, we got more than just attention. We’ve been getting emails and DMs from people who really like our content and want to help – to contribute, collaborate, be a part of India Ink in some way.

Someone appreciating your work so much that they want to take time out and help you with it is an incredible feeling. The validation is enough to make up for dozens of troll comments. And we’re a small team that constantly feels stretched, so the offer of additional help is incredibly tempting. But responding to these messages has been a painful process for me, because I’ve had to politely decline all the offers.

We chose to do this for two reasons:

First, we do not have the funds to compensate any of these people for their labour and we felt it would be unfair to get people to work for us for free when we ourselves are getting paid.

Second, we felt when someone works for free, we can’t really demand accountability from them. As the old adage goes, you get the quality of work you pay for and when you pay nothing, can you really expect quality work?

We got a lot of pushback on this decision from Dr. Malpani, whose financial grant and guidance got this project off the ground. He strongly believes that even if someone isn’t being paid for their work, they stand to gain valuable learning and experience from that work. This is not untrue. My own career started with unpaid internships and I did learn a lot from them.

However, there is another factor to consider when we consider the fallout of creating unpaid work opportunities. Only the well-off can volunteer their labour for free without worrying about how they will pay rent or feed themselves. So if we do not oppose the idea of unpaid labour on principle, we risk creating a systemic bias that advantages the privileged (like me) and closes off opportunities for everyone else.

Having said that, it still feels bad to say no to someone who wants to be part of something you’re creating. There’s also the question of the edge-cases who don’t necessarily fit into the paradigm I laid out above: people who already have secure incomes, don’t necessarily want to get into this line of work, and just want to help out in their free time, for example. So we are trying to figure out ways to channel this enthusiasm that we are seeing for India Ink’s mission which don’t necessarily involve contributing actual work-hours.

The solution that we are considering at the moment is an India Ink virtual community – an online space where those who are interested in Indian history can gather, share articles and texts, have discussions, make connections, and maybe eventually collaborate and create together. We feel like such a community could be immensely beneficial to our mission of popularising academic history and provide a viable option to the section of our audience that wants to be more involved in the project. And if we ever get the funds to pay for interns or for outsourcing certain tasks, then we might even have a pool of ready and willing people we already know and trust.

We’re still trying to figure out the precise details of what this community will look and feel like and how it will function. Hopefully, we’ll have more to share on that front soon. As always, if you have any thoughts, feel free to hit us up at indiaink.history@gmail.com