|via NY Times
You’re in luck because this Monday post was supposed to be about my very deep thoughts on choosing to get married (in light of a busy weekend with Mom attending to things like ceremony valance fabric), but then I read an article that got me all revved up, so I’ll shelve that heavy hitter for a hump day post.
Yesterday’s The New York Times Sunday Review section featured a piece titled Slaves of the Internet, Unite! written by the talented and hysterical Tim Kreider. The thesis statement: it’s not OK that online publications both major and minor commonly do not compensate writers for content. To be clear: online sites (that make money) ask writers to submit stories (that take time to write) and then do not pay them anything for those stories (zero dinero).
Did you know that was the case? If you’re a writer you absolutely know, but for you doers of other things out there, did you know that articles you read on places like The Huffington Post – one of the largest and most successful content providers on the Internet – are written for free? Same goes for hundreds of other websites out there. Then there are those publications that pay a laughable fee, for example Thought Catalog (now publishing on HuffPost), which paid me $20 per 500 word article and Bustle, which recently offered me the same. That would be this Bustle that reportedly just raised 6.5 million dollars. That’s a lot of $20 articles…
I could rant for days about how frustrating it is to have your work devalued to the point of being expected to do it for free, but I like how Tim put it:
“I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing. I have to admit my empathetic imagination is failing me here. I suppose people who aren’t artists assume that being one must be fun since, after all, we do choose to do it despite the fact that no one pays us. They figure we must be flattered to have someone ask us to do our little thing we already do.”
Or as one editor wrote in her e-mail requesting me to write a 2,000 word expose requiring at least a month of research for free put it, “I’m so excited to offer you the opportunity to expand your mind for us!”
The common come back to these rants from still struggling writers like myself is, “yes, but what you don’t earn in money you earn in exposure.” That’s not incorrect (though exposure does not a dentist bill pay), but since it’s 2013 and places like TheHuffingtonPost are sittin’ real pretty, I don’t know why we have to settle for exposure instead of pay when we’re the reason for the exposure in the first place. Our work makes people visit your site. That’s like the E! network telling the Kardashians that they’re not paying them because the TV time is their pay when the only reason people watch E! is because of the Kardashians.
It’s a bait and switch (maybe? that expression feels right…), but unfortunately we fell for it. Now companies don’t have to pay because of the old “why buy the cow” saying. They’ll get the content for free because there’s always some young, hungry writer willing to put in the hours before or after their paying job to pursue their passion. I was that young writer and, on occasion, I still am.
I’d like to believe that companies perpetuating this problem will develop a moral compass rather than focus exclusively on the bottom line, but I’m not so naive to believe that will ever happen. That’s the issue here, though, in case there was any question. It’s not that companies can’t pay, it’s that they are choosing not to pay. Their business model is built on a platform of not paying or paying very, very little. Sometimes this is because they are struggling start ups, in which case I get it, and I do what I can to help. But very often that’s not the case.
I’d also like to suggest all of us “slaves of the Internet” unionize and stick it to the man, but the truth is there will always be scabs, and I can’t blame the 21-year-olds who will write anything for anyone to get those first few by lines. I was them.
But to get (even more) dramatic about this whole issue – what happens when most of the content on the Internet is stuff written by people willing to give it away for free? And what happens when nobody aspires to write because it’s so impossible to afford life as a full-time writer? I don’t know the answers, so I’m hoping the New York Times will assign Tim Kreider a follow-up and pay him to write it.