Working in the coal mine, work, work

10 03 2013

I blog for free.

I like the sound of my own voice, and, as I once introduced myself, I have lunch and opinions; so when something pops up, I go, Hey, what do I think of this? And then I blog about it, to figure out my thoughts.

I also write (as in: write draft-edit-edit-rewerite-edit. . .) for free, as in This is something that I have to do, and so I do it. I’ll put it on Smashwords and Barnes & Noble and Amazon and hope someone pays for it, but, really, the cash isn’t going to flow.

I do these for free, in other words, because it pleases me.

If you want me to please you, however, then you have to pay me. I’ll be nice if you ask, and I’ll be nice when you pay, but if you want me to labor and you don’t want to compensate me for the fruits of that labor, then (cue Harlan Ellison): Fuck you. Pay me.

Nate Thayer and an Atlantic editor kicked off this latest iteration of Pay the Writer when the editor asked Thayer not simply for permission to repost something he’d already written, but to re-write it. When he asked how much he’d get paid, this was the response:

We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month.

You, editor, who are getting paid to work for a for-profit company, approached someone to work for you knowing that you couldn’t pay him for that work? And then you waved the exposure flag?

Some have criticized Thayer for publishing the editor’s name and e-mail address (e.g., in these comments) , but even privacy-crazed me think that if you approach someone in a professional capacity using your work e-mail, then, no, it’s not unreasonable for said work e-mail to be published. I wouldn’t have published the address—there be dragons in cyberspace—but this matter ought not be the takeaway from the exchange.

No, the takeaway should be: Don’t fucking ask people to work for you if you can’t pay them cash-money. The website gets 13 million readers a month? As Thayer noted in an interview, I don’t need the exposure. What I need is to pay my fucking rent.

Miz Emily, er, Emily L. Hauser noted in her blog that she has written for The Atlantic for free, albeit at her own instigation. While she was glad  to appear on the site,  the fact of that byline has opened no doors, nor has it led to a single offer for paying work — when editors talk about the value of “exposure,” I can only hope that they’re ignorant of what a chimera that is.

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic published a long piece on the economics of digital journalism, and he makes a number of reasonable points about its dismal fiscal prospects. Okay, it’s hard out there for an editor—but that doesn’t excuse your own attempts to off-load that difficulty on to freelance writers.

Madrigal is arguing, in other words, that the choices for a quality publication are all bad, but hey, whatchoo gonna do? I don’t like to ask people for work that we can’t pay for. But I’m not willing to take a hardline and prevent someone who I think is great from publishing with us without pay. My main point and (to be normative about it) the main point in these negotiations is this: What do you, the writer, get out of this?

And then he sighs again about the difficulties of his job. For which he is being paid.

I know that my posts get re-posted with some regularity—not because they’re so great, but because there are any number of auto-aggregator sites out there that scoop up anything and everything they see. I don’t really like it, but they do link back to my site, and they’re not asking me to do more work. For free.

Jessica Hische has this great graphic Should I Work For Free (which someone posted a link to in the comments on a like-minded John Scalzi post), and the upshot is pretty much: No.

And that’s pretty much my upshot, with the following caveat: If The Atlantic wanted to repost something which I had written for me own pleasure, then, sure, the exposure might be nice; I was, after all, thrilled when being Freshly Pressed led to an increase in my Absurd readership.

But if you want me to work to please you: pay me.

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4 responses

11 03 2013
dmfant

yep when I see some technoutopian going on and on about how we are all producers now and that this will be the new wonder economy that will meet all of our needs I get a bit fuck you, virtual economy indeed…

11 03 2013
dmfant

11 03 2013
absurdbeats

Capitalist utopia! Free to work, work for free! What’s not to love?

10 04 2013
geekhiker

Hasn’t this always kind of been true of the arts and artists? After all, people will gladly go to a restaurant and pay for someone to cook food for them, but music they’ll download for free whenever possible…

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