Man, it’s a confusing time to be a writer.
Book marketing experts say: “Give away content for free! Blog, tweet, pin, comment, contribute, give away your whole ebook, draft white papers. Do this to get attention, create relationships, join communities, build platforms, gain credibility…”
Gatekeepers say free content is destroying the world. Free content is unedited and unscreened. Writers can’t earn a living if they’re competing against others offering similar work for free. Untrustworthy and/or poor writing pervading the internet contributes to a culture with lower standards, little understanding and far less of the critical thinking necessary to a civilized society.
I feel very strongly about this issue. I believe: both views are right.
Bottom Line Up Top: Be Good
There’s not a whole lot any individual writer can do to stem the avalanche of online content. And none of us can avoid giving content away for free, not if we want to keep our names out there–even Margaret Atwood tweets. But we can strive to keep the bar high, whether we’re paid or not.
And that means taking the time to research. To re-read, and to edit. To write responsibly, not hastily.
Buy Good Writing, and Price Your Writing Well
Support those publications that pay their authors well–buy traditionally published books and subscribe to magazines and newspapers. And, as soon and as often as you can, charge appropriately for your work.
But of course, it’s not that simple. It’s not simple at all.
Scott Meslow’s article inThe Week, “Entertainment Weekly wants you to write for free. Don’t do it” prompted my writing this blog. In response to the news that Entertainment Weekly has created a platform to publish aspiring journalists’ articles for free, Mr. Meslow wrote “The precedent being set here is deeply troubling, and anyone who cares about the future of journalism should be disturbed by it.”
Mr. Meslow is the entertainment editor for TheWeek.com; I endorse many of the sentiments he expressed wholeheartedly and encourage you to read his essay.
And yet…The Week itself reprints, without payment (other than to newsfeeds), synopses of top stories reported elsewhere. I don’t condemn this. The Week also includes original reporting and essays, and supports a small paid staff. I’m glad to see a relatively new magazine finding a formula that works.
That formula, though, rests on not paying for the original reporting of the soundbites TheWeek reprints.
(Small newspapers, years ago, relied on newswires like AP for stories; that’s nothing new. I’m just pointing out the ironies.)
I’m on Scott’s Side, but the Slope is So Darn Slippery
One could say that the free material on The Week–the quick news takes compiled from other sources–is what grabs readers, who might then pay for the subscription that enables The Week to pay its editors and contributors.
Much as today’s writers need to establish themselves somehow, to grab attention in some way–which usually means producing content for free.
I didn’t pay to read Scott’s article. I learned of it through someone’s tweet–I didn’t pay the tweeter, either. I didn’t pay to read the Salon article I jumped to after that, or the original Digiday report; I did pay to read the New York Times article about The Week.
I faced a WordPress issue while writing. I jumped to a WordPress blog.
Paid content, unpaid content; paid writers, unpaid writers. I want to read quality material without paying for it. I’m part of the problem.
The Yin and the Yang
Scott’s article didn’t mention Huffington Post, which made millions on the backs of free blogs when it sold to AOL. I found the whole Huffpo thing outrageous. At the same time I know a few people whose businesses have grown markedly through their Huffpo fame.
Is it Better to Write for Free for EW than to Blog in Obscurity?
Before places like Huffpo and the new EW Community young writers would be trying to make their names through blogging and unpaid internships (which exploded in popularity around the same time as free content expectations…wonder what that’s about?).
(Pre-internet, young writers could find (low-paying) jobs at newspapers and magazines. Then again, years before that, artists of all kinds needed patrons to live, so I guess this is an ever-evolving tale.)
Back to You
I love giving advice to writers. But this topic requires a conversation, not a soapbox. While I worry daily about the impact of devalued writing on society as a whole, individual writers have to break through the noise somehow.
So what do you think?