Friday, February 19, 2016

Writing for Free: The New Pyramid Scheme

There's a storm brewin'--it's been brewing for a while, but maybe it's getting close to a boil, thanks to the tone-deaf benevolents at HuffPo. Since I sort of have a stake in the game, (I've never written for HuffPo...or anyone but myself, as far as blogging, but I'm a writer who'd like to make a living with it) I felt a need to add my spice to the pot.

Courtesy of

For anyone who hasn't heard, HuffPo doesn't pay their content creators. They expect anyone who writes for them or allows them to essentially appropriate the writer's content to do it for the millionaire-making wage of "FREE", while HuffPo makes hundreds of millions off of it. It's a great deal...for everyone but the writers. Recently, a big wig at the esteemed organization declared he was "PROUD" that they exploit their writers, 'cause, ya know, you can't trust anyone who actually gets paid for their services.

From Chuck Wendig's appropriately vulgar post

That makes some of us writers...a bit peeved. So, there have been several pieces about it. I think most writers, and even those who aren't writers, can understand why a multi-billion dollar company that supposedly supports wage improvements and entrepreneurship but doesn't pay workers is a problem. But many still fall into the trap of making excuses for it and think that finding a way to eke a couple dollars out of it is a great thing--instead of actually condemning it. They are like abused spouses who don't realize they're in an abusive relationship.

On Kristen Lamb's great post, someone described how they'd worked with (or "partnered") a site who hosted blogs, which then let HuffPo and others reblog. The pay for that privilege was a $100 donation to the non-profit of the writer's choice, and of course the ever-popular exposure. This person sort of bragged about how they'd found a neat way to trick the behemoth into paying them.

So...I had to voice my opinion on that:

"I have to point out, first, YOU did not get paid to write. You were given money to give away. Which, I assume, still didn’t pay your mortgage or phone bill or even get you a meal deal at Taco Bell, in and of itself. And I assume it wasn’t a benevolent choice you were given–'You can choose to get a paycheck or give the money to charity.'

While I’m all for charity and mentoring–I do as much of it as I can–*that* kind of set up still plays into the idea that the WRITER doesn’t need to get paid. It still perpetuates the screw-the-creator paradigm. It says, 'Hey, we’re not going to actually compensate YOU for your work, but we’ll throw some chump change out in your name to salve the gash we opened in your backside when we bent you over. ‘Cause, well, it makes us look good when we charity.' I’m not saying your acceptance of the deal was wrong; I’m saying them presenting that deal was the same ol’ bullshit. It was a way for them to get (their rocks) off cheap."

Writers deserve to be paid for producing stuff that earns money for someone else. Real money. In their own bank account. Not with exposure. Not with free stuff. Not with charitable donations.

We shouldn’t have to devise creative schemes to be paid for our services, to get an actual paycheck. We aren't tricking them. Really, it's the opposite. This–the HuffPo ridiculousness, the “we’ll donate in your name” scams, the literary booty calls (as Kristen calls it, which I love)–is the pyramid scheme of the literary world. It looks shiny and new, and they promise it'll transform your life, because it’s (trumpets blaring)…
DIGITAL CONTENT…FREE for EVERYONE, AND it will make EVERYONE RICH! (cue infomercial oohs and ahhs.)
But it ain’t (read: shouldn’t be) free, and it’s still the same carnival bait-and-switch. It's only making those who ride the peons into the ground rich.

Seen another way, they’re the ultimate vanity publisher.

We writers are paying THEM to get used. We pay with our time, skill, and dignity, and all we get in return is supposed exposure and validation.

We’re the prostitute groveling on the curb, and–this is fucking rich–we actually THANK THE JOHN for beating us up and stiffing us and handing him a twenty, after he tells us he’ll etch our name on the bathroom wall at Denny’s. And when he shows up next Friday night, we’ll hop in the car again, grateful to have a good way to kill a few hours.

What we do is important. We present ideas and stories in a coherent way to inform, educate, and entertain. That isn't as easy as some people think it is, and not everyone can do it well. Quality writing is hard work. Our work comes from years of education (whether formal or self) and requires time, skill, and knowledge. It is a craft–one of the most important and valuable ones in the world. When we allow others to use our assets and services for profit without compensating us appropriately, we cheapen that craft and ourselves. We have to stop thinking squeezing a few pennies–or NONE–from the machine is a good deal. We have to stop accepting our own devaluation and exploitation as the status quo. We have to demand payment. They'll never buy the cow when they can get the milk for free.

#BoycottHuffPo and others who make bank from the toil of the lowly writers.