In the last couple of days there’s been an awful lot of noise on social media about people who create things getting paid for those things that they create. The position that these articles are taking actually cause me, as both a writer and a publisher, a bit of concern for a number of reasons that I’ll attempt to outline and share in this blog post.
Some of the articles I’ve read include the one here by Chuck Wendig and here by Wil Wheaton and here by Scott Timberg and here by Porter Anderson. I don’t doubt that there are more and it’s been a long standing debate and concern for all types of artists.
I’m in the interesting position of being BOTH a writer AND the Publisher/owner of a digital media website. This places me in the unique position of intimately understanding both sides of this coin.
As a WRITER do I want to get paid for my time and skill of being capable of writing? Absolutely.
As a Publisher and business owner can I afford to pay for every piece of content I publish? Absolutely NOT.
Now I don’t work for the HuffPo and I haven’t done much in the way of current research – maybe they are profitable, maybe they’re not. Sure the audio quoted in Chuck’s article “says” they are, but let’s face it, they’re competing against the New York Times and Post Media etc… the big boys in the media industry who have been fighting the digital platform for nearly two decades – of course they’re going to “say” that they’re profitable. Plus, people in general want to follow success, not failure. If the HuffPo was publicly stating that they weren’t successful how many people do you think would continue to follow them and contribute to them? More importantly, how many advertisers do you think would spend money with them? If there’s no advertisers, then there is no money to pay writers… where does the circle start and stop?
What I do know is that there are several articles that clearly stated that the HuffPo has never turned a profit – so which is true? Which do we believe? I also know that major media houses are merging and shutting down around the globe because there’s not enough money to support them – so why do bloggers assume that sites like the HuffPo are doing so much better? Here are some links to articles that either state or imply that the HuffPo is in fact NOT profitable:
And a terrific one on the state of newspapers in general by Warren Kinsella.
The problem isn’t that writers need/want to get paid… the problem is revenue.
As a “reader” do YOU pay for the content you read online? Are you willing to abolish free access to all content as we have known it? What? NO you say? It’s your right to have free access to content when and where you please? So if you’re the one who wants to read the content and you’re not willing to pay for that privilege, why should anyone be paying the writer for that privilege? Are you understanding the hypocrisy here?
But fair enough, for arguments sake (and based on proof in the pudding), let’s accept that the general public simply are not prepared (for the most part) to pay for the content that they wish to consume. So then where shall the money come from in order for media companies to be able to function and provide us with this much wanted content for free?
- Investors? Ultimately they want a return on their funds – so where is that return going to come from?
- Their own pockets? Even exceedingly rich people will eventually run out of funds if those funds are never getting replenished – and why should they run their wells dry simply because the public don’t want to pay for the content they consume?
- Advertisers? Well that is ideally the theory… however, there is a massive problem in this department…
Advertisers… businesses… average people… don’t understand digital advertising. They don’t know how to do it effectively, they don’t know how to stack it, they don’t know how to follow-through and they don’t know how to accurately track (or even what to track). And THEY too feel that because it’s Internet based it should be FREE as well (or at very least incredibly cheap).
And media sites are short-sighted because they FAIL to create supply and demand. The Internet is seen as having infinite amounts of space available to run advertising – simply because it can. But just because something “can” doesn’t mean it “should”. I had the publisher of a large, Post Media publication tell me that a business model I was proposing for digital media was leaving money on the table because I was restricting the amount of the space available for ads. I wasn’t savvy enough at the time to point out and hold the argument of “supply and demand” – I knew he was wrong and I was right, but I couldn’t articulate this very basic and simple concept that I understood instinctively – shame on me. But low and behold, what are we seeing in the digital advertising arena? Businesses are driving the pricing down more and more because it’s presented as having an infinite amount of supply available.
So despite the millions to billions of dollars being spent on digital advertising annually, it’s being segmented all over the place as advertisers bounce around like a ping-pong-ball all over the flipping place trying to figure out how to reach customers and grow their own business.
As a WRITER… if you want to get paid for your content, my best advice to you is to find your own sponsors and then approach different publications – and trust me, the smaller publications in particular will embrace you with open arms for that approach. So what does this mean? It means that although you’re a writer, you’ll get much farther by developing some sales skills as well. Approach some businesses who are relevant to your content and ask them if they’d be willing to work with you for certain publications. Tell them that if they’ll consider sponsoring your content that you’ll get them a discount on the cost of advertising with each publication you approach. Then talk to the publication and tell them that if they’ll run your content you’ll bring advertisers on board with them too and that in return for this win-win situation you want 25% of the cost of advertising paid to you personally and you want the business to receive a 25% discount… you then have room to negotiate from there. And what’s your best way to get your foot in the door to do this? Call the sales department with the intent of placing an ad… an ad for the business that you’ve already got on board. 50% of the full price of an ad is a whole lot better to the publication than 100% of zero… which is what so many of them are facing these days. Obviously there’s more details that need to be fleshed out with this concept – but if you’re creative, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
When a writer approaches me about wanting a job as a journalist or columnist, that’s exactly what I tell them… if you want to write, you have to sell. I’ll split the sales with you 50/50… out of your 50% if you want to give the business a discount, that’s your choice – I get 50% of the full price. It’s called thinking outside the box instead of bitching about what we don’t like.
The other concept that has sort of been touched on within most of these articles is that of exposure. Sure it’s easy to say that exposure isn’t valuable enough… that your writing is worth more than simple exposure. Really? Because what value are you bringing to me as a Publisher if no one is reading your content and as such I can’t sell any advertising to support what your content is costing me? So what you’re really saying is that I should pay you for writing regardless of whether or not you bring any value to my publication? Can’t see how that’s a win-win.
Now, if you’re running a blog/website that receives a substantial amount of traffic – repeat, loyal traffic – of people who are following you and your content and I stand to gain readers purely because of publishing your content… well, NOW we need to talk about what that value to me is potentially worth.
But frankly, most writers – even “professional” writers – can’t make this claim. They haven’t reached celebrity status and they don’t have hundreds of thousands or millions of loyal followers who will follow that writer anywhere… if the writer IS in this unique position, then they certainly don’t need to be providing their content to anyone. If a publication wants to benefit from that writer’s popularity, then yes, the publication should be approaching that writer and asking them to write an exclusive column (that doesn’t post anywhere else) and the publication should be paying the writer for that benefit.
A Publisher includes content in order to bring in more traffic – more readers – because having loyal and consistent readers is what gives a Publisher the value to sell to businesses in order to get their advertising dollars. If none of us have any exposure – there ain’t gonna be any money for anyone.
Also consider another point on exposure… why are you writing? Simply to have a voice? Just because you have something say? Fair enough, that too is a very different ballgame, but before you expect a publication to pay you for that voice, you’d best be able to prove to them that people actually care and want to read your voice.
Or do you also have something to sell? Have you written books that you want people to buy and read? Do you write articles to support a product or service that you offer? Are you trying to increase traffic to your own blog/website? Because if you are ultimately selling something…ultimately writing because you want customers of your own… then you should be paying the publication for advertising, not trying to get free advertising – or worse to get paid for your own ads – simply because you’re putting it under the guise of an “article”. THIS is why so many publications are willing to run articles that include some kind of product/service endorsement with no money exchange in either direction – both parties are benefitting… the publication is gaining additional content for their audience and the writer is getting free advertising; when handled this way, there’s also no need to track the “barter” of goods and services for tax purposes.
My point is, we should stop and consider all aspects before hauling out the pitchforks and torches. I’m actually not defending HuffPo specifically – I don’t have enough facts on their financial situation or business model to be able to condemn or defend them. But I do know that the overall perspective of these articles and the comments are VERY common in all writers (and I actually spend most of my time networking with writers above all else)… I understand this position wholeheartedly… but I also understand the flaws within it.
The author of this article, Tanya Jones a.k.a. Tanya Thibodeau, gives open permission for anyone to republish this article, at no cost, provided it remains completely in tact, as is, including this ending bio with links.
Tanya Thibodeau is the Publisher of the digital media site Panoptic News, which started originally in 2004 as a community, print newspaper the Gateway Gazette that then went 100% digital in 2012. Panoptic News is now a collaboration of multiple digital media providers working together to share readership and resources. Publications (new or existing) wishing to join this collaboration can get started HERE.
Tanya is also the author of the Young Adult/Fantasy series The Elves of Eytherfel, under the pen name of Tanya Jones. Book 1, Dreams of Beautiful Whisper, is available through Amazon for ease of access to an advance copy for only $0.99 – Tanya is in the process of seeking traditional representation for this series. Book 2, Whisper’s Beautiful Song, is in the works and will be available for Beta Readers in 2016. So far Dreams of Beautiful Whisper has been well received with comments such as: