Should you be paid to Blog?
If you want to create a lightning rod of discourse in the online channels, just ask that question. If you want to make that lightning rod look like a mole hill, ask the same question but add in the words, "for The Huffington Post" at the end of the sentence. Don’t worry, this is not another Blog post that will evaluate the business model of The Huffington Post (in full disclosure, I write a regular column titled, Media Hacker, every two weeks for The Huffington Post that gives me great pleasure). In today’s Montreal Gazette (another publication that I write for and love), there was an article titled, Huffington Post Quebec Loses Bloggers. This is not a geographic story, but a great indication of how traditional media fails to grasp what new media has brought. The crux of the story is that Huffington Post Quebec will be launching next week and nine "high-profile contributors… who had agreed to blog… have now pulled out over controversy they’d be writing for free."
Writing for free is not controversial.
Traditional media seems to believe that unless a writer is being paid, that there is some kind of inequity in the relationship or that someone is being taken advantage of. This is both silly and incorrect. If your full-time vocation is being a writer, you have a choice to get paid to write or to write for free. Simply put: sometimes you’re paying the bills and in other instances you are both building a platform and getting promotional benefits from adding your voice in a new and different place. Many of the Bloggers at The Huffington Post leveraged that by-line to get book deals, other writing gigs, speaking opportunities or as a way to bolster their resume (which led to new employment or promotions). I wonder how many of the Bloggers who wrote for free at The Huffington Post and then got a book deal offered back some of that advance to The Huffington Post because without that byline (and the ability for the Blogger to leverage that platform to promote the book), the book deal may not have happened? But, I digress.
The majority of people who Blog for The Huffington Post are not professional writers.
In fact, the majority of the bigger names who contribute to The Huffington Post don’t even have a Blog. These politicians, celebrities, artists and thinkers are leveraging (or using) The Huffington Post’s massive reach and platform for promotional means. They’re using it to put their ideas out there. That was always the spirit of what The Huffington Post offers and it continues to be that way (if you also dig a little deeper, you’ll note that The Huffington Post has been hiring a lot of writers, journalists and editors over the past few years). If nine high-profiled individuals have decided that the only way that they would like to take part in a platform like The Huffington Post is to be paid, then they should look at getting a writing gig at some of the newspapers, magazines and TV stations that are promoting a non-news items like this one. If you’re not being paid to contribute and anyone can contribute, did The Huffington Post actually "lose" anything? I guess they also lost the other eight million people who live in Quebec who have decided not to contribute?
Does new media undermine journalism?
It’s not just about The Huffington Post. There is (still) a tremendous push from professional writers and journalists that providing content for free to online media channels undermines journalism because the content should never be given away for free. The more ardent supporters of this theory will say that it’s also killing local writers and taking food away from their families. As a former professional journalist, my reaction is: crazy talk. This Blog has given me both credibility and audience. The output of it has been requests from editors to contribute to magazines, newspapers, TV shows, a significant book publishing deal, speaking opportunities and – most importantly – countless new business opportunities for Twist Image (the main reason we started this Blog in the first place).
Do I get paid to Blog? No. Does Blogging pay? Big time!
I contribute to The Huffington Post and Montreal Gazette for the same reason: to get my name out there in the hopes that it drives many new and powerful opportunities into Twist Image. And – in case you were wondering – so far, so good. If my sole income was based on me selling my words, I would not stop this process at all. In fact, I would recommend ratcheting it up. Why? The more I write for free, the more other media properties want to pay me to write. How strange is this: I have been offered more paid writing opportunities since starting this Blog and contributing to The Huffington Post than when I was a full-time freelance writer back in the nineties.
We live in a free and capitalist society (like it or not). Nobody is forcing anyone to do anything against their will when it comes to contributing to a Blog. It’s a choice. If the publisher benefits and the writer benefits, I would argue that everyone benefits. If a writer feels that the publisher will benefit more, there is a very simple resolution: don’t do it and start your own. If the writer benefits more than the publisher, maybe the writer should do something to correct that inequity as well. Traditional media is built on a scarcity model (limited space to tell a story and vetted by a small number of editors). New Media is driven by the abundance model (anyone who can contribute is welcome to and the audience will decide what gains traction). It’s up to these journalists, writers and bloggers to decide which platform mix works best for their careers.
Now it’s your turn: do you think Bloggers should be paid?
My view is that guest bloggers should be paid based on the audience they bring — both the size of the audience and the type. Audiences are valued differently, of course. This aligns value with all parties–whereas as a fixed fee to blog does not. The only reason one should want to blog unpaid is to build your audience and/or following. But once you have an audience of 1000+–you can monetize that audience at a reasonable rate. If the partner neither allows you to build a following nor compensates you, you aren’t getting a fair share of the value you create. Disclosure: I work for Movable Media, and performance driven pricing for guest blogging is our business model.
I’ve been blogging for years for free.
What have I gotten out of it?
I’m a much better writer
It’s made me a much better thinker
I have used the platform to develop the ideas for my book
I have a book coming out at the end of this month
Blogging isn’t about getting paid directly. As you say, it’s about sharing your ideas and building a platform. It’s about creating opportunity and it’s also a way to grow as a person.
An economic model is essential, just don’t expect it to be your blogging. Your blogging can and should support your economic model.
We can all choose whether or not we take on unpaid work, and I don’t think people need to get offended when a publication/website is choosing not to pay (or, in many cases, is unable to pay). I have gained so much from my blogging. Aside from becoming a better writer through it, my blog has helped me to establish an incredible network that feeds the blog, promotes my blog, discusses and comments on the blog and more. The key for my blogging is to make sure that anything and everything I post is top-notch – from the writing itself down to the photos, grammar, formatting, etc. A writer will only get more opportunities from their blog if they are putting something of value and quality out there.
Right on! Blogging for free doesn’t mean you’ll never get paid. Actually, you build a reputation as an expert within a community that will help you earn business in the future. It’s just like networking in real life, building long-lasting relationships that may not pay off immediately but will in the end.
Thanks for this post!
Hummm… I understand your point and I totally agree with you about writing for free.
However, I think the situation here, about the Huff Post Qc, was not about questioning the “free writing” as much as it was questioning “free writing for a big company who is making a lot of money with the content from free writers”.
The line between equals benifits and one side abuse is, I think, very thin.
I believe that the 9 quitters already have enough reknown that they don’t really need the Huff Post for there career. Instead, it seems they prefere to express their opinions, as ambiguous as this opinion can be, by quitting this adventure.
The situation is creating a public debate, which is very important right now since the publishing world being turned upside down in search of a stable model.
It sounds like an interesting model. I think I’ve become more interested in the in-direct pay and what that can do. I could be swayed, though and your comment has got me thinking… thank you!
Based on your comment (and it’s something that I didn’t include in the Blog post), there is a lot of value in the critical thinking and exercise of writing that also makes me a better writer/thinker/doer.
I think the lightning rod happens when a HuffPo sells to AOL for millions and writers feel that it was done on their blood, sweat and tears. That being said, watch and see how many lawsuits will happen after Facebook goes IPO and people want in because they’re the reason the company is valued so high.
This is the type of stuff that Tara Hunt was writing about in her excellent book, The Whuffie Factor. There are more economies at play than simply a monetary one.
If that big company is providing you with a soapbox to reach more people, I believe there is massive value in it (and that is the model of The Huffington Post). I also don’t agree that these “Bloggers” don’t need more attention. I’ve been on stage with famous billionaires at the same speaking event. They are household names… why do it? Because as big of a platform that people have, these types of people want more. That’s what The Huffington Post provides.
The other side of the story is that if they feel like should be paid for it, there are tons of other media properties who do pay… so why not just go there? Why agree to do something for free and then complain about it?
I don’t get it.
for the 1st paragraph: Mmm… Nice point. I must say that I am not gravitating in the same professional sphere than you. Or well, not that high level. Haha! The “free writing thing” or “free service thing” I’m witnessing stays, most of time, unpaid and without any value. I like your point and it’s encouraging. Thanks for that. It makes me push my reasoning.
For the second: Me neither… I don’t understand the move to go IN and OUT. It is clearly a “political” move due to pressure around them… Or I don’t know… Well, I’m disapointed, really. They’re weirdos. 😛
Sorry for being a bit off-topic but… how do you get to contribute to the Huffington Post?
There’s an old expression, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
While in theory, yes, writing a free blog for publications is a good publicity for a writer and may in the future bring in real dollars from those who wish to pay. And yes, writers do have the choice to say, “No, I won’t work for free.” The trouble is that old infamous slippery slope. The more bloggers who are willing to give their services to a publication gratis, the more these publications are going to be inclined to say to other writers who want to be paid, “Why should I give you money when all these guy over here are willing to do it for nothing?”
It really is not crazy talk to say that the more free writers there are, the harder it’s going to be for professional writers to earn a living.
I agree with one thing, Kieran… it is a very old saying.
What you’re now saying is that the free content has the same value as paid content. I simply don’t agree with this. They are very different media. What magazines or newspapers are getting the same value on both their free and paid content?
Send them a note via their Contact Us page… my understanding is that they are always looking for contributors.
This is one issue where I find myself sitting squarely on the fence.
On the one hand, I agree with you that writing for free on outposts that offer a wide distribution can grow your audience. In your case (and in many others) that is useful because it helps to build their business that truly pays the bills. In those cases, it makes sense to write for free because you are getting the value on the back end as your business grows in other areas.
On the other hand, if you make your living as a journalist, it’s tough to say that you should write for free to grow an audience. If that’s your sole way of making money, I don’t know that you should be expected to do it for free. Yes, in the long run you will likely see some growth as your reputation grows, but it’s tough to “free” your way to success.
It’d be like a company approaching you and saying that you’d get great publicity for Twist Image if you did their campaigns for free. They’ll tell lots of people. Sure, one or two of these projects can help, but it seems when it comes to writing and many other art forms (photography comes to mind) people expect you to do it all for free because anyone can do it. They discount the fact that the professional journalist, photorapher, what have you is doing it for a career, not a hobby.
So, I’m squarely on the fence and can see valid arguments on either side…unlike Harlan Ellison at this link:
I’m not a blogger…I’m not even a writer, but I felt compelled to ‘contribute’ to this discussion as a person that reads numerous blogs. If I may pose an ‘old school’ viewpoint, would it seem that writers who are expecting to get paid are hoping to get compensated for a large commitment or body of work?
I remember seeing my mom’s Reader’s Digest books where little notices would invite people to submit stories, and would get paid if they were published. This agreement is due to the advertising revenue supporting that publication or periodical. Those are not large bodies of work by any means, but they’re also published in dozens of different languages all over the world. In that vein, when writers get paid to contribute to a newspaper, byline or not, the dynamics around the editor’s huge, DAILY division of ‘ink’ to keep circulation up, responsibility to the publisher(s)’ name and reputation for reliable and ethical content, and advertisers valuing their media buys is nothing short of a lost cause if – on top of all that – they also had to provide all the content themselves: maybe that’s why James Jonah Jameson was always so grouchy!
I guess what I am saying is that when bloggers wish to contribute to a publication or HuffPo in exchange for compensation, then it could be assumed they’ve committed to a long-term agreement for content/audience/volume/perspective etc whereby the medium is valuing that contribution more so than from casual contributors?
I hope that makes sense (can you tell I’m not a writer? LOL)
Is every hour of your day at work billable? We do a lot of things that help us grow, network and connect what we’re doing to ensure more long-term success. Nothing has given me more paid writing opportunities than writing for free. And, while I hate being a market of one… I know that I am not alone.
HuffPo does hire journalists. This news item was about people wishing to contribute to HuffPo in a more op-ed fashion. I think the two are very distinct.
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