The Seemingly Eternal Issue of Writing for Free

My head nodded knowingly, along many other part-time scribes, as I read Wil Wheaton’s piece last Fall about turning down Huffington Post’s offer to e-print a popular article of his in exchange for “exposure.”

Wil Wheaton touches on what appears to be one of the most infuriating aspects of the modern economy (though I know examples of it have existed for ages): exposure is sufficient payment for creative work.

Robert Bevan, from a post on his blog back in January, considers the whole issue of whether to write for free… and in part based on the chest thumping pronouncements of various colleagues online, proposes that writing for free is not wholly horrible — and that includes Huffington Post’s seemingly abusive offer. Sometimes you’re using these platforms just as they are using you.

Bevan’s piece is a quick read. And for those of us not making a noticeable income from our writing, the concepts of how one might employ “giving free samples” using some of these platforms is an intriguing idea. In fact, it’s good to think how it should or should not factor into the strategy.

However, the larger industry as it applies to writers is important to keep in mind. Unless I’m missing something, there’s a severe structural problem within the overall publishing industry with paying writers: both in a timely fashion and for a reasonable rate. Photographers, musicians, and other creative folk appear to be in the same or similar boat. And while this issue pre-dates the Internet, the Internet seems to have helped push the cultural attitude that content can be free — and the way to maintain that non-price is to squeeze the content creator.

That brings us to a second piece by Yasmin Nair on Vox. She also references Wheaton’s piece, but from the perspective of an active freelancer unapologetically trying to make a living here and now entirely as a writer. (I believe Bevan works as both a teacher and a writer)

Nair’s piece is longer, but well worth the read. She makes several points throughout the article, but I would say an overarching argument is that writing needs to be seen as more than a hobby and writers should be budgeted for — even as other positions are budgeted for in organizations, many of which are bare-bones concerns.

I see similar arguments with actors and the aforementioned photographers, musicians and others. People try and pay them nothing because sometimes they can get away with it. As Nair points out, there’s a cost to “free” and that cost can hurt other writers trying to make their major living from writing (just as actors working for free can harm the livelihood of other actors).

I can’t say I have answers, but I’m listing these links here to spark and continue conversation. And I’ll continue to discuss my own strategy as well (hint: this blog is where I write for free and provide “free samples”).


One response to “The Seemingly Eternal Issue of Writing for Free

  1. Pingback: More on Writing for Free… or Very Little | Bjorn Munson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.