BLOG: No Money Mo’ Problems: Writing For Free
The debate about paying writers for online content has been around ever since magazines began migrating to the internet years ago. It’s still a big issue, and any freelance writer will tell you it’s a daily struggle to get paid to write online. Isn’t it why everyone has a blog?
But the debate has been flaring up once again in the last week or so, including on two of my favourite regular reads, insightful women-centric blog-style sites xoJane and The Peach. The former is backed by savvy company Say Media and armed with the capital to pay a full-time staff and almost all of their contributors (except for one-off writers of a section called It Happened To Me), while the latter is a relatively new startup funded by the founder’s paycheck from two full-time jobs, who still admirably pays a team of writers. While these sites come in all sizes, payment is still hard to come by unless you can nab a regular contributing gig.
This creates an undeniable air of concern within the online freelance writing world. Almost every day the question of working for free arises – it’s like the industry is constantly challenging our commitment and self-worth.
A common argument from writers – and some editors – is to discourage writing for free altogether, from offering and accepting unpaid assignments. It’s fair to say that writing for free cheapens the whole industry, driving down pay further and making it even harder to reach a liveable wage.
I’m no different from my communications graduate peers – I too have offered to write for free, years after completing unpaid internships. Sometimes the possibility of joining the ranks of esteemed household-name titles seems so out of reach that you think (or say), “If you’d just let me write a couple of book reviews I could show you what I’m capable of!”. I was hit hard by the firm reply from one literary editor who said, “Never, ever offer to write for free! This profession is going to hell in a handcart as it is, without anyone giving publications that opt-out.” I was disheartened but admiring at the same time. I gained a lesson in self-worth that day.
Knowing firsthand the value of unpaid internships and “getting a foot in the door” (Holla, Real Groove! RIP), I remain undecided on the issue of writing for free. If it’s something a young writer can afford to do for a while, it can be worthwhile. But personally I know I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to let that literary editor down.