SO. I was casually trawling around Twitter last night when a tweet by Marieke Hardy caught my attention:
It was a small spark that ignited a fire of discussion about the ethics and issues around paying writers, particularly online writers, for their work.
I’m weighing in because the issue of payment for online work is the single biggest issue in my life right now. It has been since July this year, when I decided to launch The Peach.
In my mission statement I wrote the following:
The Peach is entirely self-funded and, unlike many other online platforms, pays a team of staff writers to produce content.
As a former journalist, I have a real problem with the idea of people working for free.
The internet has democratized writing and provided an amazing platform for self publishing, but one of the unfortunate by-products of that has been the gradual loss of monetary value associated with online publishing.
The Peach’s team of staff writers are paid for their work and my long-term goal is to create a business model that enables me to pay all The Peach’s casual contributors too.
Currently, The Peach makes under $100 per month from the advertising you see on the site. We are new, we have a small audience, and right now we are far from being a commercially successful business. Currently, I pay anywhere between $300 and $500 per week to our team of staff writers for their content. ($50 for one piece, $80 for two). This is a tiny amount of money for a piece of writing, I know. But it is more than $0. It is also ultimately unsustainable for me. Financially, I am taking a huge risk. I work two full time jobs to make The Peach a reality. If I can’t turn the site into a successful commercial venture, not only will I not achieve my goal of paying for every piece of writing on the site, The Peach will probably fold. I’ve put everything I have into this site- my money, my love, my time- because I believe it is a risk worth taking.
This tweet by Helen Razer had my mind churning all evening:
“it’s presumptuous to suggest a young, independent media company is acting out of ethics, not exigency”.
For me, it is absolutely both. I don’t have the profile of a Mia Freedman or a Jane Pratt who can set up an online platform and attract thousands of writers to submit their work. I’m one woman, setting up a site to share stories. If I didn’t pay my permanent writers, I wouldn’t have content to publish. But my stance on payment is about more than just survival. It is about ETHICS.
If you are a commercial business profiting from the contribution of other writers, it is ethically inexcusable not to reimburse them with money. The promise of exposure or the privilege of being published alongside more established writers simply does not cut it.
And to justify it by saying that most other outlets don’t pay, so therefore it is OK? That’s not a valid argument. Just because something is DONE, doesn’t make it RIGHT.
I don’t think it is fair to single out one online publisher over others in this debate as the practice of not paying for work is so widespread. But for change to come about, independent sites must take a stand and forge new standards.
We are in the midst of a huge shift in the type of media consumers value. Increasingly, readers are seeking out real, relatable, no-holds-barred content written from a personal point of view. Individual bloggers are currently doing this amazingly well. Many are now being duly commercially rewarded for their efforts, which consistently bring in enormous audiences and incredible levels of engagement.
Sites like xojane have proved that you can take the personal flavour of blogging and amplifiy it to include scores of writers all sharing the one platform, while keeping the realism (oh, and they pay). This is the media not just of the future, but of the now. And those writers who bare their souls and share their stories and put themselves out there online? They deserve to be paid. There is monetary value in the personal stories they share- stories that attract traffic, which equals ad revenue, which lines the pockets of their employers.
As for me? I’m remaining steadfast in my commitment to turning The Peach into a commercial venture that enables me to pay the amazing women who sit down and take the time to pour some incredibly personal things onto paper and submit them to us for publication. It is not easy. It is not cheap. It is stressful and hard and emotionally taxing. But if individual players don’t take a stand and forge new paths, who will?
And to all of you who have supported The Peach thus far by contributing your work for free, I want to sincerely thank you. It means more to me than you could know.
What do you think about the issue of writing for free online?