In a Huff: why writing should be paid
I was just thinking I haven’t rageblogged in ages, and feeling happy that I have my Twitter feed curated to be interesting and challenging but not aneurysm-inducing, and then this comes along.
It seems this quote was said by the editor of the Huffington Post UK (who is not the tweeter)
I have a lot of things to say in response to this. Most of them are two-word phrases ending ‘off’ or ‘you’, but let me try to be a little more articulate.
I don’t know anything about the Huffington Post’s payment to writers, never having written for them. I do know they ‘broke even’ on $146million revenue in 2014, and there has been speculation that it may be sold for $1billion. Apparently it’s not turning a profit because of investment, but this is a huge site bringing in huge amounts of money through advertising revenue. They are not unable to pay writers. If they don’t, one can only assume it’s because they don’t want to.
This is not an unusual state of mind. The Twitter account @forexposure_txt quotes the many and varied ways people have of asking other people to give their time, skills, experience and talents for nothing.
Our society has a general idea that content, knowledge and creativity should all be free. Free: it’s such a glorious word, isn’t it? Free, free as a bird! The creative heart should be free to sing, and the creative mind should be free to imagine. And the creative work they produce should be free to anyone who’d like to use it for their own profit on an advertising-festooned website.
Let’s just look at that quote, shall we?
We know it’s real… It’s not been forced or paid for.
‘Real.’ That’s the holy grail, of course. We want writing to be genuine and real and heartfelt; we despise the false and the fake. The opposition here is clear: either writing is ‘real’ and from the heart, or it is ‘forced’ and thus insincere. And what could cause someone to write in this ‘forced’ and fraudulent way?
Well, the nimble coupling of “forced or paid for” shows us that. The villain here is greed, of course, sordid financial considerations. Writing, according to this, has either literary worth or financial worth but not both. In fact, assigning financial worth by paying writers negates the potential worth of what they write. Because if it’s paid for, it’s not real. Instead of writing because your Muse compels you, like a proper artist, you’re just doing it for filthy lucre. You sell-out scumbag.
Let’s be honest: if producers don’t pay people to write, then the people writing are the ones who can afford not to be paid. Which, as with publishing internships, means that the people who can get ahead are the ones with money. The rich parents, the lucrative day job, the well-paid spouse. When producers don’t pay for content, it privileges the voices of the wealthy.
That all seems rather at odds with the internal memo from Arianna Huffington quoted here for a HuffPo strand saying they should:
start a positive contagion by relentlessly telling the stories of people and communities doing amazing things, overcoming great odds and facing real challenges with perseverance, creativity and grace.
You know what’s a real challenge for many people? Paying their rent; feeding their families; keeping afloat. You know what makes that harder? Not being paid.
I face the challenge of my monthly bills with ‘perseverance’ because I keep writing in the face of people who pirate my books and pay me puny sums for hours of work. I face it with ‘creativity’ because creativity, writing, is what I’ve got to sell. But I’m fucked if I’ll face it with ‘grace’ when someone who’s probably on six figures tells me that the very act of putting value on my work makes it intrinsically less valuable.
The thing that actually makes writing forced for many authors is the knowledge that you have to jam out another thousand words, meet that deadline, do that goddamn article, somehow wedge another book in this year because otherwise you aren’t going to earn enough. It’s not the act of being paid that leads to soulless writing for profit: it’s the fact of needing money in the first place.
Paying authors lets them write. It doesn’t make them less genuine, or less hungry (except in the actual literal sense, obviously), or less heartfelt, or less busy. It just makes them able to live and thus do their job, ie writing. In which it is exactly like the salary paid to the people who edit magazines and websites that ask writers to contribute for nothing, which I assume they don’t turn down because they’re keeping it real, man.
And you can trust me on this. After all, I wrote it for free.
KJ Charles is a full time writer and freelance editor. Rag and Bone is out from Samhain on 1 March.