Frequently, I see a lot of people take umbrage with the fact that there are companies and persons out in the world who would rather pay artists for their time and effort in “exposure” rather than actual money.
This is a rightful complaint that artists should be making. It takes time and effort to create something, regardless of the artistic medium, and there are too many people in the world who think that the artists who are creating shouldn’t get paid for what they do–or, if they get paid at all, that it shouldn’t be that much. This mindset comes from the unfair assumption that what artists really need is exposure (doesn’t hurt) and not money. Let’s be entirely honest. It’s one thing to be able to do the thing you love as a career–and everyone encourages people to follow their dreams–but unless people are willing to pay you for your time and labor (plus the material that it costs to create a thing, since paint and Photoshop don’t come cheap), you can’t feasibly keep doing it. Furthermore, it is unfair to ask for someone (an artist) to perform a service for you (creating art) and not pay them to do it. Do you think that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was a labor of love by Michelangelo? No–in fact, he didn’t want to do it in the first place–but it was a commission, and he was paid to paint it.
Around February, it became well-known that Huffington Post does not pay the majority of their bloggers. Their argument against paying their writers was that they knew the writing would be more honest, and that writers were happy about not getting paid for their work.
As noted in that article from IBT, that wasn’t the case for a sample of HuffPost writers that they spoke to, and I can speak from experience when I say that, in general, writers want to be paid.
Writing is a little different from visual arts in that it usually does not require special programs or materials in order to necessarily create something. That doesn’t mean that writing doesn’t take time, though. There’s the whole “figuring out what you’re going to write about,” then actually getting a draft down on paper (or screen, or both depending on the process you take to write), and then there’s editing (which can feel like hell), and then there’s going through it again, and again, and again. Writing takes a lot of time. Writing might also involve, depending on the kind of writing you’re doing, significant amounts of research, traveling, setting up interviews, and doing whatever you have to do in order to get a story and get it right. Again, depending on what you’re writing about or who you’re writing to, you might even need to spend years building up your audience. You have to work on your craft the same way an artist has to work on their craft, and only by doing it for a long time are you going to be able to do it well.
Not all writers write because they want to be paid, just like not all artists create because they want to be paid, either; sometimes, you might write something (or run a blog…) because it’s something that you want to do.
Other times, though, you might be writing for a relatively popular website, and you might be gaining a lot of shares, and you might be racking up a lot of hits, and you might think, “You know, it’s weird that I’ve spent so much time writing for these people and they don’t value my labor enough to throw me a bone.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with well-established websites that do not pay their writers–especially when their writers are the only reason they’re doing well in the first place, and even more so when they have the financial means to pay them.
There are a lot of writers–many of them young writers, who might not even realize the value of the labor that they’re putting into their work–who are not paid the way they should be. I am not writing this to belittle any efforts made by people who are encouraging people to pay their commissioned artists the fees they deserve; I feel that that’s a serious issue, and I feel that in general creative endeavors are not treated as nearly as importantly as they should be by the people who need them. (No offense, but how successful would your coffee shop be if you didn’t have a good graphic designer to come up with an attractive looking logo? Maybe it wouldn’t do so well.)
That said, and this extends to fan communities as well as at a corporate level, it is unfair to expect an author to write something for you, or edit something for you, without offering compensation. It’s one thing if they’re writing a story because they want to do it. It’s another to look at their commission prices and say, well, I would commission you, but how much effort does writing take in the first place? When it comes to websites, if you have the ad revenue to pay your writers, why aren’t you doing it? They create your content and bring in those readers to your website; the least you can do is offer some compensation for their labor.
I will not name names, but there has been at least one website people I am friends with write for, and that website will offer some kind of financial reward–so long as their piece is the most shared per week. Frequently, whatever payment system they use to compensate those writers who have won does not function properly, and as of right now, I am unsure how many writers have actually received their “prize.” This too, is frustrating, because for one thing, sometimes the pieces that get shared the most are not necessarily the strongest writing, and for another, you can’t promise someone a reward for their writing and their efforts to bring more traffic to your website without actually fulfilling your part of the bargain. I know these writers. I have seen their work. And I remain disappointed that there are people who don’t think it’s worth enough to pay them since it might interfere with their belief in “democratic content.”