Does writing mean anything anymore? Do words have value any longer (did they ever)? If words have no weight then why do they carry so much power?
I was listening to writer David Pace discuss the Lianne Spiderbaby situation about how he knew her personally and worked with her at Fangoria… to which he made the very astute observation that hardly any publication (print or online) pays anyone for their writing anymore. This got me thinking on both a monetary level and an esoteric level, does what I do, what Pace does, what Mike White does, what Alex Jowski does etc… have value to a single person besides ourselves? Seemingly not sadly.
I recently found out that The Huffington Post does not pay it’s writers. The Huffington Post is one of the largest websites in the world and they won’t pay their writers. Many print magazines won’t pay their writers. How can a website such as The Huffington Post, with over 15 million pageviews a day and a buyout from AOL in the area of $315 Million dollars, have the audacity to claim they are just giving a forum to writers who want to write, but those writers do not actually WORK for them?* Writing is WORK you sanctimonious a pricks and work is done for compensation. How do the bloggers and the writers on that site have so little value to what they do that they are looked upon as indigent little surfs lucky to have a forum at all to write in? The management of The Huffington Post is indicative of the management in most print mediums today sadly. If people are willing to give it away, why should we pay for it? To get crude, the difference between a slut and a whore, one gives it away and one sells it, both get to the same place but only one has anything to show at the end and the other winds up tossed aside and worthless.
The worst, I feel, are the places that pay some writers, and not others, places like Fangoria pay their print writers but not their online writers. How the hell do you justify that? Is there a tiered system of writing quality? Does one that writes for the web automatically have less talent and is therefore worth less than one that writes for print? How does a hack of the utmost degree such as this Spiderbaby cunt get paid large sums of money for work that was sub par even at the point people thought it was hers? Why does she command a higher pay rate than the far better writers she blatantly stole from who worked for nothing (why did she generate a pay rate at all really)? The editors get a paycheck. The printers get a paycheck. The layout artists get a paycheck. So why don’t the writers get a paycheck? The editors would not work for a minute for free, so why the fuck should they expect you to? Because they got to the money first? As Harlan Ellison says “PAY THE WRITER”.
Now, do not misunderstand… a major difference is one of refusal to pay for work and the lack of funds to pay for work. This is not an even playing field in the print business especially but also in the online segment of the writing and information field. Not all print (or online) magazines are in the same position financially. A small zine with a limited print run done out of the love for the zine itself is not able to pay it’s writers and this is made clear upfront… this is something I have no issue with, on the other hand a major force in the industry such as The Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Fangoria and the like CAN pay their writers, they simply choose not to as a cost cutting measure. This is not something new nor is it something they came up with all of a sudden in a momentary burst of bastard inspiration, no, this was caused by us, the writers themselves, including yours truly.
We all did it, we all wrote for free and were frankly happy to get printed (and we were lucky to get a “free” copy of the magazine mailed to us… 3 weeks after it hit the shelf). All of you that came before me proved to the editors and the moneymen that publishable work could be bought with nothing more than a byline. You proved that great work can come from people who only wish to be noticed and require no further compensation. You proved that the maximum number of pages could be filled with the very minimum of effort and expense. You undermined my ability to be taken seriously as a writer with your willingness to give away something which has inherent value. I, in turn, when starting out, undermined the next generation of writers and did the very same thing, I am no less guilty than those who will follow me and make the same mistakes (along with the same justifications). Justifications? Indeed, we justify to ourselves that we do not require compensation because just seeing our name in print, in a magazine, a real honest to god magazine, will be enough. Also we use the self-aggrandizing reasoning that we are building a body of work which will help us get more jobs in the future… but all it will do is show how willing you are to simply give away work and how cheaply that byline can buy you. For a while, that does sate the brain until you get that sudden jolt… you are being taken advantage of, they are using you and you not only allowed them to do so, you did so with a smile. You are happy to be a slave just as I was happy to be a slave, happy that is until I started to realize that my work and my words have value. You would think this kind of undermining justification would be forgivable, but it is not as it perpetuates the very ideal I am attempting to dispel, that our words and our thoughts have tangible merit. If you all give it away, then you make it that much harder for the rest of us to ply our wares. We give away our work at the start of our career as we have a (mis)perception that without a body of work to become a braggart about, we have no value as a writer, and most of us actually do not. Just go back and read my early printed work or my early Sanity columns even, they are awful, they are not something that should have been paid for, let alone been printed, but I honed my craft, I learned from my mistakes and I grew as a writer to very much embrace my own writing style and concepts. I am done working for free (and yes, I get compensated for writing on Geek Juice).** My thoughts, my words, my unique outlook on pop culture and life, for good or ill, have value. My work has value and I will no longer let my work be tossed around. This may come off as greedy or opportunistic but I assure you it is as far from that as possible… in fact, those who will profit off of my work while compensating me nothing are the opportunists and the villains in this. They get paid, they draw a paycheck and they draw that paycheck by the work that I, along with so many others, do for them. I will continue to write for myself and for my friends, I just will not do assignments anymore. I love to write about the things to which my passion dictates and I have no plans to cease, yet I would like to make a living at this, something all of you unpaids (of which I was a member as recently as last week) block me from doing.
If anything positive can come from this plagiarism issue with Spiderbaby it is that the value of a writers work is forefront and at least being debated in a way it was previously not. On the other hand this could also be an excuse for magazines to pay even less for work by using the rational that Spiderbaby proved words have no inherent value.
*In 2011 this was written about the Huffington Post “To grasp The Huffington Post’s business model,” wrote the Los Angeles Times’s Tim Rutten, “picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates.”
**Other than for friends. Pete Chiarella, Mike White and a few others will continue to write for as I value their goals and I know they value my words.
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