So last week’s post touched a nerve. But it also stimulated some truly amazing discussion in the comments. And for me, what the comments showed is there is nothing black and white when it comes writing (or creating) for free. Especially on the internet.
Given all the interesting thoughts and questions raised in the comments I figured a follow-up post was required.
So here goes (I can’t cover everything raised unfortunately – my attention span doesn’t go much beyond 1000 words)
Don’t you think ‘exposure’ as ‘payment’ is the biggest load of BS known to man?
Well, for sure it can be. Certainly as a graphic designer, if a client suggests to me that I work for them in exchange for ‘exposure’, I will politely escort them to the door. But I believe writing, blogging, and even photography to be different kettles of fish here because you know … the internet.
If you read Darren Rowse’s response to last week’s post you will see that his contributors have told him they have benefited greatly from exposure on his sites. And no, Darren is not just trying to justify the way he does things at DPS and Problogger in his comment, he is simply giving insight into the evolution of content creation on these sites. It is very enlightening.
Maybe exposure isn’t even the right word here – maybe we should be substituting it with credibility. When I started out trying to gain paid writing work I deliberately sought publication on sites like Mamamia and The Hoopla so that I could say I have written for Mamamia and The Hoopla when pitching stories to other publications. Since then I have written for Marie Claire and Mindfood magazines as well as Kidspot (all paid gigs) so I believe the Mamamia and Hoopla freebies were quite worth it for me from a credibility point of view.
Is everyone who is writing for Mamamia for free being exploited? Of course I say no because that argument assumes the only form of compensation that should be offered for writing is money. And I don’t agree with that. I think Mamamia and other blogs/sites of its ilk have much to offer in reach and credibility and sometimes, this is worth much more than money.
What about when Mamamia gets sold for a tidy profit – will you be pissed?
There were lots of comments saying Mamamia’s business model is based on the Huffington Post business model which relied on contributions both from paid writers and unpaid bloggers. The HuffPo bloggers were (apparently) supremely pissed when Arianna Huffington sold out to AOL for $315 million and felt they should have got a cut of that payoff. If you want to read more about it, this is an interesting place to start.
Mia has made little secret of the fact that she is building Mamamia into a saleable asset. And yes, if I got nothing out of being published on Mamamia, and if I was so silly to keep writing for Mamamia when I was getting nothing out of it, and if I didn’t like and admire Mia, then I probably would be pissed if it got sold.
But since none of these things applies to me, I will high-five Mia and say well done – you’ve worked your mother-loving ass off and gainfully employed many people (including writers) over the last six or so years. Go have yourself a lovely holiday now as you ponder your next move.
Mamamia contributors – community members vs ‘real’ writers
As mentioned in my first post, 70% of Mamamia’s content is produced by (paid) staff writers. The rest of the content is produced by a mixture of community members (ie readers) who have a story they want to share with the rest of the MM community …. and professional writers.
Should the community members be paid for their contribution? No. Because they are being given a rather large platform from which to share their thoughts and their story. That’s payment enough.
Should professional writers be paid? If their contribution is a one-off and is related to a barrow they want to push (like say a new book or tv show), then no. If they are a regular contributor to the site – then probably. But I don’t know enough about the regular contributors to the site and the reasons they continue to contribute for free to make an informed comment here.
Mamamia is setting a bad example
I do get it when people suggest that, as a leader in the Australian online market, Mamamia should lead the way by paying all contributors. This however is an easy statement to make, but an administrative nightmare to carry out. If MM decided ok we’re going to pay every contributor a token amount like $30-50 then the cost of administering this would just about equal the token amount they are paying. It does not make good business sense.
To figure out just how little business sense it makes I will ask you to please point me to just one independent online publisher that:
- Runs at a profit AND
- Pays all staff and contributors (including the person/people who have founded the site)
Honestly – I would be delighted to hear of someone doing the above and I’d love to have a squizz at their business model.
The Hoopla does this and Daily Life does that
My mother always said comparisons were odious and that applies here too. Mamamia is a completely different publication to The Hoopla and they are both completely different to Daily Life. Sure they may all tackle similar topics, but as entities, they are totally different in backing, business models and readership. So please don’t compare what each does and doesn’t do as it adds nothing useful to the argument.
What are some of the key differences? Well as Rachel points out here Mamamia is far more of a community driven site than the other two (and that’s just a start).
Would greater transparency help?
Darren Rowse says that when it comes to guest posting on DPS:
We publish info for guest posters saying what they get in advance so they only ever submit if it is acceptable to them.
Wendy Harmer was kind enough to clarify The Hoopla business model here.
Would people get less angsty if Mamamia published some firm guidelines for contributors? If Mia was more open (she’s already pretty open) about her business model and plans for the site? Maybe, maybe not. As Jo says in her comment here, things are already pretty transparent:
We know that unless you actually ‘work’ for Mamamia, you don’t get paid – take it or leave it. If the resulting kudos and links back to your own blog are worth it … that’s worth more than payment itself.
CONCLUSION: Keeping up with the warp-speed evolution of the online world is bloody hard work
The prevailing (and I believe sensible) opinion of most of the commenters from last week was everyone just needs to figure out what works for them and do that. And what works right now may not be what works in a year’s time. So everyone’s position will naturally evolve. That’s why I think broad, sweeping statements of you should/shouldn’t do this or that are pretty unhelpful. As Sandi says below everyone is just doing the very best they can in an environment that is evolving at a rate of knots:
I write everywhere from my blog to Forbes, Onya Magazine to indie publications. Some are paid, some are not. I choose to still write for free, so I don’t complain about it. No one has ever forced me to do so.
As the Editor of a successful publication that’s three and a half years old, I can say that businesses are not created overnight. They take hard work. A lot of it.
I see both sides in this argument – all make valid, honest points.
People are very quick to talk, judge, jump and critique, but it’s not a black and white issue; there is a hell of a lot of grey.
The biggest issue is that using the traditional media advertising model is not sustainable online – heck, the biggest newspapers in the world can’t even figure it out themselves.
We all need to start being more inventive, supportive and creative – and we all need to stop judging the choices others make, get off our high horses and get stuck into some work instead.
Well said Sandi. Well said