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Honestly, Why Am I The Only Person Left On Earth Who Thinks Unpaid Writing Staffs Are Wrong?

Honestly, Why Am I The Only Person Left On Earth Who Thinks Unpaid Writing Staffs Are Wrong?

I want somebody to explain this to me. I really want to understand it.

As many of you may already know, I’ve been through the wringer in the past for criticizing a business model wherein a website business is set up using unpaid (or extremely low paid, i.e. less than $5 per post) staff writers to accrue income for one (or two, or three) owners on the basis of the work of that staff. At the time that I criticized the model, I was only aware of one site within this particular niche using the model, but as it happens there were a few others. As such my critique was taken as totally unfair and biased against one particular site, when actually it was just ill-informed on the niche as a whole. Regardless of what you thought of that particular critique, let me show you some of the sites that are now, *as far as I know* using an unpaid or extremely low paid model for staff writers in order to build a business:

Update: the paid/low paid question is complicated, to say the least. When I first wrote this post, I wanted to focus only on the sites within the mommyblogging niche because that is the one I know best, and I used the $5 or less per post rubric because that is a bright line for me in terms of determining whether or not a post is compensated or not. Since then, it has been revealed to me that there are other, even more ridiculous forms of not-paying-through-paying, such as the AdSense model, that I didn’t even know about, wherein an author is allowed to keep the AdSense revenue from their post. In most cases, based on my experiences, this would nearly always add up to less than $5 per post within in the mommyblogging niche, so I still consider this to be part of the unpaid/low paid model. However, to appease people I’ve now updated the list with asterisks next to the names of the sites that “pay” writers by allowing them to collect $0.23 checks from Google AdSense 5 years from now, once their account has finally reached the $100 balance threshold required to receive a payment from Google Adsense. [Editorial judgment betrayed here most definitely is mine, and I will cop to it.]

5 Minutes For Mom
Blissfully Domestic*
Food Lush
(in)courage
The Homeschool Classroom
Mama Pop
Style Lush
Traveling Mom
TypeAParent (Formerly TypeAMom)*
Untrained Housewife*
We Know Awesome

(If I’m mistaken about any of these, please let me know ASAP. Similarly, if there is a group site with an unpaid staff within this niche that I’ve omitted, please let me know.)

I have friends who are on the staffs of and/or are owners of the sites listed above, and I’m sure they are a little annoyed right now at seeing their sites listed (Hi guys! Call me?), but I can’t help it. I’m so annoyed by this not only continuing to happen, but in fact becoming more popular in this niche. I have sat back for a year now and not said anything, and there are more sites now using this model, and it makes me apoplectic. Listen: I *get* the making friends part. I *get* the community part. I *get* that when you start out you are not making enough from advertising even to cover hosting. I get all that, because I run a site myself. The problem is that, when you build a site with other people’s sweat equity, what are you offering them? I mean, other than your friendship? What are you offering them, long term? And how can the newer bloggers who look at this figure out that this is not the path to riches? They can’t. And so the model proliferates. And what happens is: the sites go through years and years of unpaid writing staffs. Most of the sites listed above are young sites, so everything is kosher about them at this point. But what has ended up happening in a few cases is that there are real profits rolling in in some cases, and there are *still* no safeguards in place designed to ensure that the writing staff gets to share in some of those profits.

How do you know that the writing collective you are working for is one of the good ones? That’s what I’m asking

Here’s what kills me: we have, on the one hand, a community that just loves to bitch and moan about being taken advantage of by PR representatives trying to get them to write about detergent for free. Oh the hew and cry over the PR rep who said that we should not be paid for our time blogging! How dare she! But then, if it’s one of our own who asks us to spend years writing for free so that they can earn ad money and build equity in a website? Sure! Sign me up!

I don’t get it. But then, I’ve never been much of a joiner.

Comments (187)

  1. Dec 3, 2010

    1. If a site isn’t making enough to cover hosting, I wouldn’t expect it to be able to pay its writers.

    2. You know the collective is a good one if you know the owner’s a good one.

    3. Friendship and support (and the fun of writing on a particular platform) is worth more to some people than others. Sometimes it’s worth even more than money.

  2. Dec 3, 2010

    Mom Blog Magazine is paid. That is all.

  3. Dec 3, 2010

    Fabulous post, Anna. As the owner of an online community for women, UrbanMoms.ca, I could not agree more. I run a business. I make a profit. If you write for me and contribute to the community you deserve to be compensated. And not, like some, with free stuff or $5/post. My writers are paid for their time and bonused based on traffic.

    We all need to take a stand on this and create a collective voice. It is not enough to say, “I don’t mind working for free” or “I like free stuff”. This is about what is best for the group as a whole and recognizing the value of what we do. Power in numbers!

    Read my post on Giving It Away For Free here: http://www.urbanmoms.ca/moms_the_word/2010/10/giving-it-away-for-free.html

  4. Dec 3, 2010

    I wish you would have emailed to ask some questions beforehand only so that I may have cleared up some confusion about Style Lush’s particular situation. But, you certainly didn’t owe me that. I just don’t have anything to hide. (I do consider you a friend, though, and I think you know that. I also think you know that if you had emailed me, I would have responded.)

    Our site is a little over a year old (and then we launched Food Lush, which I’m including in all this) and in that year we’ve earned about $400 (that was rough math and I rounded up). This money has gone to the monthly hosting, the initial domain cost and renewal, a couple of giveaways we covered the cost of the item (like our recent one), the site design and redesign, sidebar badge design, our monthly picnik subscription (that’s only $5/month, but we’ve used it since the beginning), a Style Lush happy hour where the writers were treated to a drink, and two years of gifts for the writers around the holidays.

    I haven’t made any money from the site that hasn’t gone to the site.

    I work full-time. This is absolutely not my job. Do I hope it one day will be? Actually, no, not really, that’s not a goal of mine because I enjoy my full-time job and working outside the home but my goal IS to eventually pay my writers.

    It’s tough, somewhat, because I can’t promote and market the site the way I know I’m creatively able in order to build it up (and make more money) because of my (necessary) full-time job and (uh, equally necessary) son and husband. My time is just really limited, so I do what I can and — for now — that means not bringing in the kind of money I wish I could.

    Do my writers deserve to be paid? Yes. Absolutely. If I made enough from my full-time job to pay them out of my own pocket, I would. I hope they know this.

    I have about a million other thoughts on running a site with unpaid writers, so if you want to ask me any of them, email me.

  5. I’ve played around on a couple of unpaid staffs, except on the editing side, not writing. I’ve had similar experiences on each, about which I won’t go into detail here, but, suffice it to say, I am not currently on anyone’s staff.

    My question is: Within this niche, who DOES pay their staff? Is everyone not paying simply because everyone is simply not paying?

  6. Dec 3, 2010

    Jennie, the reason I didn’t email you is because I wasn’t meaning this post to be about Style Lush and Food Lush in particular. I wanted it to be about a trend in the proliferation of unpaid writers sites. I figured you weren’t making enough to pay your writers yet. I knew that, more or less, already, and because I do know you, and I do think of you as a good person, I have always pegged you as somebody who did not pay her writers simply because the income did not allow you to do it as of yet.

    That said. I know you personally, so I’m biased. Not everybody is the same. Not everybody running a site on this model is a good person. Not by a long shot, and I have the benefit of having met you and having “vetted” you with my extremely discerning critical eye. These other schmoes? I cannot speak for them. And the newer bloggers? They don’t know any of these people. I worry for them.

    So, I know you’re not happy about seeing Style Lush up there, I don’t want this to be an indictment of the site itself — which I do read and love, incidentally — but I cannot sign off on the model. I don’t like it. I don’t have staff writers here because I cannot afford to pay them. I’d love to have people churning out high quality content for me so my site could grow. But I can’t pay them. So I don’t have them. It’s a bright line for me. We disagree on this point.

  7. Dec 3, 2010

    ShePosts staff writers are paid, FYI.

    I write for some collaborative blogs that are free (Smartly.com and Technorati) and I am editor at Mama Manifesto, where all of our writers are unpaid. I think that each person has their own motivation for choosing to write gratis for a collaborative blog. For Mama Manifesto, it gives bloggers the chance to do sponsored posts, solicit products and write reviews while maintaining Blogher ads on their own page. I write voluntarily for Smartly and Technorati because there is something else in it for me (the possibility of syndication and wider exposure).

    I think it is rare for a blog to be making enough money to pay their writers. I think people come in to these situations understanding that the quid pro quo may not be about monetary compensation, but about collaboration, exposure, and connecting their name to a blogger or site they admire.

  8. Dec 3, 2010

    Sorry. Is it $5 per post or more? Because that is my bright line. A pathetic bright line, but a bright line nonetheless.

  9. Dec 3, 2010

    Well, largely we are going to find out from this post, because sometimes the only way to find out is to post things and then see what happens, I’ve found. But I know that these people do pay their writers more than $5 per post, in some cases a lot more than that:

    Aiming Low (the old incarnation)
    Alpha Mom
    Babble
    Pioneer Woman
    She Knows
    Simple Mom
    The Stir
    Work It, Mom!

    Anyone else?

  10. Dec 3, 2010

    Good to hear. Is it $5 per post or more? Again, my bright line.

  11. Dec 3, 2010

    SheKnows and related domains are paid. More than $5.

  12. Dec 3, 2010

    OK.

    But.

    1. I wouldn’t either. But If a site isn’t making enough to cover hosting, I would not expect it to HAVE STAFF WRITERS. I would expect it to be running on its owner’s sweat equity. That’s my point.

    2. How do you know the collective is a good one if you don’t know the owner? Not everybody knows the owner of the site for which they are working. Some do. You do, in the case of Style Lush, and now, I suppose, in the case of MamaPop. You are confident in those choices I suppose. But what about people who have not met the people for whom they are working for free?

    3. There is no other way to get this than providing free labor? How is this different from buying friendship?

  13. Dec 3, 2010

    Thanks, but it appears I’ve managed to alienate the entire community once again. Yay. Go me!

  14. Dec 3, 2010

    What is SheKnows?

  15. Dec 3, 2010

    http://www.sheknows.com/

    I used to write for one of their related websites.

  16. Dec 3, 2010

    I think the last time you wrote about something like this, there were comments that both AlphaMom and Work It Mom pay their writers more than $5/post.

    I think some other motivations for writing on unpaid sites might be increasing traffic/name recognition for your own site and getting additional writing experience that could then be used to get paid work. I know Jenny, the Bloggess, started out writing for free for the Houston Chronicle (without any motivation to make money from blogging, I believe), and it seems to have worked out very well for her. Not that anyone else would be able to have the same success, but it is one example.

  17. Dec 3, 2010

    Do you think people participate in hopes that the cash will at some point roll in? Or perhaps simply to increase visibility of their own blog they plan to monetize?

    Just trying to get into the heads of the writers. Which is easy, since I currently contribute to a site, occasionally, for no money (it’s not in the mommy-blog-o-sphere so there’s no point in linking). But there are no ads, at all. I’ve done it purely to increase my own visibility, and to make writing connections. But that would change in a heartbeat if the owner appeared to be profiting at all from the site.

  18. Dec 3, 2010

    I shall add brightness to your day, then.

  19. Dec 3, 2010

    This is a great post and I’ll be watching the comments closely. I make my living writing/editing basically the same kind of work as many of the sites listed above (in-office, we jokingly call it “This Is Some Crap I Like” content). I make a generous living with paid vacation time and benefits. I have a PENSION FUND, for the love of cram. And that’s how it should be. I am working. I should be compensated for my work. On the other hand, I do understand the impulse to share great things simply for the sake of sharing, even on a site that someone else owns. But the moment that the owner is making money, I would expect to be compensated as well.

  20. Dec 3, 2010

    I can see this at two different angles. First, if a friend of mine said “Hey, I want to start this site that I think will be big eventually, are you in?” I’d probably say yeah and do it without the thought of monetary compensation coming up, just out of helping a friend out.

    Second, if a blogger was really wanted to get their name and site out there and the opportunity to join a heavy-traffic site would give them that recognition, I could see how they’d be willing to trade off a payment for the potential increase their own site and personal brand would get.

    I would only do the first scenario myself, but then again, I don’t try to make money off of my personal site.

  21. Dec 3, 2010

    Curvy Girl Guide is only two weeks old, but we will be able to pay our writers very shortly. It will DEFINITELY be more than $5. Our writers joined on knowing they’d get paid as soon as we had advertising. And, we’ll pay our writers before we pay ourselves back for site design, etc. That’s how we roll.

    You and I are on the same page here. It’s one thing when you’re a new writer, looking for exposure. I’ve been there, done that. But once you have some experience and notoriety, I do not think it behooves anyone to write for free if the site is lining the pockets of others.

  22. Dec 3, 2010

    I don’t know how you’ve alienated an entire community once again since this isn’t even a new topic — you’ve talked about all this before on some level.

    You’re writing about your opinions and asking questions — I answered the ones I could as best I could and I’m not offended or bothered or upset. I just think we disagree. Some people are okay writing for free and some aren’t.

    There are too many kinds of blogs and too many kinds of writers to say “this is how it should be.” You do what feels right to you. You wouldn’t write for free, and that’s fine. But some people would and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve checked their self-respect at the door.

    I’m not unhappy to see my sites here, by the way, I’m just surprised. I don’t think our traffic or revenue puts us in the same category as the other sites (multiple other sites I’ve actually worked for, I should say) as far I as know.

  23. Dec 3, 2010

    As someone who has contributed to collaborative sites, both paid and unpaid, I can say that one of the motivations for me is definitely the sense of community and friendship that can arise out of these arrangements.

    When it comes to a start-up, when no money is initially offered, sure, there’s a risk involved if you’re hoping to eventually earn something for the work that is done. It’s hard to define, actually, but it’s going out on a limb for something you believe in, working towards a common goal and then sharing in a site’s success, whether that is defined monetarily or otherwise, that is the driving force for me. I love to write, and if I can do it within a talented group, I’m happy to do so. If I get paid I’m happy, too, but it’s not the determining factor for me (I work full-time in another profession, also).

  24. Dec 3, 2010

    What surprises me about this model is that there doesn’t seem to be much objection to it, even from people who rail against so-called “content mills.” Demand Studios, for example, pays $15/article, and there are whole websites devoted to how this “low pay” is ruining journalism, how working for them will ruin your writing career, etc. But I see some people who are real writers (like, people with English degrees who have written for a living) who are writing for those sites, and there doesn’t seem to be a backlash. I don’t know enough about the professional writing market to understand the reason, but it’s interesting.

    I don’t think it’s *wrong* to not pay people, necessarily. If people are willing to do something for free, why pay them? The market should determine how much a job is worth, and if the market is zero or $5…well, fine. I personally can’t afford to do that (and if I could, I’d work for charities, not stuff like this). But if other people are willing and don’t need the money, whatever.

    What concerns me more are businesses that are not run like businesses. Are these sites that pay $5/post going to issue 1099s for people who make over $600? Are they running it from a business checking account with real bookkeeping tools, or is they being paid from the same Paypal account that the owner uses to buy stuff on Etsy? Do people understand the consequences of running these businesses like a garage sale? Some of these “business” relationships seem kind of fluid, and I wonder if people are asking hard questions about how cleanly the finance stuff is being handled.

  25. Dec 3, 2010

    It’s interesting to compare this to unpaid internships, proponents of which do not see it as abuse of free labor but as a competitive career move favoring wealthy, well-connected students. Do you think bloggers who write for free may be doing so because they can afford it and want to increase exposure? This makes sense to me only if the site actually provides this desired benefit.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html

  26. Dec 3, 2010

    Actually, I listed you guys because I know of you as a site that fits the model and I want to list all the sites I know of, and also (sadly for you) precisely *because* so many of the people who write for Style Lush are people I like and am friends with. The last time I wrote on this topic I was accused of singling out MamaPop (and I do still consider MamaPop the single worst offender, incidentally, since they have the highest traffic and income of all the listed sites and still pay their writers virtually nothing) but I wanted to demonstrate this time how this was now a trend instead of just one site.

    I should also note that the sites listed above are all very different — I wouldn’t think the same thing about writing for all of them — the owners are all different and some are unpaid for different reasons. For example, Style Lush and Curvy Girl Guide are very new, and are likely to be paid at some point. Some of the other sites have some paid positions and others not. So, not all of the sites are created equal. But, this is not an exact science here.

  27. Dec 3, 2010

    Hi Kerry! I can tell you that Curvy Girl Guide will absolutely be issuing 1099s. We run like an actual business, because we are one. But it’s an EXCELLENT point you bring up, and I don’t think many people think of that.

  28. Dec 3, 2010

    I created BodiesinMotivation.com, which has had a large number of unpaid bloggers, and everyone joined knowing there was no payment involved. I initially had hopes that advertising would make that possible, but they (BlogHer ads, natch) never did. (This may change in the future, I recently handed over ownership of the site and it’s possible someone else will be much better at driving traffic, finding a better ad network, etc.)

    Anyway, I think people have been happy to write there because it’s a niche site that allows them a place to talk about one particular topic (that being health/fitness). In some cases, it may have provided a more receptive audience (on this topic) than their own site.

    So that can be a factor, too. If you really like talking about shopping but you don’t want your own blog to be a shopping blog, having another outlet for that can be a nice thing. It’s just a place to write about what you enjoy. A hobby. Like blogging used to be, you know?

    Not everyone’s in it to make money, is what I’m saying.

  29. Dec 3, 2010

    In some cases they do it to increase the visibility of their own blogs, yes (this does not work very well, FYI, unless you are writing for a crazy high trafficked blog like PW or something, and that carries with it its own set of problems), but more frequently, I think they do it to feel like they are one of the cool kids. In one case in particular anyway.

  30. Dec 3, 2010

    yeah, I understand the impulse to share content — that’s why I have my own blog. It’s the doing it for somebody else’s blog that I don’t get. If they didn’t have their own blogs, I guess I’d understand. But when it’s all tied to a commercial endeavor, it makes it really troublesome for me. The constant protestations of, “Oh, I don’t do this for money,” or “Oh, I’m just doing this for fun,” just don’t make it OK to me. That doesn’t excuse the fact that you are being exploited.

    I mean, is it exploitation on the level of children making Nike shoes? Of course not. But it’s still exploitation. I just don’t understand why people are so resistant to admitting that.

  31. Dec 3, 2010

    I’ve been thinking about this since you posted, trying to think of whether and why *I* would write for free. I can only come up with a few things, but maybe I’m not alone:

    1. A place to write about stuff I won’t put on my current blog without alienating my current (very small) audience might be nice.
    2. I have a teensy tiny side review blog that all of like 3 people read. So the idea of sharing that same information with a wider audience might compel me. For a while.

    That’s really about it. I don’t know how much additional exposure or traffic these community sites actually bring, though they do appear to be good for “About Me” pages and profiles–which in turn might help if you were putting together a media kit about your site? So in the sense of helping to build a larger brand, (of the author, not the blog specifically), perhaps that’s a compelling reason?

    But I would want to know the site’s plans for the future–if it’s unpaid now, is it in the business plan to pay at some point, and what point is that? I would want to know what I was getting myself into. Not to say that the writers on these sites haven’t had those conversations! But that would be my need.

  32. Dec 3, 2010

    I think in the best cases, it does start out between friends. The problem is, most business partnerships don’t work out. People end up getting mad at each other and fighting over money. Priorities change. This is even more the case when we are talking about long periods of time passing before real money comes in.

  33. Dec 3, 2010

    I currently write for free on two sites. I will echo what Sundry just said – sometimes it is nice to write about a very specific topic that I enjoy, that I know isn’t something I want to ramble on and on over on my personal blog.

    And I am friends with the owners of both sites. I trust them. I KNOW they aren’t raking in the money and not giving it out. So I feel like if and when the site starts making money, I will get paid, if I’m still writing there.

    But would I write for free for a site like MamaPop that you know is making money? Hell no.

  34. Dec 3, 2010

    Yeah, like I said above, I included Curvy Girl Guide because I’m not playing favorites with this list. But, not all of the examples on the list are created equal. There’s a difference between a site that is not old enough to pay its writers and a site that chooses to pay them a pittance so that it can officially say that it pays its writers, meanwhile it pockets the majority of the profits.

  35. Dec 3, 2010

    I can see doing this occasionally. For example, my blog is on a topic that has nothing to do with mommyblogging…so if I wanted to write a post on mommyblogging, I’d maybe send it to Anna and say, “Hey, post this!” or something (actually, what I’d do is mouth off in the comments, which is what I actually do).

    But if I had something to say about mommyblogging on a regular basis, I’d start my own blog. I like Anna, but I don’t like anyone well enough to work for them for free just out of friendship.

    That’s not to say I’d never write for free. For example, a scholarly journal in my field asked me to write an article for them (because they didn’t check me out thoroughly enough to realize that I am not all that scholarly). I will, because it will give me credibility in my field, and expose me to people who can give me paying work.

    But out of friendship? No. That seems like a good way to ruin a friendship (and is probably why some of these sites churn through writers so often).

  36. Dec 3, 2010

    I have written for free, in fact I am a contributor to the same Houston Chron site that didn’t pay the Bloggess either.

    For me, I will contribute guest posts or regularly scheduled articles if it’s a big site that will add to my reputation, if it helps me network, or if it (actually, not theoretically) drives traffic to my personal blog.

    In the past, I wrote free posts for a website about pop culture/TV. But, I was able to use those clips to get two different paid writing positions on other websites in the same niche. My Chron blog (which is actually just reposts of my blog content) has gotten me lots and lots of exposure – a post I did on there was picked up by ABC News, for example, and clicks from that site are always in my top 5 referral sources.

    OTOH, I’ve tried many other “freebie” places and I’m not afraid to drop them after 6 months or so if I don’t see any benefit. If I get few referrals, not promoted, no one knows or cares I write for them, or most insultingly, the owner of the site won’t even follow me back on Twitter, I resign.

  37. Dec 3, 2010

    I disagree about it not being wrong if somebody is willing to do it. Just because somebody is too dumb to realize that they are being stupid doesn’t mean you don’t have a moral obligation to be a good steward or whatever. Did I just say that? WTF? Am I using religious language? What has happened to me? I mean, if somebody shows up on my doorstep and offers to be my slave, I’m not going to take him up on it. It’s not right. I have an obligation to say this is not right. Why am I having this absurd conversation?

  38. Dec 3, 2010

    Okay. In my last job, we had rampers start at $8.25/hour. That’s a crappy wage even in Milwaukee…but we were able to keep those jobs filled. Should we have said to them, “Hey, I know you’re willing to do this for $8.25, but that just doesn’t feel right, so we’re going to pay you $12/hour?”

    No. Because we would have gone out of business. Because the airline next door paid $8.25/hour, and we wouldn’t have been able to compete with them.

    It’s the same for this. You’d never be able to get to the point where you made money if you paid more than the market (especially with a blog, which has such a long ramp-up time before it really has even a chance of making money). You can run a business or you can run a charity, but it can’t be both at the same time. You aren’t the Salvation Army here.

  39. Dec 3, 2010

    I think this is the argument that makes the most sense to me. I definitely have personal interests that I keep off my blog because they don’t fit, but that could be fun to share on a communal blog. But what do you do when that blog starts making money? That’s the concern for me. Just because it starts as a hobby, does that mean it needs to remain one after the dollars start rolling in for someone else?

    I’m not a crafter, but if I were, I certainly wouldn’t take my cross-stitch or whatever and give to it to someone else to sell in their shop without guaranteeing a cut for myself. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would this be different?

    I think all of these sites should come with some kind of written contract for the contributors. Once the site starts clearing a profit, writers need to be paid on an agreed upon sliding scale. Otherwise, I think you are starting to enter dicey waters.

  40. Dec 3, 2010

    One of my friends and fellow writers/bloggers took over as Blissfully Domestic’s Editor in Chief recently and in March Blissfully Domestic switched over to a paid model that gives 100% Google Adsense revenue to active authors on all their posts. Inactive authors get 50% of Google Adsense revenue “forever”.

    I know some people disagree with a revenue share pay model vs an upfront pay model. I know a number of people whose revenue share sites pay out much more than upfront work on most months. In fact when a friend took a month off to have a baby, her residual income from sites like these paid her mortgage. 🙂 This is one of the main reasons I still seek out revenue sharing sites as a means to building an income for myself.

    As to completely unpaid sites:
    If a writer is starting out and wants to build a portfolio, contacts, ability to review items not otherwise available to them, or community it’s hardly worth our judging. I know a woman in our community who volunteers at the local school now a full ten years after the graduation of her youngest son – free – because she enjoys it. 🙂

    I strongly encourage all writers and bloggers to seek out paid positions whenever possible and use unpaid sites very rarely, briefly or strategically. Sometimes the link love to a personal blog you’re building up is worth a year’s worth of posts on a large site as part of your overall SEO strategy. Or maybe you are angling for a book deal on a topic and being “Parenting Editor” somewhere is going to give you a leg-up. As someone who has written for paid sites and unpaid sites, I advise others looking to write for the web or blog for other sites to consider carefully the taking of a totally unpaid position (especially one that takes full rights of your work!) unless it’s done with a specific strategy in mind.

  41. Dec 3, 2010

    Also, for people who really and truly are doing stuff out of friendship, it can be icky to be offered money. It’s like sleeping with a guy and then he offers you $50.

    I help out friends with stuff all the time (resume help, genealogy help, advice, etc.). I do it only for people I like, when I want to. It always makes me uncomfortable when they offer to pay me for it, because I’m not doing it for pay…I’m doing it because I like them and want to help them. I have ZERO problem saying no otherwise. The pay just muddies things.

    So in some cases, I imagine it’s a situation like that. Mostly with the startups, though.

  42. Dec 3, 2010

    I totally agree – not everyone is in it to make money. And you have to like what you’re writing about or your writing won’t be quality. HOWEVER, if the people owning the site are making money, and the writers are NOT, that’s where the eyebrows get raised.

  43. Dec 3, 2010

    1. I’m happy to write for Style Lush because I believe in it and its owner and want to see them both succeed. Writing for that site is not a business move, it’s something I’m doing with and for my friends, just like I might edit a paper for a friend even though it’s my JOB job to edit papers for actual money. (Again, I think a lot of your points are valid for people making these decisions based on how it will affect their blog-as-business, so I’m not arguing with that. It’s hard to conflate the goals of that type of person with the goals–or non-goals–of people who are doing it for other reasons, though. We had a similar discussion on the issue of trust capital, I think.)

    2. There’s a reason I write for the sites I do, and it’s particularly because I know the owners. Someone else might write for strangers for free, but that’s a decision made by each individual, not a function of how this sort of site–as a genre–operates in general. Plus, I think there’s a reason these sorts of site spring up out of groups of people who are already friends, and why the staff writers they tend to bring on are part of a larger circle of friends: because the chances of getting a stranger to write for you for free–and for the right reasons–are pretty slim.

    3. If there’s no money to be had, free labor is the only type of labor there is. I don’t worry about bought friendship because I tend to work with people I’m already friends with.

    I get what you’re saying, though. I just think some of those generalizations are hard to make when each site and each group of writers and each *individual* writer is operating on different models and with different goals.

  44. Dec 3, 2010

    I always think you ask interesting questions, that’s for sure.
    I write for free, for Style Lush, and I do it for several reasons, most of which I am sure you won’t agree with, but lucky for me you aren’t in charge of the internet, so I get to do what I want.

    Reason 1: It’s fun. I genuinely enjoy it, or I wouldn’t do it.
    Reason 2: It’s great exposure. I have relationships with lots of fellow bloggers that years of toiling away on my little blog and commenting up the ying yang would never have gotten me.
    Reason 3: I’d do pretty much anything for Jennie, end of story.
    Reason 4: It gives me a little something to do with my time and gives me some purpose in my day besides wiping three year old kiesters. This sense of purpose and connection is invaluable to me. Someone out there actually cares what I think about steam mops! (Shocking, I know.)

    Were the site ever to make oodles of cash, I’d expect to be paid, but it’s always been transparently obvious that were that to happen, writers would be paid, and that Jennie intends to do this as soon as possible. Of course there are all kinds of questions that are raised by this, but they are ones that arise because the management is trying to be fair and reasoned about compensation, not because they’re trying to cheat people.

    I’m sure I’ll get laughed out of the park on this one, but I’m no moron who just stumbled on the internet yesterday. Please don’t discount the fact that I CHOOSE to write for Style Lush. Any time I am tired of writing for free about my bathroom paint color, I can quit. And any time it becomes un-fun, regardless of how much I am being paid, I WILL quit.

    I agree that writing for free for profitable sites is a little weird, but I don’t agree that writing for free for a young site that isn’t making profits is going to be the end of American civilization. And I am sort of offended at the strong implication that all of us deluded writers are being had in a great blogging con.

  45. Nic
    Dec 3, 2010

    I write for Food Lush and I love it. For me, since I don’t maintain a personal blog at this time (I’m just not interesting enough), I like having a place to go where I can write about things I like. But, I wouldn’t do it for everyone. Jonna is a good friend and I know and trust her and long before I began to write, I knew that The Lush blogs were a labor of love. When they become profitable, things will change, but that’s not a big issue for me. There’s something nice about everybody being in the same boat and writing just because we like it.

    I think there is a huge difference in blogs like Style/FoodLush where it’s a labor of love for everyone and blogs where the site is the main source of income for people involved and writers are still writing for free. Huge difference.

  46. Dec 3, 2010

    Didn’t we determine that mamapop now pays?

    Anyway. I run two unpaid sites and I write for one. It doesn’t bother me, as neither are exactly raking it in. If we were, we’d pay them. Period. I can’t speak to why our writers do it, but I grateful that they do, and when we can pay them, we will.

  47. Dec 3, 2010

    I’m thinking this will go along with my previous comment (maybe in moderation still?) Either way, I disagree withe the statement(s): I disagree about it not being wrong if somebody is willing to do it. Just because somebody is too dumb to realize that they are being stupid doesn’t mean you don’t have a moral obligation to be a good steward or whatever.”
    Would this mean that those who volunteer their time, services, and oh heck… let’s throw in little old ladies who knit hats and blankets to donate to hospitals and shelters would be considered “too dumb” to realize they are being stupid? They enjoy it and they are willing to do it. I don’t think it’s fair to pass judgement on a collective whole of people (bloggers) and call them dumb because perhaps they enjoy talking about a topic they know something about or sharing what they know with others… Otherwise I think you’ll have to call the little old ladies who knit for charity dumb and that would be wrong.
    I think you need to distinguish those who are blogging for something in return (money, notoriety, link love, etc) vs. bloggers who enjoy sharing what they know and look for nothing in return and leave out calling anyone dumb because everyone has their reasons for what they do and far be it for us to call our own community dumb. (in my opinion).

  48. Dec 3, 2010

    Ahh, OK.

  49. Dec 3, 2010

    Yes, they both pay. You’re right. I’ll add them above.

    I do think they do it to increase recognition, and in some cases it works. Guest posting, in some cases, works to create recognition. But it’s dicey. And I think people can also get caught up in thinking that it’s a way to be part of a cool group or whatever.

  50. Dec 3, 2010

    OK, I understand Bodies in Motivation. I understand why somebody would write for that possibly for free, to have a check in place in order to keep them honest in their fitness and weightloss goals. Because that’s a kind of value they are getting that cannot be purchased really. But that’s a really specialized case.

  51. Dec 3, 2010

    That’s why I love your site, Anna. You ask publicly the questions we all ask ourselves, daily. And when the intended *victims* come here and explain, priceless. ( Hey, isn’t there a commercial like that? I think they should pay you, and me!) I’m just a newbie, but think these questions with every site whose articles I read. Thanks for being the one who asks all the questions for us.

  52. Dec 3, 2010

    There are only a few sites that can offer you a decent amount of exposure with guest posting. Pioneer Woman, Gawker, those kind of sites. Back in the day, a well placed guest post might get you some mileage, but these days, people tend to gloss over the author’s name a lot. You need a link in the text to be noticed most of the time, unless you are posting in a niche where people are hyper-tuned to that kind of stuff, like online marketing, because they are all about making new connections and stuff.

    Group blogs are, truth be told, not as appealing to many people beyond the group. Where they are most powerful is in throwing events, at conferences. That is where they have a lot of clout.

  53. Dec 3, 2010

    Yeah, you are somebody who has met a bunch of people and has been involved in the community for a long time, so I also think you’d be able to weed through the best places to work. I think it’s different for some people.

  54. Dec 3, 2010

    You just implied that anyone who has or would ever write for free is dumb. I get that we disagree but because YOU wouldn’t do something does not make someone else dumb for doing it. It’s impossible for you to understand, I get that, but it’s because you know so many of these people AREN’T dumb, that I would hope you’d step back and think: yeah, I don’t get it but these very smart people are choosing to do something that I would never choose to do but they’re comfortable with their choice, so to each their own and let’s move.

  55. Dec 3, 2010

    I’m not going to take Blissfully Domestic off that list just yet. Because Google Adsense revenue on those posts is going to take just about FOREVER to add up to more than $5, and it will be longer than FOREVER before any of those people see any of that money, since you have to add up to $100 before you actually get a check from Google.

    OMG. That might be the most ridiculous plan I’ve ever heard of. The writers actually think that is better than being unpaid? A promise of a $0.23 royalty check *someday*? How are they even going to calculate that? How are they even going to determine how much money was made off that one post? Am I supposed to believe there is going to be a crack team of forensic accountants over there at the Bliss Empire pouring over Google Analytics spreadsheets that’s going to be paid to figure out which $.00001 goes to what post author, from now until eternity?

    OH MY GOD I NEED SMELLING SALTS

  56. Dec 3, 2010

    Mama Pop does not pay more than $5 a post as far as I know.

  57. Dec 3, 2010

    I think you can actually see a benefit from doing an unpaid internship, though. I don’t think the same can be said for this.

  58. Dec 3, 2010

    this is how i see the whole “bloggers getting paid issue” both with pr & websites.
    i think that *sometimes* you might have to work for free (think about interns) if you’d like to get anywhere in this online media world. most of us “mom bloggers” aren’t professional writers so if we want to work for or with a company what kind of writing credits do we come with that demands we be paid? should we always work for free? no. but sometimes opportunities come a long from well known companies or websites that aren’t paying but just might be very helpful in your career. i’ve decided to ask *most* companies (pr & websites) about some type of compensation before i agree to any work but you better believe if the company or product is interesting or a website is new but i really believe it could be something i just might go ahead and work for free.

    you’ve got to start somewhere.

  59. Slynnro
    Dec 3, 2010

    I think the reason you’d want to share content you wrote for free on a site that’s not your own is that you have an interest in something that your regular readers may not enjoy. For me personally, I write a lot about products I buy. As I result, I SOMETIMES, though not frequently get nasty feedback via comments and emails about how materialistic I am. If I were writing for a cooperative site about products, that probably wouldn’t be the case. I personally used to write for free for Blissfully Domestic because I enjoyed having an outlet for that sort of thing and an audience that came to that site specifically for that kind of content. I didn’t feel exploited. In the least. I also ended up getting a paid gig based on my writing there, and several hundred dollars of products that were sent to me for review.

  60. Dec 3, 2010

    NO OH MY GOD DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCES? Little old ladies knitting hats are working FOR A CHARITY! You have commented twice here and both times you have set my blood pressure boiling. I love having differences of opinions but this is INSANE. If you don’t understand the difference between using UNPAID LABOR for a BUSINESS versus somebody choosing to donate their time to a charity then I cannot help you. OH MY GOD HELP ME.

  61. Dec 3, 2010

    Dumb to work for my commercial endeavor for free. Dumb to pick in my cotton field for free, yes. What’s more, I think most people would have to be chained up and whipped in order to do that! I think most people would fight a war in order to get out of such a situation! Call me crazy!

  62. slynnro
    Dec 3, 2010

    Didn’t finish…

    This ultimately gets us to the same impasse though. You are wholly against unpaid writing, and I am not ALWAYS against it (though I think Heather makes a great point below about reaching a certain level of noteriety or whatever where it no longer makes sense for you). Just providing an explaination/justification as to why people wouldn’t always feel exploited and that quid pro quo can mean different things to different people.

  63. Dec 3, 2010

    I think people are confusing not-for-profit with not-yet-profitable.

    Fine if you want to work for either one…but they aren’t the same thing.

  64. hannah
    Dec 3, 2010

    Why are you leaving, say, the Huffington Post off this list? I think it’s a tricky issue because, honestly, most content providing websites are not going to be profitable, ever, and whatever makes one profitable can probably be attributed to in some part to the marketing efforts/branding work of the owners. So, yes, I think they should get a good share of the profits. Do I think they should get all the profits and the writers none? No, I think they should determine in advance some sort of percentage model of who gets what that contributors can review before participating, so when they turn their first profit, they aren’t saying, “Well, we earned $95! But, you know, $95 is barely anything considering all the work I’ve put into this, so I’m going to keep it,” they’re saying, “Here’s $95. And 50% goes to the founders, with the remainder divided up to the writers according to this chart…”

    But, you know, I’m not a business person, and the whole world doesn’t have to operate by what I think a fair business model would be.

  65. Dec 3, 2010

    If NO ONE is making money, or writers go into a project knowing it’s unpaid and that’s okay with them, I figure, well hell, who cares. Ultimately, no one is holding a gun to people’s head all CHURN ME OUT BLOG POSTS, MWAH HAHAHAHAHAHA!! with this diabolical scheme to, I don’t know, help the poor Internet have more content on it.

    I wish everyone got paid to do what they enjoy, BUT some people are just okay doing what they enjoy, and I think that’s okay.

    If a bunch of people are writing for free and one or two people ARE making a bunch of money off it, that definitely makes me think people are being treated like crap, but again, if they know that, that’s their choice.

    I honestly have no idea what I’m saying here. My hands are cold and I had too much sweet tea at lunch.

  66. Dec 3, 2010

    ShePosts pays well above $5/post to staff writers.

    But I also don’t think it’s a bad thing if some sites cannot. Obviously it should be a mutually beneficial arrangement but no one is forcing writers to write for free, so it’s a stretch to say it’s exploitive (not that you are). They may be working on “venture capitalism” sometimes, too . . . getting in on a site they believe in with the hopes that it will make money in time. Or just because they want to be associated with the site.

  67. Dec 3, 2010

    OK, I’ll take it off.

    And make no mistake, I am *absolutely* saying it’s exploitative. In the best cases, the site owners are not trying to exploit, they simply cannot pay *yet*, or they started the site with different purposes or whatever. But you have to go into these things expecting the worst, expecting the worst of the humanity, preparing for the worst of humanity, and safeguarding against the worst of humanity, because those are precisely the people who will take advantage of a system like this. Those are precisely the kind of people who will set out to build businesses on this model and continue for years to use the labor of other people to make their businesses grow without paying the people who are doing the lion’s share of the work.

  68. Dec 3, 2010

    Fine, Anna, I get it. I’ll delete that drafted email inviting you to write for Style Lush.

  69. Dec 3, 2010

    I left off HuffPo because I just wanted to talk about this niche. But yes, Huff Po is an egregious example of unpaid writing work. I’ve never understood that whole thing, I don’t understand why people continue to write for them for free, it’s infuriating, etc. etc. etc.

  70. Dec 3, 2010

    Was actually logging in here to leave the same comment so now I’ll just clarify.. yes. More than $5 per post. The pay is very fair, actually.

  71. hannah
    Dec 3, 2010

    I wonder if wowowow pays… (mainly I wonder how Miss Manners would respond if you asked her if she was paid to contribute there…) I think HuffPo is an important example, though, because the business model is obviously working for Arianna and plenty of smart people are willing to work for her for free. (Plenty of smart people are willing to work for the sites you listed for free, too, obviously, but I just don’t think it’s a phenomenon limited to mommyblogging.)

  72. Dec 3, 2010

    I’m sorry, Jennie. Obviously this metaphor is totally out of control and outrageous. I was all worked up about the ladies and the hats when I responded to you. But I know nobody agrees with me about the dumb thing, this came up the last time I wrote about this.

    Here’s the difference: when you’re talking, you’re thinking about the specific case of your site. When I’m talking, I’m thinking of a sinister case, like a case far more sinister than even any one that actually exists right now. Like if Dr. Evil were to set up a group blogging site and he pretended to be nice in order to get people to write for him for free. That’s what I’m thinking of. So when I say it’s “dumb,” that’s what I’m envisioning — the worst case scenario. I am not thinking about your best case scenario, where you haven’t made a profit yet and you guys really are good people who really are friends. I’m talking about people who are jerkoffs who make promises and don’t follow through, who prey on people who trust people they shouldn’t.

    And sometimes I’m a real asshole when I argue things. So, I’m sorry for that.

  73. Dec 3, 2010

    This all reminds me of a few years ago, when all the hoopla about NoSpec began for web designers. At the time, I thought, hey, they can’t tell me what to do, I can design sites or logo’s for free, hoping my work would get out there, etc. etc. Well, guess what. It didn’t. I would design a logo on spec, as well as hundreds of other designers. Who would get chosen? The one who stole another logo off google images. All the hard work. Maybe mine didn’t deserve it, but surely others did.
    Where am I going with this? It gave designers no real exposure. As a matter of fact, all it did is whore up the web design industry. Now people want a site designed, with all the bells and whistles, for nothing. Really, designers are selling wordpress templates for five bucks, or even free. What does that accomplish? The only thing it will accomplish is putting web designers out of business. Many many hours of work for what? You can be damned sure that the designer who designed PW’s site did not do it for a 100.00 bucks. I’m sure she got many referrals for working with Ree and being paid for her work.
    So giving your work away free, IMHO may get you exposure, but I am not sure its the type of exposure you want. Sorry this might be totally unrelated, but I happen to think it will go the same way if you continue writing for free.

  74. Dec 3, 2010

    I think people write for group blogs for free for the same reasons that many of us write on individual blogs for free. It’s just getting together and doing it in groups.

    THAT being said, sites that set themselves up as businesses should pay or at least have a pay structure in place. Buy-Her, for example, is not currently paying because our writers get paid a share of our revenue… of which there is none at the moment. But the exact way in which they would/will get paid was made clear from Day 1. None of this “we’re gonna be big someday, baby!” crap.

  75. Dec 3, 2010

    The Huffington Post is by far the worst offender of writer exploitation.

  76. Dec 3, 2010

    Either your blog ate my comment or this is going to show up twice and I’m going to look dumb. Whatever.

    I think people write for free on some group blogs for the same variety of reasons that some people write for free on individual blogs.

    THAT being said, if you set your group blog up as a business, it’s not cool for a few people at the top to make the lion’s share of the profits while the people doing the actual work get paid in “recognition”.

  77. Dec 3, 2010

    Yes, I definitely see that many people don’t agree with me on this point. I see your point about getting products for free though. That is a form of payment. You wouldn’t have been able to get that from your own site necessarily, only because Blissfully Domestic is a larger group site with more press I guess. But that’s, again, a form of payment so it makes sense.

  78. Dec 3, 2010

    I think it’s great when you’re actually a friend of the person who is starting up. In the best cases that happens. But that’s not always the case. In some cases, these sites have been around for years and they still don’t pay their writers. And they just keep getting new ones.

  79. Dec 3, 2010

    But we have a minimum wage! We have a minimum wage in this country. And some of these sites that “pay” are paying well below minimum wage. I mean, how long does it take to write a post? And they get paid $5 a post? WTF?

  80. Dec 3, 2010

    What I’d like to know is, once these too-new-to-be-profitable sites start bringing in money, and, as expected, pay their writers, how much are those writers paid, and are they all paid at the same rate or are some paid more than others? Because any organization has its stars, and a company wants to best compensate those whose contribution is the most valuable. But the writers who are writing for their friends’ brand-new site from the beginning probably wouldn’t appreciate finding out some hot newcomer is getting paid multiples of what they are. And what if some people are still getting a rate of zero and others are the first to be paid?
    I just worry that some fine relationships can be ruined by friends working for friends for nothing. It happens all the time in other professions–does your friend the lawyer draft your will for free? I get the fellow feeling and all. Maybe the answer is that people who work for free get some kind of stake in the business (though the Adsense deal doesn’t sound so great…). Just musing here.

  81. Dec 3, 2010

    I do understand this, to an extent. Like, with you being my consigliere, and the time I told you I had to put you on the payroll when I could afford to do it? Because for me, it’s like you offer me extremely valuable advice that I cannot get from elsewhere because you know the social media space, and you know my blog and you see how I interact in it. So I feel bad, because it’s something I make a profit from, and I feel like I should be paying you for that advice. But then you were like, “I like to offer free advice?”

    [Wow this is awkward that I’m talking about this in the comments.]

    But I’m thinking something like that would have to change over time, because it’s one thing if you’re just offering advice every now and then, but what if I was calling you up every night asking for advice, and I’m making Dooce money at this point? Wouldn’t you expect some kickbacks at that point? Wouldn’t you think I was an ass if I didn’t pay you then?

  82. Molly
    Dec 3, 2010

    Bodies in Motivation is also a no pay site for writers.

  83. Dec 3, 2010

    This whole thread is fascinating. I recently started a site http://www.jackandjill-lifestyle.com ….. I aim to bring some writers together in the new year. At the moment, it’s all me, writing one post per day on it, out into the ether. Either deluded or channeling Kevin Costner from Field of Dreams, I’m not sure. The idea of monetising it yet is ridiculous, but I really really want to invite others to it, have some fun. Maybe even make a difference, help other people nurture their spirit. And obviously get paid, as soon as I can afford it. Because I am a good person like that – not all people are, which I think is the point of your post, Anna.

  84. Dec 3, 2010

    No, it’s not limited to mommyblogging, but this is the niche I watch most closely so it’s the one I felt better qualified to write on. The other group sites I read are paid (Mashable, TechCrunch, Gawker, sites like that, as far as I know pay their writers).

  85. Dec 3, 2010

    Also, unpaid internships are generally for a short, specific period of time. Say, a semester. They’re not open-ended situations. And you meet with your supervisor on a regular basis to discuss how both parties are benefiting from the partnership. Do these sites do that with their writers?

    “Hi, I’m making lots of money off you. How’s it working for you?”
    “Umm…I’m getting exposure I guess.”

    Six months later…
    “Still making lots of money off you. How’s it working for you?”
    “Umm…I’m getting exposure I guess.”

  86. Dec 3, 2010

    “Group blogs are, truth be told, not as appealing to many people beyond the group. Where they are most powerful is in throwing events, at conferences. That is where they have a lot of clout.”

    *****
    Exactly! Which is why when people tout the “community” they get by joining these sites as unpaid writers, I can’t help but think they’re talking about being a VIP at an event. (But I’m cynical that way.)

  87. Dec 3, 2010

    That’s a good way of handling it. I like that you have the terms laid out ahead of time, even in the absence of actual revenue. That goes a long way to answering my concerns.

  88. Dec 3, 2010

    It just leaves too much room for bad people to take advantage. Good people won’t, of course, but those aren’t the people I’m worried about. I know there are lots of good people in the list above, because many of them are my friends. But like I explained, I always think of the worst case scenario. That’s why I’m always annoyed by this model.

  89. Dec 3, 2010

    Well, the thing is, it’s all untested, because as far as I know what happens is the staffs tend to have a huge turnover rate. So if they are being paid at all it is at an even rate, and that rate is very low, with the owners taking the rest of the profits. The majority of the sites haven’t been around long enough to make a salary scale yet. It’s not like Gawker where they have real revenue coming in and the writers themselves have followings. The biggest revenue maker above is now probably making a full time income for the two owners of the site, is my guess. But that is on the backs of several years of full time unpaid or extremely low paid writing staffs, most of whom no longer work for the site. How are those people to be compensated? There’s no time for a structure to be set up because by the time anybody would build a following, they’ve left the site, having realized that it’s a bum deal.

  90. Dec 3, 2010

    I added it.

  91. Dec 3, 2010

    I recently stopped contributing to a “paying more than $5 a post” site because it just wasn’t worth it for me. I didn’t enjoy it and the nominal payment was almost more insulting than the no payment.

    And yet I continue to write for a site that I have not earned a dime on and may not for a long time to come.

    For me, it’s not an economic decision. It’s a “what do I enjoy doing” decision.

  92. Dec 3, 2010

    That works in theory, but I *AM* a professional writer. I’m not currently working outside the home, but I’ve made my career writing for 15 years. You think I can get paying gigs online because I’ve got a portfolio full of published writing samples? Think again. Too many people are willing to take the jobs for free, so why should they pay me?

  93. Dec 3, 2010

    Oh, I just read further and I guess you are throwing around the “exploitation” accusations? I think that’s a bit much. There are many people who are really being exploited in this world. But if a couple snarky writers (most of whom have day jobs) want to write about pop culture because it’s fun, or they like the other writers, or think the site is “cool” or want front row seats at Sparklecorn . . . who cares?

  94. Dec 3, 2010

    No, because at some point you become friends, and friends give advice. So charging for that would be weird (and if you called me every night I’d know someone stole your phone, because calling? on a telephone? That shit is for extroverts).

    But if you were making Dooce money and I wrote an article for you, or did some other kind of real work, I’d expect to be paid. Giving advice is not work; writing is (at least for me).

  95. Dec 3, 2010

    But no one wants to pick cotton in their free time. Presumably we are talking about people who LIKE to blog?

  96. Dec 3, 2010

    Let’s pretend you’re starting a site and you’ll need others to write for you. You aren’t hella rich and can’t pay out of your pocket for the posts. At the time of launch you have no sponsors and no ad network. What do you think is a fair way to pay the writers?

  97. Dec 3, 2010

    Oh, I am not throwing “exploitation” around: I am applying it intentionally and purposefully, as in “use or utilization, esp. for profit: the exploitation of newly discovered oil fields. and/or 2. selfish utilization: He got ahead through the exploitation of his friends. (Dictionary.com. It pains me to not be able to use the OED, but I don’t have a subscription anymore.)

    Who cares? Me. Apparently I am the only one. If you don’t, fine. I don’t really understand why you would take it personally.

  98. Dec 3, 2010

    I absolutely think this is why people write for some of the sites. I especially see it apparent when I attend conferences. It’s a form of currency, so I guess you can argue that is how they are being paid. But that is really, really sad.

  99. Dec 3, 2010

    Shares. A percentage of future revenue. Something (and specifically, something with a written contract).

    Because if you substitute the word “site” for “consulting firm” or “accounting firm” or “dry cleaner” or any other kind of business, it becomes obvious: businesses don’t operate this way. If you don’t have money (or something else of value, like a percentage of future revenue), you don’t start the business…because people don’t work for most other kinds of companies for free. This industry is somewhat unique in that regard.

    And the thing is, if someone said, “I’m starting an accounting firm, but I can’t pay you. Will you do people’s tax returns for free?” you’d say no. And you’d probably also say that that person is a bad businesswoman, unless she said, “I can’t pay you, but here is a document stating exactly what you get, and when, and how.”

    Unless you really, really like to do tax returns so much that you would do them for free anyway. But then you should maybe donate your services to a good cause or something.

  100. Dec 3, 2010

    To me this is akin to asking how I’m going to pay my restaurant employees when I have no income in the beginning. The answer is: I’m not going to have any employees unless I have some income or some venture capital. That is how business works in my experience. That is how I would plan on building a business. I am not trying to be a pollyanna here, it’s just — where I’m coming from, there aren’t a lot of people who are signing up to do work for free. This is yet another situation in which I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe.

  101. Dec 3, 2010

    Jinx, Kerry. People are going to start thinking we are the same person.

  102. Dec 3, 2010

    So, using that theory, we only need to pay the jobs that nobody likes doing? All other forms of labor should be free? Somebody notify basically every form of well paid profession on the planet, please! Because they are no longer to be receiving their rather large paychecks, given that they enjoy their jobs.

  103. Dec 3, 2010

    I agree. There’s a big difference among the sites I listed. Unfortunately, because I have been accused of singling out sites in the past, I had to list all of them this time (that I know of). But I agree, there is a big difference when you know who is running the site, the circumstances of that, the character of the people, and what the long term goals are there.

  104. Dec 3, 2010

    Right, and also, why not work for yourself and build your own website equity if you are going to be uncompensated? Most writing on websites is worthless in terms of credibility. It’s not going to do any good to have a byline on a website these days, it’s not back in the olden days when getting a byline was a big deal. Nobody cares. Now a link by a big blogger on a big site *can* be a big deal, depending on the circumstances, but even that depends on a lot of factors. For example, when I got linked in that Jezebel piece, it was enough to crash my server and bump up my traffic ever since then. But that a well-trafficked post by an editor of the site, and I was quoted at length. That’s not always going to happen. I would not have had the same result from a guest post, or even from being a staff writer there, if I had even managed to get that kind of gig, I would guess.

  105. Well since I run an ‘unpaid writing staff’ of about 200 writers for http://thesmartly.com sites (regional ones as well) Let me explain it to you.

    We the editors and creators do not make money either. Actually we are spending about $700 a month to run the darn sites. Out of our own money. Cuz we are idiots. OR ARE WE?

    Our intention with Smartly was to create websites that feature ONE killer essay a day. Just one per site. And the writers are free to write in any catagory they wish. We wanted to raise the bar on the quality of online writing. We wanted writers. Not bloggers. These are essays. Not posts…are you following me?

    When we launched in June 2010 the response was over whelming. People eagerly signed the contracts and waited to get their logins. Turns out people have no problem writing for free. And there are all kinds of different reasons:
    *They love having a home to put their work.
    *They want to be associated with something of quality.
    *They might not have a blog at all (we have several published authors, buddist priest etc who do not have a blog but want to write once a month SOMEWHERE)
    *They want someone else to do all the work. (and as site moderators/editors/tech/seo/pr WE DO)
    *They are hopeful for the promise of syndication (we have started a deal for national print syndication. No compensation. Just exposure)
    *They want to ride on the coat tales of more successful writers. For new to digital writers-writing for a collective allows more exposure than starting a new site from scratch.

    I could go on and on.
    But the point is. Writers have their reasons to ‘write for free’. And while those reasons are not necessarily monetary- they are always mutually beneficial.

    WHEW.
    That said. I am contemplating writing for Technorati this week. FOR FREE. And analyzing the pay-off for me. 🙂

  106. Dec 3, 2010

    But in this internet time I would assume it’s next to impossible to get backing prior to a site launching. How did the sites that pay their writers get to that point? Did they have capital prior to launching or did they not pay at first?

  107. Dec 3, 2010

    They had capital lined up or got sponsors quickly and started paying, I believe. Many of them used capital from other sites to start paying, and also used their capital to leverage sponsorship in their new ventures. For example, Curvy Girl Guide will likely have sponsorship within a few weeks because they can leverage the sponsorship contacts of their owners (Heather Spohr and Brittany Gibbons, formerly of Aiming Low, and both of whom have very popular blogs with extensive monetizing contacts) to get stuff in place quickly. So, they don’t pay their writers right now, but it’s pretty likely they will be paying within a short period of time because of the contacts those two have already established through working on their individual efforts for several years in this medium.

    But otherwise, you can build capital a variety of ways. I *could*, for example, pay writers here if I wanted to. But I think that the limited income I make right now is better spent on other resources that I cannot do myself. I know I can always push myself to write more, but I cannot code using the Flickr API, so I’d rather hire a developer to do that.

  108. Dec 3, 2010

    I’m not taking it personally. I’m just saying that these are grown adults you are talking about, most of them savvy and whip-smart as evidenced in their writing. They aren’t poor souls being ripped off – they are getting something out of it, too.

  109. Dec 3, 2010

    How many blogs are there in the world wide web? Thousands? MOST people do it for free. You can hardly compare what is a hobby for most to back-breaking labor, is all I’m saying.

  110. Dec 3, 2010

    OK. What are they getting? They are not getting paid. Are there worse forms of exploitation in the world? Of course! I’ve said this several times. But it is still exploitation. And it’s gross. I believe this, and I’m still, a year later, surprised to find that people find this controversial.

  111. Dec 3, 2010

    Having now actually read your whole post (thank you, crazy Hanukkah family dinner!), I think you state one thing that discounts Style Lush and Food Lush from your critique, for the most part:

    “… wherein a website business is set up using unpaid (or extremely low paid, i.e. less than $5 per post) staff writers to accrue income for one (or two, or three) owners on the basis of the work of that staff.”

    I can tell you 100%, in writing, that this is not our intention, and we’ve been up front with our writers from the beginning about this. If there’s money to share, we will share it. Jennie (or Elizabeth, or me, as we’re editor-types) have no intention of making a shitload of money off of the site and not sharing it with our writers. As it is, all the money we make, as Jennie stated, either goes back into the site, or goes back to the writers in whatever form we can afford to do (and yes, sometimes that’s a drink at a happy hour. We’re not Brittany and Heather, here! We don’t have relationships with FM or … anyone, really).

    I don’t really have a problem with this whole discussion, and I’m not mad or upset that we’re listed — we’ve been honest about all of it, and honestly, have nothing to hide, and I’m happy to have the conversation. The only thing I am a little upset about is the implication that I or anyone who does write for free, is stupid. That’s really unfair and unkind and flat-out not true in many cases. (I can’t speak for the intelligence of the whole internet, obviously. I’m sure there are people who write for free who are stupid for other reasons.)

    I write for another blog about sports, for free, and I do it because I really like it, and no one wants to hear about how I feel about Michael Vick on my own site. I’ve never felt exploited, I CHOOSE to do it because I enjoy it, and I know for a fact that the owner is HARDLY raking in the cash and living large while the rest of us toil in our sweat shops and write about Jacory Harris with a gun to our heads.

    Separately, I also write my own blog for free, as I have no ad network, and I could be making money from it, but I’m just … not, right now. Yet, I still think I’m pretty bright.

  112. drhoctor2
    Dec 3, 2010

    The very first thing that went thru my head when I saw the answer of…if you know the owner..” man..if that isn’t a disaster waiting to happen”. I don’t, won’t, wouldn’t work for free for someone else. Ever. Poetry slams and such are ALWAYS doing that but unless it’s a charity fundraiser or something there..hey ..as long as you write for free..you establish yourself as an amateur. THAT is the difference. Professionals are paid. If you don’t care…fine. I do care.
    I do not know why you field so many off topic,harsh and vindictive comments and blog posts for asking, examining or commenting on these sites which are setting up as BUSINESS models.
    Hang in there. I can’t even ask a question without getting my intellectual cred dismissed. 🙂

  113. Dec 3, 2010

    It’s all done automatically through the plugin with money being deposited directly into their personal adsense account. I never see how much they are making nor do they have to worry about getting paid, or not, if my kids get sick or whatever.

    Lots of people, myself included, have very good success with Google Adsense. It covers a car payment, or mortgage for me almost every month. And I work actively to teach the authors ways to help monetize their articles if that is what they are interested in.

    For most it’s not their ONLY thing, but a supplemental thing.

    And you’re totally right – oh my gosh if I had to do that accounting work manually I would day. Praise the lord for plugins that handle it all for me. Technology is a marvelous thing. Lol!

    Angela England, EiC Blissfully Domestic

  114. Dec 3, 2010

    I would die even. That’s what happens when I’m typing with a baby in my lap. 🙂

    Angela <

  115. Dec 3, 2010

    The Dr. Evil version of what you are talking about DOES exist. Not in mommyblogging but in photography. The worst offender is National Geographic and their My Shot “contests.”

    First off, Nat’l Geographic has been notorious, for decades, for having the worst photographer compensation contracts in the industry (for their paid photographers).

    Now, with these My Shot contests, they get great content to fill their magazines and website for free. The kicker: when someone enters these contests, Nat Geo automatically owns the rights to the work for perpetual worldwide use without paying the photographer a nickle for it. AND they can sell those images to other entities and make money off them, with none of it going to the photographer!

    There are people (lots of people) who think the prestige of being “published” with Nat’l Geographic is worth more than the value of their work. And I guess that depends on the eye of the beholder. But I think it’s rotten. And I also think the prestige factor is enormously diluted by this system.

    I wouldn’t submit my work under such conditions in a million zillion years. And while your blog is volatile as usual (we love you for it), you DO raise a valid point because the example you are warning against does exist. And creatives deserve to be paid, dammit! And sometimes, creatives need to be reminded of this.

  116. “I honestly have no idea what I’m saying here. My hands are cold and I had too much sweet tea at lunch.”

    Best comment sign-off EVER. Two big thumbs up.

  117. Dec 3, 2010

    Considering I wrote, essentially, “I is stupid,” I think I need to revise my original assessment. Oy.

  118. Dec 3, 2010

    I do think that everyone has to start somewhere. I wrote for free on Cleveland dot com and it brought me a ton of traffic. I enjoyed it until I realized how much time/effort I was putting into it and opted out.

    I also opted out, just last week, from a well established parenting website that was offering $5 a post, $2 for side posts, with a $40 cap each month – because, although it would have (maybe) increased my traffic I just can’t handle another project. Especially if it pays (upwards of) a dollar a day. I have children and a terminally ill MIL and life in the way.

    Yes. This (blogging) is my hobby. I love it. But my family is my life. If you insert “golfing” instead of “blogging” in every conversation you have about blogging you see how ridiculous conversations like these are.

  119. Dec 3, 2010

    Whoops. Not that *this* conversation is ridiculous. I think it’s helpful.

  120. Dec 3, 2010

    Gawker pays insanely well, and I can verify that as my brother used to write for them.

  121. Marge Simpson
    Dec 4, 2010

    There are several missing off of this list. Some I used to write for, others I considered writing for and then ran away quickly when I saw the writing requirements (I love that people who want you to write for free have demands).

    Type-A Mom -They used to require one article per week (not sure if this is still the case) and pay with Adsense

    Examiner.com – Horrid content mill that requires one post a week for NOTHING although they claim you get paid on page views

    Traveling Mom – Another place that requires you to post once a week for NOTHING in return. However, there were press trips and review items promised but most of the writers have yet to see either.

  122. I wholeheartedly AGREE!

  123. Dec 4, 2010

    I wrote for Examiner.com. I worked my butt off but got several of my articles to be PR highly. I made money. Not a lot of money, but more than $5 a post (maybe average $20 or so? Don’t remember. And then I started getting residuals which were beginning to add up.)

    However, I quit Examiner because I felt it was diluting my brand. Other writers for the site had appalling typos, grammar, and syntax. My “editor” said she relied on the writers to “self-edit” and “edit each other”. I realized a change was in order when I started leaving Examiner.com OFF my list of credentials because I just cringed at the though of a potential client going to the home page and seeing some of the articles there.

    Then they changed the TOS. Previously, you kept royalties even if you weren’t “active” (hadn’t posted for 30 days, I think.). Then they changed it so you didn’t get paid if you were inactive- even though the evergreen content was still on their site and even though THEY were making money off it, and even though YOU retained rights to your work.

    Changing TOS for writers is one of my PET PEEVES. There’s a forum on AbsoluteWrite.com with lots of interesting debate about Document Sweatshop (DS – Demand Studios), Examiner, and other sites. I can see it from both angles. If you need quick cash, DS, etc. can be fast money. But it is soul numbing to do day in and day out. And BTW- now I always skip the eHow articles that come up in my searches because I know how all the eHow articles are written and they are just about guaranteed NOT to be the best source of info because of the arbitrary SEO editorial guidelines.

  124. Dec 4, 2010

    I do think you should at least differentiate between the unpaid and the residual paying sites. Two more collaborative sites I know that pay writers via residual revenue sharing models are Type-A-Mom (now morphing into TypeAParent) and Untrained Housewife, both of which have (like Blissfully Domestic) very writer-friendly terms. Writers keep most or all rights to their work, etc which is another thing I haven’t seen you mention yet in this conversation.

    Given a choice between a site that gives me $15 for a piece but takes all rights, or a site that only takes first-time-electronic and gives me 50% of the adsense page impressions forever, I’ll take the later every time. Because I know what I am doing and know that I’ll be able to more than make up that $15 within the year, so everything I get paid the following year is bonus. Plus I could expand the piece and submit to print publications if I were to decide to take that up again (I find the process hardly worth the time compared to my online and consultation work at this point).

    Writer’s should always consider rights, bylines and the ability to link out to other sites/articles when they are considering writing anywhere. And then decide what is a fair amount based on the overall picture.

    Angela <

  125. Dec 4, 2010

    On an utterly unrelated note, Curvy Girl Guide appears to house a barely-curvy staff (at least by internet standards, if you compare them to the folks at Fatshionista, for example. That’s an FA site though, so the politics are quite different). Apparently I’m The Blob That Ate Manhattan by curvy girl guide standards. Le Sigh. 🙂

  126. Dec 4, 2010

    We have a staff that ranges from size 2 – 22. We are about accepting ourselves AND each other at any size.

  127. Dec 4, 2010

    I write for the Curvy Girl Guide, and don’t tell Heather or Brittany, but I would’ve done it even if there was no offer of money. Not because I’m stupid (though that point can be argued later), but because I’m writing about something that I can’t write about every day on my site and it’s something that I believe whole-heartedly in. And a lot of the time, it doesn’t really feel like work.

    I write my blog and articles on CGG because I like to write, to connect with people. The money is a great benefit, but it’s not why I do it. I’m starting to think that maybe it’s different for those who aren’t full time writers/bloggers? I know that my income isn’t ever going to come exclusively from blogging/writing, it’s going to come from a full-time non-computer job that I’m racking up massive grad school loans to prepare for. If I can make a few bucks writing, which I’m going to do with or without pay, that’s awesome, but if I can make a positive impact on someone else’s life, I think that the reward is greater than money.

    But I’m kind of an idealist, if that isn’t already obvious.

  128. Dec 4, 2010

    But what does a size 2 know about being a size 20, and vice versa? Those are two completely different style communities (regrettably, obviously).

    I’m not trying to be mean, I swear. I was excited by the idea of a style guide for women my age/size (lots of the sz.16 and above style sites cater to teens and young adults) and then felt let down, is all.

  129. Heather
    Dec 4, 2010

    I haven’t read all of the comments but I’m wondering why the form of payment is your concern? Aren’t these grown adults, most of whom are editors or writers professionally? Could it be they do not mind receiving the form of payment they are agreeing to receive. It seems like I notice two things when I read MamaPop or Style Lush – that the writers seems to enjoy their topics and they are also knowledgeable about them.

    If these were people in need of money (I mean, we all are, but if they were starving) they wouldn’t be stupid enough to accept $5 or less per post.

    I appreciate your provocative writing style but you seem to be really just stirring sh$t up here. It’s not your business and it’s certainly not for you to pick on six or seven websites out there on the whole wide internet. Again, grown adults, not sweat shop kids that need an advocate.

  130. Dec 4, 2010

    I think that if you want to write for free you can, but the point of this post is really just you don’t have to, and that you should not feel like you have to, and that doing it is not necessarily in your best interest. And, in fact, if you want to be a professional blogger or other kind of writer, it is probably NOT in your best interest to write for free, despite what these other people keep trying to tell you. Everyone has their opinions, of course, but in my experience, it is not going to do you much good to write for free on a regular basis (with the exception of the occasional guest post on a highly trafficked site) if you want to build a problogging career.

    I think that’s my point in writing this post, to clear up that confusion for newer bloggers, rather than to say to people who are hobby bloggers: stop doing this!

  131. Dec 4, 2010

    Well, why have any kind of safeguards in place for people in society? Why have a minimum wage? Why not have the meat industry go back to letting body parts into sausage? I mean, seriously, what kind of question is this? Is how writers are paid in blogging the most horrific atrocity in society? NO! Of course not! But blogging is my business, and I write about the business of blogging. I don’t like this model, I never have liked it, I have talked about it before, and now there are more sites using it and I don’t like it. I think it takes advantage of people who don’t know any better. Does it also feature writers who know what they are doing, of course! But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a stupid model that allows people to make money off unpaid labor which is WRONG. That’s why I’m writing about it.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to children here. It’s like the BE NICE police came over and are trying to spray marshmallow sparkley puff paint. Life is messy. Businesses get criticized. Make no mistake: people are supporting themselves and their unemployed live-in boyfriends off these businesses. If you don’t care, then you don’t have to.

  132. Dec 4, 2010

    Ah, I understand what you’re saying. I find it a little crazy that professional bloggers would write for free, unless it’s something they really, seriously believe in. And even then, it seems like it’s a little like a professional chef catering lunch for his friend’s weekly business meetings for free. Even if the chef think that the topic of discussion at those meetings is important, it’s still a lot of work for no money and minimal business connections.

    It’s interesting to look at things from the different sides. As someone who isn’t trying to make a living off of writing, I guess I have a bit more freedom to make decisions that aren’t so financially sound.

  133. Dec 4, 2010

    As you mentioned, I am just frustrated that people complain about bloggers compensation from companies (gift cards or the CHANCE to win) but when they have the opportunity to pay bloggers on their own sites, they don’t. It hurts all of us.
    Maybe I don’t have enough friends in the blogging world, but I think when you are creating content that helps make a site profitable, you should either 1) get paid well or 2) the money after cost (server, etc) should go to charity. I don’t think that a friend WOULD ask me to write for free unless it was on occasion for their own (free) site.
    I get paid to write nearly everything I do outside of my blog. If the website makes money or the company makes money, I expect to be compensate for my time. I love writing. But I already have a site to write for free: IT’S CALLED MY BLOG. Why would I give another site my carefully crafted content? My exception is reposts. I will give some sites reposts for free if they have a lot of traffic, a good social media strategy and/or an audience that fits my site well. Also, I totally write guest posts on friends’ blog because I do think it’s an honor be invited into someone else’s space. But I wouldn’t write a weekly or monthly column of them for free. The time I write isn’t free for me. It may cost childcare or sleep or time from my family or friends or my own website. How can people AFFORD to write for free outside of one website?
    I get paid to do what I love. Now THAT is awesome.

  134. Dec 4, 2010

    PS. My exception is also charities. And I should note that I wasn’t getting paid when I first began. I did need to guest post for free and get my work out there first. But for six months. Not six years.

  135. Dec 4, 2010

    I thought the point of the post wasn’t that no one should ever write for free, but rather sites such as the ones listed should value their writers.

  136. Dec 4, 2010

    It is. The post is really more aimed at a business model and the proliferation of a business model that I don’t like. But inevitably writers come in and get annoyed because they think I’m calling them dumb. So I have to explain myself.

  137. Dec 4, 2010

    Kerry is kinda brilliant.

  138. Dec 4, 2010

    OK, I have added asterisks for sites that allow you to use AdSense.

  139. Dec 4, 2010

    Thank you. It really does not seem that revolutionary of an idea, but for some reason people take offense. Honestly, if somebody tried to open up a restaurant and asked you to serve as a waitress for free, or said, “hey I’ll let you work as a waitress in my restaurant! I’m not going to pay you, but if you can find sponsors who will pay you to put signage on your uniform for your uniform, you can keep all the profits,” people would just laugh and laugh. And yet because this is writing it is somehow different? I don’t get it.

  140. Dec 4, 2010

    I subscribe to Curvy Girl, not for the fact that some of my friends are writers, but because of the purpose – to encourage self-esteem and acceptance in woman of all sizes.

    Being a size 0 or smaller and 5’6″, I can testify to the fact that there is not only stigma attached to being so thin, but barey-disguised shaming. In fact, where a woman who is a size 18 is told that she should be smaller, or she is not acceptable, a woman my size is told to eat more (a cheeseburger is a favourite of mine), exercise less and often completely disregarded as someone who could have self-esteem issues. More than once, someone has even suggested that I start smoking pot, so that I’d get the muchies and gain some weight.

    An example: prior to BlogHer ’09, I wrote a very candid post on my blog about my anxiety surrounding the trip. Because I realized that some who hadn’t met me before might instinctive make a comment about my size/weight, and it would all be in good fun and maybe even with love, but that it would make me feel ashamed, and shared at, and alien. During the cocktail parties on the first night? 32 women said a variation of “eat something, gawd”, “oh, you’re so tiny, you’re like nothing”, or, “if I was your size, I’d have no problems, ever.”

    Further, women who are thinner deal with attitudes that basically say to us ‘you should never, ever, admit out loud your size, weight or what you eat, because then you’re just bragging, egocentric, or rubbing it in the faces of people without those stats’. Additionally, really thin women – in particular those with modelesque sizing – who are attractive are often and indiscreetly assumed to be more sexually active – I’m assuming that this is because thin + pretty=available for more action?

    Personally? I think that’s pretty comparable, considering that I can, and have, had conversations describing near-parallel experiences in regards to societal reactions to my weight – and the self-esteem beating that comes with it – as my heavier friends.

  141. Dec 4, 2010

    I’m glad you enjoy it. I am also glad that you’re asking the questions, instead of just assuming that people are on the up and up. Because they aren’t, often, unfortunately.

  142. Dec 4, 2010

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I’m sorry I didn’t respond to this yesterday, I got caught up and missed a bunch of the comments in the middle. What I wanted to say to people was this: it’s OK to write for free if you want. But you should know that you don’t have to, and that it’s not necessarily a good idea to do so, provided you are trying to be a professional writer and/or blogger. That is to the writers — new bloggers who want to be pros, it’s not necessarily in your best interest, despite what they may lead you to believe, in my opinion. This post is mostly directed to the people running the sites, though, not the writers, and definitely not the hobby bloggers.

    Does that make sense? I don’t like this business model. I don’t begrudge people writing about stuff they like for the passion in their free time. I’m not one of those “devaluing all of us” high horse people. I just don’t like this model.

  143. Dec 4, 2010

    In those cases, if there is a clear value, then there’s a reason to do it. These days, as I’ve said, it’s tough to argue there’s a value to doing that in terms of driving traffic to your own blog. This is especially true if it’s a regular column on a site where you’re just providing content, it’s not a promotional thing about you or your site, or the author of a personal site saying, “Hey, check out this blogger, she’s awesome!” THOSE kinds of links *do* drive traffic. Being a columnist on a group site? That will get you into parties, make sure you have people to hang out with at BlogHer, and have followers on Twitter. It will not necessarily make you have a popular blog.

  144. Dec 4, 2010

    The ones that know that going in, and choose to stay, I absolutely agree. I don’t understand why they do it, but you are right. But I think many of these people think they are going to get traffic out of the deal, or that the AdSense model is going to actually yield some money, or that this is the path to professional blogging success. And it is not. So, that is my annoyance with it.

    And again, the hew and cry over PR professionals expecting people to write about detergent for free and yet it’s fine for people to continue to write on group sites for free, year after year, and nobody cares. It’s hypocrisy. Is it the worst thing in the world, no. But it’s yet another example of how this community has blinders on about certain things. I know it’s not the end of the world, but I cannot possibly be alone in finding this annoying.

  145. Dec 4, 2010

    Yes. Some of the sites listed are new and they are run by excellent people who are absolutely on the up and up. Others, I cannot speak so highly of.

  146. Dec 4, 2010

    Super. I enjoy writing, too. That’s why I write on my own blog, where I have an ownership stake in the output.

  147. Dec 4, 2010

    As I said above, if you want to write for free, you can. If you want to be a professional blogger or writer, my contention is that it is not necessarily in your best interest to do this on a regular basis for somebody else — that your time is going to be better spent building your own URL or building equity in a site in which you have an ownership stake. This post is mostly aimed at the sites that have been set up to exploit free labor on an ongoing basis. I disagree with that business model. Not everybody does. That’s fine. Some people think that unregulated capitalism is A-OK. Those people still enjoy their sausage without human arms in it, is my guess.

  148. Dec 4, 2010

    Why thank you.

    Now please come work for me for free. It will be worth it, because once a year, I’ll feed you cake and make you feel cool.

  149. Dec 4, 2010

    FINALLY getting around to responding to this. OK, so I’ve responded to most of the Style Lush and Food Lush people by now, and I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m totally biased when it comes to those sites because I know the owners and consider them to be good people and friends of mine. And, like the owners of Curvy Girl Guide, they’ve come here and been totally open about their business model and their intentions for paying their writers and I think that is really illuminating, because it shows that they invite discussion, which makes me think even more highly of both partnerships.

    Both sites are young, both sites don’t pay their staffs yet. I am confident both will. When they do, I will update this post to reflect that fact. I want this post to be accurate.

    Now, regarding the “dumb” thing, let’s face it, I like to say provocative things. I like to hit people over the head with 2 x 4s sometimes because, frankly, sometimes it’s necessary. Do I think most of the people working for the staffs of these sites are “dumb”? No! I know, in fact, that nobody at Style Lush or Curvy Girl Guide is dumb, because I know many of them personally and of nearly all of them by reputation and/or through their blogs. So, when I said, above, just because somebody is “acting dumb” it was in the context of a philosophical hypothetical with Kerry about whether we had an obligation to pay somebody if they were willing to work for free. It wasn’t even in reference to writers necessarily. It was somebody putting themselves in a position to be exploited, do *I* as the potential exploiter, have a moral obligation to not exploit, in those circumstances? I was saying YES! Yes, I do!

    Now, that said, I’m just going to be blunt: there are people who continue to work for one of the sites above whom I’ve concluded must either be dumb or under some kind of delusion, spell or drug-induced(?) coma to continue to work for a site that does not really pay them (because it pays less than $5 per post), and yet it pays enough to support a live-in boyfriend who just bought a new motorcycle. Yes. I believe that there is no other explanation in the world but that those people are either dumb or that they are codependent or that there is some kind of psychosis there, because in my experience there is no other explanation for it.

    But, no, Jonna, I was not calling you or your writers dumb. To clarify. 🙂

  150. Dec 4, 2010

    You’re just being so kind because you don’t know of our secret plans for Lush Summit ’11, wherein we make everyone — even our loyal writers! — apply to attend, and we plan to condescendingly reject at least 50% of them because they didn’t submit a pithy enough bio, while promoting more well-known strangers with quirky self-portraits, preferably featuring wigs and/or mustaches.

    That’s where our profits are REALLY going. Napa, baby!

  151. Dec 4, 2010

    I was just wishing you would make nice and live snark tweet from the Sparklepuss dinkus convention.

    Other than that, it reminds me of the musician days when shitty promoters would try to talk naive young bands into “pay to play” gigs. Luckily, we never fell for it, but a lot of young kids do. It’s not illegal, but it sure as hell is unethical and sleazy.

  152. Dec 4, 2010

    5 Minutes for Mom doesn’t pay it’s writers. I’m getting ready to resign from that gig.

    I don’t have a problem writing for free–probably because like a lot of people, my blog is a hobby–but the respect you get from most of the sites is zero and the traffic is about the same. I’ve tested a few out and gotten very little in the way of traffic, so I quickly extricate myself. In the beginning I thought it was flattering to be asked, to get a cute badge for your blog, etc. It wasn’t.

    I do write for one small site for free–there are three of us and I don’t think it’s a huge money maker, but I do think the owner makes some money off of it. I continue to write for a number of reasons:
    1. I really like the owner and enjoy the camaraderie of writing with her and the other contributor.
    2. It consistently drives traffic to my blog. I have a small site and I experience a nice boost in traffic whenever a post goes live over there.
    3. The content I write for her isn’t something I want on my own blog. I retain ownership and can use if if I’d like or package it into an e-book or something, but right now I’m happy to have a place for those types of posts to go.

  153. Dec 4, 2010

    *its writers* Ack! No wonder I’m unpaid, right?

  154. So basically you just called your readers…which is ME, which is US….all CHILDREN. Nice Anna. Just because we don’t agree with you doesn’t make us idiots. Perhaps? JUST THE OPPOSITE.

  155. Dec 4, 2010

    EXACTLY what ZoeyJane said. Also, I’ve been a 00 and I’ve been a 14. You can’t judge a book by its current size.

  156. Dec 4, 2010

    See, I didn’t suspect it. The main reason being that I have yet to see brightly colored tights paired with contrasting jewel-toned maryjanes featured on Style Lush. Still, should have known better! Must remain ever vigilant.

  157. Dec 4, 2010

    That is icky. That is really icky for what is supposed to be such a well-respected magazine, or at least I thought it was, anyway. Given, I know nothing about that industry. I don’t understand how people can justify that. I don’t get it.

  158. Dec 4, 2010

    I believe everyone has to start somewhere. I believe that they should start on their own blogs, though, rather than help other people pay their mortgages.

  159. Dec 4, 2010

    I’ve added these, minus the Examiner, because I’m sticking to this one niche.

  160. Dec 4, 2010

    When people say things like “why is the form of payment your concern” or “you seem to be really just stirring sh$t up here,” Marcy, as the commenter to whom I was replying, directly, there did, yes, I do feel like I am responding to a child. For example, this is ostensibly a grown woman who is so precious she cannot actually bring herself to type out the word “shit” on a website that is not her own. Think about that for a moment. Really let it sink in. Think about the mentality at work there.

    I’m going to go ahead and stick with my original assessment, which was about the commenter above, and not you, and let you try to figure out why you are taking it personally.

  161. Dec 4, 2010

    Well, maybe they’ll send me a VIP Invite again? No? Probably too much to hope for, eh?

  162. Dec 4, 2010

    Thanks, I’ve added 5 Minutes for Mom. It sounds like you are getting something out of the writing for the blog, which is fine. But you’ve also figured out the downsides of working for blogs that don’t pay — the linksharing exchange with the badges, the way they lure you in by making you feel special, etc. It’s fine, it’s fine, yes, it’s all well and good and nobody’s getting hurt, except that they are in some cases. Not all cases. Just some.

  163. Dec 4, 2010

    Wait one goddamn second: what the hell is a 00? I’ve never even heard of such a thing. Now you’ve depressed me.

  164. Dec 4, 2010

    It’s called SUPER anorexic. I don’t recommend it.

  165. Heather
    Dec 5, 2010

    I am so “precious” I can’t write “shit” on your website? I apologize for trying to have a little class and respect while saying what I wanted to say. If that makes me a child then I stand by my assessment that you just like to stir shit up and call names.

    You are talking about grown women/men who made the choice to write for a blog, not the standards we use to feed society. Apples and oranges. It’s odd how you are very quick to call others out but when someone questions you and states their opinion all you do is call names. If responding to me is like talking to a child, reading you is like dealing with a “mean girl” from junior high.

    I stand by my statement that it is really none of your concern whether or not a blog pays their writers, just as it is not my concern whether or not you do CIO or co-sleep, eat meat or are a vegan, and it certainly is not my business to tell you where to write and for what fee. It is just not for you to set the rules for everyone. I think if you were truly interested in informing new bloggers you would have written a post directed at new bloggers, not a post directed at a handful of blogs you deem in the wrong. Better yet, if blogging is your business and you are truly outraged at this epidemic then why not use your energy to lobby Congress for blog reform. I’m sure they’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic.

  166. Lisa
    Dec 5, 2010

    The no pay bothers me less than little pay. I think it’s safe to assume if someone is writing for free, they are doing it because there is some other non-monetary benefit to them. They’re helping a friend, or it gives them a place to write about a subject they really enjoy. But the low pay thing bothers me — either have all volunteers, or pay everyone a decent wage. It seems like paying the worker bees pennies while the top dogs make the big bucks is The Great American Way.

    Maybe some writers would write for free, so the $5 a post isn’t a big deal, it’s just a little bonus they don’t even pay attention to. That’s fine for them personally, but now the market rate is $5 a post and the quality often reflects that low price. I’ve seen some horrible paid writing, full of typos, blatant misspellings, and bad grammar (we’re talking the basics, like plural vs. possessive).

    In my opinion, if people want to write for a community site for free because they believe in it or do it purely for enjoyment, that’s great. But if they are writing to get noticed, they need to ask for a decent wage. If the site isn’t willing to pay, then most likely it isn’t going to give the positive recognition that they want.

    An exec I know recently bought a Ferrari because his Maserati was “too big” to drive to work every day, while he’s paying the people that work on the manufacturing floor about $8 an hour. I know that life isn’t fair and all, but isn’t that a bit ridiculous? But, he can get away with this because it’s not a highly skilled job, if someone doesn’t like it and leaves, he could put just about any 18+ year old person in that position.

    Is that what we’re equating writing with now, working on an assembly line?

  167. Lisa
    Dec 5, 2010

    I always thought unpaid internships were more behind the scenes, learning the ropes kinds of things, not authoring content.

    I’ll admit to being too lazy to register to read that article, so this might have already been addressed — are unpaid internships even that common anymore? I thought that internships/co-op positions were generally paid.

  168. Dec 5, 2010

    I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. It would have saved us years of sleepless nights. My husband will simply change the name of his business from restaurant (where everyone gets paid but him) to blog (where no one gets paid but him).

    People can do whatever they want with their time, but when you don’t get paid to do it, it’s a hobby. And, really, when you can spend lots of time on a hobby, you must be in good shape financially. Because, since a hobby doesn’t bring in money, hobbies are only made possible by a well-earning spouse or unpaid “employees.” Either way, it’s a lucky person who can hobby for multiple sites.

  169. Nic
    Dec 5, 2010

    Wait, (in)courage (A site I do read on occasion) isn’t paid? It’s a corporate site. Not only is Dayspring a business, it’s a division of Hallmark. If those bloggers aren’t paid, it’s appalling.

  170. Dec 5, 2010

    The information that I have is that they *might* give free product on occasion but that there is no actual payment, no.

  171. Dec 5, 2010

    Heather, you are welcome to that opinion.

  172. Sevan
    Dec 5, 2010

    I love you – you’re a super-duper writer – you’re my best friend – you’re like my family – but I don’t want to pay you to write a post because I want to keep all the money for myself – you understand that, don’t you?

  173. Dec 6, 2010

    Don’t think I’m not tempted to post about this EXACT fashion pairing this week.

  174. Dec 6, 2010

    I don’t get what the big deal is. I mean, if I opened a bakery and every day I got paid for the cupcakes that my friends dropped off in the mornings when they took their kids to school, what’s the big deal? I make a living, and I (mostly) cover the cost of the ingredients that they buy so that they can keep dropping cupcakes off at my store so that I can sell their cupcakes and make some money? Sounds like a great way to build a business AND build friendships! Or at least a business.

  175. Dec 6, 2010

    Awesome post, Anna.

    I had to put this aside so that I could wait to read comments all at once and then of course I get here and there are a million.

    I’m a former journalist, so I’m particularly incensed by a lack of compensation. However, I’m also interested in the thought process for the non-payer and the non-payee. For the latter, is it a case of undervaluing one’s work or something else? For the non-paying editor/boss/owner, is it just stupidity?

  176. And some of their writers are millionaires and presumably don’t need the money. But I still don’t get it. Even Jackie Onassis took home a paycheck when she worked as an editor. And why not? Even if you don’t “need” the money, you earned it. Better to give it to charity than to other rich people!

  177. Dec 6, 2010

    i know angela addressed many points regarding blissfully domestic, but i thought i’d chime in for a moment too.

    as a writer, and now editor, at blissfully domestic i can attest that many of my posts have made well over $5. and they continue to pay into the future.

    the gig over there has introduced me to wonderful people and has also provided (well) paid opportunities that would not have otherwise come about. writing for these sites gives you some experience in learning different platforms (in my case i’d never used wordpress before), SEO and it gives you a portfolio of articles to point to that you (or at least i) would never have written on my personal site. i think of it as a great stepping stone. but as with most things, you get out what you put in.

    the pay isn’t amazing, but it’s NOT bad, and the better you get at writing articles that appeal to people (and search engines) the better paid you are. also – there’s no commitment. if you decide you don’t want to write any longer, you can walk away. and you still get 50% of the adsense revenue. no harm, no foul.

    as far as i know, no one’s promising riches. i ALWAYS tell my new writers this is NOT something you do as a job, it’s a learning tool and a stepping stone.

    i’m actually developing my own site with the same pay model… guess i won’t ask you to join me 😉

  178. Oh yeah. We Know Awesome is totally unpaid considering there are two owners with one additional writer, and we’ve made all of $0.09 since we “hired” our one writer.

    Awesome!

  179. Dec 6, 2010

    i want my money, bitch.

  180. You’re fired.

  181. Dec 6, 2010

    fuck.

  182. Dec 6, 2010

    Listen, ladies, in the words of Billie Jean, fair is fair. I had to include you guys. And don’t think I won’t come after you for your motorcycle-toting escorts, either, once you’re raking in the dough. Because I will, oh yes, I will.

  183. Oh, no. I think it’s HILARIOUS that WKA is even mentioned on anything like this, because it’s no where NEAR the reach or has a staff even close to those others mentioned.

    Anna, I shall give to you a 1/9 share of our income so far in exchange for your link. Look for that $0.01 check in the mail.

    heh…

  184. Dec 7, 2010

    I’m going to be honest here: I BECAME a blogger for the express purpose of exploiting everyone I know. Especially Angie and Mommy Named April. I’m taking my 9 cents and I’M RUNNING AWAY WITH IT. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  185. Dec 8, 2010

    I agree with you on a lot of this, and I understand the need for a bright line but seriously: Isn’t this just a sad sad picture when we’re having an argument over $5 per post?

    I actually get paid more than that for doing volunteer work (mileage).

  186. jessica
    Dec 11, 2010

    When Simple Mom launched Simple Homeschool their “job opening” page (or whatever it was called) stated that writers would not be paid, but they could offer exposure. I assumed the rest of the Simple Mom network worked the same way.

    When I worked as a model, briefly, there were sometimes jobs that didn’t pay anything but would get you in a magazine so you could have a tear sheet for your portfolio and therefore look more substantial when you went out on go-sees. These non-paying gigs remind me of that.

  187. Dec 13, 2010

    Interesting. I was going by the old model from when Simple Mom first started hiring staff writers — those positions were definitely paid, and they were paid more than $5 per post. I’m assuming that the homeschool thing is working differently from those columnist positions unless there has been some change with which I’m unfamiliar. (Though admittedly, I haven’t been paying a ton of attention to this.)

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