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.]
(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.