I tend not to write for free either, however….

Over at Vox there’s the now standard piece about being asked to write for free. Dammit, it’s a piece of work, people try to make their living doing this, what the hell do you mean you don’t pay?

Yeah, yeah, supply, demand, exposure all that.

And yes, I make my living doing this and no, I don’t write for free (well, not very often at least. I did 400 words for the NYT just to be able to say I’d been in the NYT for example). Actually, I often refuse to go on the radio if they don’t offer to pay.

However, back to writing, my style is terrible by American standards, where they’re very keen on absolutely precise grammar and all that. And I wouldn’t know a grammar if it came up and gave me a blow job. But I do have a certain style: may be a good one, may be a bad one, but there is one (and yes, I do get sick with envy at, in the UK at present, Owen, Boris, Rod Liddle, it’s not the what but the how is instantly recognisable).

Now read this piece by the writer who doesn’t get paid very much very often. And recall this has been through US newspaper style editing.

Yes, I’m a bitch, but….

26 thoughts on “I tend not to write for free either, however….”

  1. Supply and demand, unfortunately. If people will supply for free, competitors who want to make a living are in a difficult position.

  2. I get paid to write software; I also write Free Software for free, and have done for decades. The free software generates paid work; the paid work is often to add to or fix existing Free Software, or it just funds whatever Free Software I feel like writing next.

    There’s no point whining about it, neither is going to vanish any time soon.

  3. Bloke in Wales is dead right: all sorts of people write for free, because it isn’t their source of income, or it is advertising for their free source of income. Take academics – many of whom write badly – but they do it for free, or because they are paid via another means for doing it (e.g. condition of the job, prerequisite for a research grant, etc). Nowt wrong with that.

    Also nowt wrong with writing for money.

  4. Rachel Scotland/BiW,

    There’s also what I call “byproduct writing”. I write about the odd thing that I do that falls out of my work, or something in the news related. It’s a sort of PR for me and really, costs next to nothing to do – 20 minutes on my way home on the train etc.

    The harsh reality is that supply has gone from small to enormous. Someone can buy a graphic card and tweet about how good it is, or write a blog post, or an Amazon review, and there’s a journalist out of business that used to do reviews of graphics cards. Sorry, there’s the long line of jobs that we killed off from hand knitters to whittlers and buggy whip makers.

  5. I’ve written stuff for free but that wasn’t taking the bread out of the mouth of upper-middle-class Indian girls – the stuff wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t written it. So her rant about those who write for free is not universally correct.

  6. It’s desperately boring and dull. Didn’t bother finishing the piece because life’s too short. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys, as they used to say; pay nothing and you get, well, HuffPo.

  7. Certainly her writing style is desperately dull – I didn’t make it to the end of the article.

    Fundamentally, to be paid as a writer you have find people who are willing to pay for your work. And people will only pay for your work if it’s directly a good read or if it attracts advert clicks. If you can’t attract one or both of those groups in sufficient numbers then you shouldn’t expect to make a living from writing

  8. “It’s desperately boring and dull. Didn’t bother finishing the piece because life’s too short”

    Came to the same conclusion…

  9. @ Tim
    Sorry – like the last three I gave up so assumed there might be a clue further on and only commented on the bit which attacked me personally.

  10. “It’s desperately boring and dull. Didn’t bother finishing the piece because life’s too short”

    “Came to the same conclusion…”

    TL;DR, nothing of interest to keep my attention. Boring, repetitive, rambling.

    In fact, rather like El Reg these days: cloud, flash, storage, copy&paste theconversation, cloud, flash, storage, Labour MP’s party political broadcast, cloud, flash, storage, copy&paste outlaw.com, cloud, flash, storage….

    Plus a dearth of former informed educational commentards and continuing decline:

  11. People write for all kinds of reasons. Some people write novels, and of those, there are a few who make big money, some who do OK, and a large number of people who don’t sell many books and can barely scrape a living, if that.

    That’s not what Ms. Nair does. She’s an activist and freelance “commentator”. She, presumably, writes because she considers her opinions to be important, and correct. The world, however, is packed full of people who believe in the correctness and importance of their opinions, as demonstrated by the vast array of blogs, web forums and the like.

    People want to communicate. They want to talk, and write, and make their opinions known. We’re a social species with a healthy streak of arrogance – it’s what humans do.

    Ms. Nair has decided that she wants to be paid for something that many people give away for free, and thinks that just because she’s decided that, she’s somehow entitled to it. Unfortunately for her, the quality of what she’s trying to sell isn’t any greater than that of the stuff other people give away.

    She’s complaining that she can’t make a living as a prostitute at an orgy.

  12. I’ve just realised that I read for free.
    It can be hard work -all those strange words- and not a laugh in sight usually.
    Come now – if you want readers – pay up.

  13. Bart: Are you making any money?
    Krusty: Nah, that guy is giving it away for free.
    (Krusty points to the Old Jewish Man)
    Old Jewish Man: (singing and shuffling with his pants down) This old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be…

  14. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “Supply and demand, unfortunately. If people will supply for free, competitors who want to make a living are in a difficult position.”

    You would think that is true, but it isn’t all the time. After all, like many other men, I would happily give Ms Sharapova a rub down after her tennis practice. Many many other men. But I think that she may prefer to hire someone who is paid a lot.

    However writing is a sign of a narcissistic personality disorder. It is like exposing yourself to pretty girls but for educated people. Of course people have no right to expect to be paid for it. They should count themselves lucky they aren’t locked up or put on some Offenders’ Register.

  15. There’s nothing wrong with the writing style which is anodyne but unexceptionable.

    It’s the content that leaves quite a lot to be desired and like many others here, I gave up after a few paras.

    The author had nothing new to say and would have been better not saying it.

  16. SMFS, nearly thirty years ago, as a teenager competitive swimmer, I was participating in a thing at Crystal Palace – around the time Sharon Davies made her comeback. I vividly recall seeing her in a fluorescent pink swimsuit receiving a rub-down by the side of the pool.

    The weight of teenaged testosterone padding up and down that part of the building sounded like an army of outsized centipedes in flip-flops.

    But I reminisce…

  17. SMFS,

    “You would think that is true, but it isn’t all the time. After all, like many other men, I would happily give Ms Sharapova a rub down after her tennis practice. Many many other men. But I think that she may prefer to hire someone who is paid a lot.”

    Yes, but we’re talking about different degrees of quality between a 30 year old multimillionaire and a 50 year old bloke in Croydon.

    I still buy some writing. I’ve bought books on current events. I buy some software development books. Carefully written, well-researched books. But when I see things like the Times paywall, I have to laugh. I mean, seriously, you expect people to pay for this level of writing? Some yummy mummy in Kensington banging out a piece about status anxiety over children’s birthday parties? I can read dozens of those on blogger for free.

    I think the problem with these people is that there’s a transition going on – published writing used to be paid for by default, but as they’re now published writers, therefore they should get paid, right? Except there’s now a gazillion publishing outlets rather than a few dozen.

    I really don’t understand why people get so pissy about “we want it for nothing”. I’ve had people call me up about doing work for free (with some “you’ll make money from promotion” bullshit) and my simple answer is “haha sod off”. That’s the deal they want. That’s not a deal I’m going to entertain. They’re welcome to ask, as long as they don’t waste too much of my time. Frankly, I’m far less pissed off about that than people who talked about a price, had me go and see them and then talked about an unacceptable price after I’d spent money.

  18. hmm.. Made the effort to grind through the whole piece, but madame still has to explain *why* she should be paid for her literal diarhhea.. Other than her self-entitlement, of course.

    I have always loved to read the memoirs and editorials of the (science) fantasy greats, especially the ones form the pulp age, and one thing that consistently comes up in those is the slush pile, and how much hard work it is to actually get paid for writing “words”, be it fiction or non-fiction.
    And that was in the Golden Age of publishing…
    Nowadays with the Intarwebs, publishing is the easy bit and simply does not present any bar or hindrance to prevent the slush spilling into “print”. Especially when it comes to Opinion. And it shows..

    With the warnings and admonitions of the Ancient Ones in mind, you can say that the lady in question is competing in a field where what you write, and how well you write isn’t important, at all..
    The determining factor for payment in her section of the market is who you know, and how relevant/famous/flavour du jour you are to the people that want your scribblings. Which amounts to nothing much, which explains her received word-rate.

    The same, incidentally, goes for the people trying to leverage the “exposure” angle for freebies…
    If you write well, you will get read. And Google does a pretty good job in analysing Things, so your “market” can nowadays find you pretty readily with a relative small amount of effort.
    Any “exposure” should then be well beyond anything the internet itself offers, given that your primary “market” will have most likely found you if you done things right.
    So that leaves either payment or bragging rights if people want your scribblings.
    And there’s not that many formal outlets who can claim to provide the bragging rights.

  19. Well it’s not solely supply and demand is it? Because like SMFS incisively pointed out, these employers are asking people who are well known to do the work, not just any old person who can use a keyboard and the internet. It’s an old story in that linked piece but HuffPo asked Wil Wheaton to write for them because he’s the Wil Wheaton.

    Same with an acquaintance who is well known in the film poster design world. Companies with big marketing budgets call him and ask him to work for free. Usual bullshit, we can’t afford it, you’ll get exposure. And he has a name – which is after all why you are calling him, it’s not like he’s calling you begging for work or a foot in the door.

    I really don’t understand why people get so pissy about “we want it for nothing”.

    It’s the bullshit like “we can’t pay,” “you’ll get exposure,” “we’re doing you a favour.” They’re trying it on because they often get away with it (and why spend if you don’t have to). But we are also ‘training’ people to expect people to work for free. Seriously, some people are even surprised, almost insulted, when my acquaintances politely turn them down. Like, “Why wouldn’t you want to make us better off without getting anything in return?”

    Surely it’s not an entirely alien thought process.

  20. As someone that is currently writing for free I fail to see the point. I know that there are millions of people out there that can write just as well or better than I can.

    The question is why do I bother providing content for websites, like this blog, without anything in return?

    The answer is I write for free because I might not be able to do my current job in a month thanks to health concerns. Since showing up to a physical location is difficult I am planning for a possible future. From what I’ve learned I will not be able to make an income based solely on my writing. There I am trying to fill a perceived gap in the market. The gap I see is an overabundance of well written informative articles. Once I better understand how to communicate with modern readers I can look to set up means of production to fill the niche I am targeting.

    Tim I hope you’ve enjoyed the free content. If anyone wants to pay me to write something let me know. If you don’t care to pay for my words feel free to let me know what I’m doing wrong.

  21. Liberal Yank

    I think you’ve been a welcome addition to the many commentators, both the good and the bad (the former much outweigh the latter here!) – sadly am not in a position to pay you a cent but please keep commenting…

  22. The Meissen Bison
    There’s nothing wrong with the writing style which is anodyne but unexceptionable.

    Which is the point, surely. The American style of editing, particularly for newspapers and other mainstream periodicals, produces exactly that type of anodyne and unexceptional writing. After a while, nearly all writers will deliver that output in order to get published. If there’s nothing to distinguish individual style between hundreds or thousands of authors, then the writing becomes a commodity, which drives the price down, which is what that piece is complaining about.

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