Over the weekend, about a dozen friends sent me a link to an article in the Times. In this front page article in the Week in Review, a writer complains about being approached by editors to write for free in exchange for “exposure.” I guess I’ve been bitching a lot lately about the lousy money in freelance writing.
I’m perfectly willing to make crap money for my work. Because of family demands, I know that I’m not an ideal worker. I have to work around parent-teacher conferences and dentist appointments. But when the money went from crap to crappier in the past few months, I decided to rethink my efforts.
Why is the pay for words so terrible and getting more terrible?
You, consumers of information, are in the golden age. The Atlantic, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, the Daily Beast (which is wobbling, but still alive), Forbes, Business Insider, Bloomberg, the New York Times, Huff Post all have thousands of original articles and blog posts every day. And a good number of those articles are well-written, thoughtful, and informative. If you miss an article, you can go to Twitter and Facebook to see what’s the topic du jour.
There are more writers then ever before. The writers aren’t just people who write “writer” down on their IRS form. The writers are professors who have decided that they want to be public intellectuals, public policy directors who want more attention for their pet project, and even suburban housewives whose family demands have curtailed other career options. These intruders have other sources of income and happily exchange their words for influence.
The problem isn’t the demand. It’s the supply. There are too many venues, too many writers, all dividing up the little pool of money from advertisers. Paid subscribers are as quaint as my Dire Straits album.
In some ways, it’s a good time to write. There are dozens of venues for me to write about parenting or politics or education policy or whatever I choose. These editors are looking for good content to fill their quota. They never know which article will go viral, so they will take a shot on anybody, even middle aged women writing in the basement of a suburban split level.
I excel at working in prestigious fields that pay little money. Hello, Adjunct Professor salaries! I have endless bragging rights at my high school reunions, but my social security statements are embarassing. I think I need rehab.