This HuffPo writer is right. Not paying writers is not a business model. Or if it is, it’s not a sustainable model. She touches on many good points in this debate, namely that only those that can afford to write for free will do so, meaning that we’ll increasingly be hearing from the idle rich almost exclusively.
There’s a voguish notion going around, espoused vocally by Chris Anderson as he stumps for his book Free but also creeping into job listings for any number of online publications, that you write for free in order to make a name for yourself and to get your personal brand out there. Once you’ve got sixty posts under your belt at HuffPo, the idea goes, you can take your “clips” and go find a paying gig or pitch a book or get speaking engagements.
If you are a good enough writer, you can probably jumpstart a career this way (though if you’re good enough you probably didn’t need a jumpstart in the first place), but do not operate under illusion that when someone invites you to write regularly for free, you are anything more than a cog in their pageview-generating machine. Paying writers nothing is just a way to increase profit margin.
Certainly, times are tough and its hard to make a living wage as a writer these days, but if a place fancies itself a business, then it can afford to pay you something, maybe not much, but more than nothing.
If you can find no one to pay you to write, start your own website and write for free for yourself. You won’t feel like you’re getting ripped off, and any success you find will flow directly to you, not the pageview counters who cash the checks. The tools that let you showcase your own writing online are free, easy to use, and plentiful, so it’s worth putting out your shingle and seeing if anyone shows up.
(This item also appears alongside responses from Eve Batey and Richard Nash at The Rumpus.)