I recently stumbled onto and observed an interesting online discussion about whether or not being asked to writer for free is “slavery” or not. This topic greatly appeals to me because I’m very much against writing for free. While equating free work with slavery is provocative on an absurd level, well, sometimes a writer — or at least the headline writer in this case — has to be that kind of provocative to get a discussion going.
Tim Krieder, whose article sparked the discussion, does make some good points about the valuing of “art” in the marketplace of the Internet. Where he goes wrong though is with this:
the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again.
That’s not true, as many people make their living creating “content” for the Internet. I’d say go ask Pat of the Smart Passive Income blog how he makes his living on the Internet, but you don’t have to ask since he tells you every month.
It’s not that the Internet is preventing people from making money from writing, it’s just that the means for writers to make money from it are changing. And when it comes to writing for free for other people, with exception, writers shouldn’t do it. But the first person a writer should absolutely not write for free for … is himself.
With the Internet, never before has it been so easy for a writer to make money from his craft directly, with little to no middlemen getting in the way and taking a percentage. Tim Krieder didn’t have to write an editorial for the New York Times. He could have written the same piece, posted it to a personal blog, stuck some ads next to it and made money that way. Interestingly enough, Krieder does have a personal blog, but doesn’t run ads on it, nor does he include affiliate links to his books that are on sale at Amazon.
Granted, his site probably doesn’t get the kind of traffic that the Times does to make running ads or affiliate links an economically positive consideration. The Times most likely paid him more money than he could make himself on his website, but that just means he’s not trying.
For the first few years I was producing “content” for the Internet, I considered my personal site — then called Bad Lit — as a hobby until I realized that I was just devaluing all the hard work I was putting into it. So, I started thinking about the site as a business and reformatted the site so that I could start making a couple bucks a month off of it. And one of the ways I needed to do that was to stop thinking like a writer.
One of the most well-trafficked pages on my site, now called the Underground Film Journal, is the Underground Film Festival List, where I simply list all of the avant-garde, experimental and cult film festivals around the world with submission deadline dates, entry fees and dates when the festivals run.
I do absolutely no creative writing for that page. I just maintain it by updating the deadline and screening dates. But, the page gets a ton of traffic and I just have to hope that visitors who land on that page from Google will become curious enough to click around and read a movie review or something else of mine that involves some actual writing. (Stats tell me they do.)
So, when I saw how popular my simple list was, I realized that what people want the most on the Internet is an information resource depository. Information on what to watch, what festivals to submit to, what things to buy, etc.
With that in mind, I ended up creating an entire Underground Film Resources section that includes lists of films, directors, film schools, books about underground film, theaters to screen at and, what I’m most proud of right now, a list of all underground films that are currently streaming on Amazon. Well, right now I’m pushing Amazon hard on my site visitors because of their affiliate program, but I realize that many visitors will want to know about other streaming options, which I’m planning on adding to that section.
Making these resource sections takes me away a lot from writing. Instead, I have to put on my designer’s hat, write my own HTML and CSS and just seriously think about what sorts of information that may be dry to produce, but that people might be looking for online.
Luckily, I find doing all that non-writing work fun, so I really don’t mind doing it, but I can understand how it can be a drag for people who just want to write. But, I don’t know if writers can afford to think that way online anymore.
(P.S. Please look to the right, because you should see an ad there.)