Writing for free, where others make profit, is wrong
Today, children, I will be using the first person form, something I wouldn’t normally do, in order to put you in your places. Also, I will be saying “I” to express most clearly my disgust at the little, tiny people that you are. I want you to know that it matters to me; that on my walk home this morning I was mouthing this argument to myself because I was furious.
“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and [sports writers.] But we won’t.”
The football blogging community [sic] has taken to working for free for major profit-making organisations. These include notionally left-leaning national newspapers – a quick note, only to expose one first layer of hypocrisy. Unpaid work now appears on various profit-making websites alongside paid work. The effect of this uncomfortable juxtaposition is, undeniably, the devaluing of labour – in this case, writing. Companies looking to make profit see that they can get content for free and, logically, stop paying people for it. Why would they not? Why hire one freelancer for money when you can have another for free?
It is in a profit-making organisation’s interests to lower the cost of labour. Don’t doubt this. By judging some blogger’s work good enough to appear on their websites, but avoiding paying for it, that is what these companies have done. They offer explanations involving semantically generous words like ‘openness’ and suggest that they are doing the bloggers a favour by letting them into the industry – but they have begun to cut jobs and pay people less. That is why these places are interested in bloggers. The race to the bottom is gathering pace.
And these big companies have so much power that the inherent unfairness of a blogger’s work being judged good enough to appear but not worth paying for is fine by the people being hurt by it. Convinced that working for free is their “way in” – amateurism becomes professionalism – by a myth about experience being the key CV filler, bloggers will give their work away for free. Two things are wrong with this. Firstly, if you are a free-freelancer-cum-blogger you help get rid of the paid freelancing jobs that you wish to get into – bad for the industry as a whole, and bad for you, because you want to join that industry. Secondly, and a smaller point: your CV might be improved in a minor way (or, on the other hand, not at all) by having a big name on it, but working for free, usually – as I, personally, have found out and had to rectify – leads to people asking for more free work, not suddenly offering money.
Even if you believe – and I do not, I think it is a lie – the words of editors that say free content will not reduce the amount of paid work, is it not wrong on a fundamental level to pay some and not others for the same thing?
I’ve written for free, for places that made profit, on three occasions. Each time, I hoped, and wasn’t exactly led away from the idea, that I would be paid. As soon as it became apparent that I wouldn’t be, I just stopped writing. That’s not taking the moral high ground; it’s looking after your own interests and the interests of every other writer/worker out there.
The group that is most wrong – most despicable – in this is the big profit making companies. They use terms like “opening up” but they are closing down writers, forcing them to make difficult decisions and force-feeding them misconceived notions of how to “get in”. They have all the power and they are abusing it with every turn. No money, they say? Two points: no money? Don’t ask for content then. No money? Don’t pay staff writers the kind of salaries that you would be ashamed to announce in public.
But when you put the worker in a difficult position, he still has a choice. If you believe that free work will further your career (which I have cast doubt on here already), then you choose to do it, knowing that it may well hurt others. This is not “just the way it is”, as many, many choose to put up as their main line of defence. When you play the writing for free game, don’t kid yourself, you are perpetuating it.
It was distressing to see many people on Twitter discussing this issue on Twitter, the social networking site that I have just banned myself from to prevent further illness. The consensus, a disgusting rag to be avoided whenever you see it because it is inherently flawed, was that “whether or not to write for free is a difficult issue, not black and white”. In fact, it is very black and white: if you write for free, whether it works to get you a job or not, you are choosing the selfish path; the one that ensures others will have to work for free also, and, as I have suggested with pure logic, the one that will eventually lose other people their jobs.
Those anti the bloggers who had chosen to work for free were attacked. “It’s their choice” and “I won’t be bullied,” one tweeter said to his friends. His words though, were based on a wilful misconception: the idea that one bloggers’ actions purely affect him or her. As I have explained, this isn’t true. It is not as simple as “your choice” – your choice directly and indirectly affects other people, limiting their choices. Some people are better able to work for free – they, or the people around them, have more money to spare. These are the people that bloggers’ choices are helping.
For making these points on Twitter, a place where everyone has a voice, so no-one will shut up, those involved were dismissed as “bullies”, “attention seekers,” “trying to be cool,” and “unrealistic,” amongst other things which were even less constructive. All of these, except perhaps the last, look to avoid direct contact with the issue at hand, which is cowardly. But more than that, they expose the extent of the ideological victory for the New Right: that those who wish for workers to be paid for their labour are called names by the very workers they are trying to defend.
Marx predicted that the proletariat would rise up if they were pushed too far. A survey of football bloggers says he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. So convinced that they are the special one that will make it as a big journalist, they’ll betray each other, despite their “community” every day – for a chance, or half a chance, or the idea of half a chance. We are the all singing, all dancing crap of the world; you are letting it happen.
A bullet point summary for the less able readers:
- This piece is about writing for free for companies that make profit. If you “write for fun” this is not about you, unless you start doing that on major sites.
- Writing for free makes it harder for you and others to write for money.
- Companies asking people to write for free are wrong in two ways: one, they make money from it and don’t share it. Two, they pay some and not others for what is the same thing in all but the semantic-dance Sean Ingle is playing with what is a commission and what is reproduction. People still pay for syndication, Sean, because everyone knows the ad revenue doesn’t just disappear because something has appeared somewhere else first.
- Some have said that this debate should be had at a later date, when we know if this was the start of writers being cut or not. That’s wrong. Even if not as a means to cuts – though I firmly believe this is, as I keep saying – the inherent unfairness of it is A Bad Thing. “Exposure” won’t buy food.
A lot of people won’t say these things because they still think that they have a chance at these big companies. Which is cowardly, we reckon. Does the fact that I have said it make me a hero? Or a martyr? You decide. No, wait, I will: yes, it makes me a martyr.
Do the people that attacked this website over Twitter even realise that they are the baddies? I hope they do.
Comments are off because I’m not well and bloggers fucked me off over this on Twitter.