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literature & technology: should writers be paid for being published online?

A debate which has been brewing for a long time flared up again recently: should writers expect to be paid for writing for publication on the internet? Online publications Mamamia and The Hoopla recently published pieces on why they don’t pay writers (Mamamia) and why they do (The Hoopla). The Mamamia article in particular seems to have caused quite a stir. Editor Mia Freedman argues that while they have about thirty staff members, including some full-time and part-time staff writers, who are paid for their work, the online magazine does not pay for freelance contributions. These writers instead receive exposure for their work and the honour of being published by Mamamia. There is nothing wrong with this, to a certain point. So long as it has been made clear to the writer that they will not receive monetary payment for their work, and the writer is okay with that, there should be no problem.

However, writing in the digital age is not a lesser craft than writing for print media. The same skills, and then some, are required to write for online platforms. Just because anyone is able to publish something they have written online, on personal blogs, and because most online content is free for readers, does not mean the writers should not be compensated for their work.

Lip does not pay their writers. Or their editors, or subeditors, or any of the other people who work hard to keep not only the online magazine running, but to get Lip into print. One of the reasons for this is because Lip stopped receiving funding a few years back and the magazine is slowly trying to get itself back on its feet, online and in print. Lip makes it clear to their writers that, unfortunately, they are not in a position to pay their writers. Yet so many of us choose to write and work for Lip. According to some of the comments underneath the Mamamia article, this shouldn’t be the case. We, as writers, should have more integrity than that and only work for markets which are paying.

Most writers I know aren’t in it for the money. They would love to be able to earn a living from their writing, but first and foremost, they write because they have something to say and they want people to read and engage with what they have to say. I write for Lip because I want to support a magazine which I believe in. I write for Lip because I enjoy reading and writing about what I read, and Lip has given me the opportunity to do just that. I write for Lip because it means the articles I write have an audience. No, I don’t get paid in money for my work. But I feel like I get paid in other ways: I am a contributor for a wonderful women’s magazine; I discover books I never would have otherwise when I get sent books for review; I get to work with lovely people and, at the end of the day, I am doing what I love: writing.

Even so, there is a very fine line. I write for Lip, and will continue to write for Lip, because I love every minute of it, and, even though I’m not paid in money, I feel like the other benefits outweigh that. It is up to a writer’s discretion to decide if they will take on a project which offers no monetary payment. For some writers, the thrill of seeing their name on a published article for the very first time could be payment enough. For writers still feeling their way in the industry, it could be accepting work which feels like a step forwards and something to add to their portfolio. Because, let’s be honest, who is going to pay a writer with no previous experience? For seasoned writers, it could be contributing to a magazine like Lip, or Mamamia, because they feel like they have something important they need to write about and one of these online magazines provides a perfect opportunity.

If the publication can find the means, they should definitely pay their writers. Their writers’ words are valuable and an integral part of the publication. But at the same time, these online, independent platforms where writers can write honestly and with integrity are an important part of online media. Writers should not immediately disregard non-paying markets. If they look around and give it a shot, they might just be surprised at what non-monetary rewards come their way.

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5 thoughts on “literature & technology: should writers be paid for being published online?

  1. My problem with Mamamia is that out of those 30 “staff” 12 are unpaid interns. That’ (and not paying your contributors) is not okay when you do receive advertising revenue and a huge hit rate.
    The peach wrote a great article on the issue and their intention to begin paying more writers as soon as its financially viable.
    I write for free myself, provided its about something I’m passionate about, which is the case for many young writers. We also write commercially in order to make ends meet (around fiction, casual work, studying, etc)

  2. I agree that Mamamia is exploitative, given that site is profitable. It is also next to impossible to get anything I would regard as feminist posted there. Freedman exploits readers as much as she exploits writers.

  3. Mammamia is a bit of contradiction – on the one hand Mia Freedman knows that her online publication is popular and profitable enough that writing for it would increase a writer’s profile and be a good addition to their resume, yet at the same time they’re not popular and profitable enough to pay those writers!?

  4. Pingback: Literature &Technology: what’s it really worth? | Books | Lip Magazine

  5. I think this attitude is pretty naive. There are a lot of writers out there with many years’ experience writing for print and online who write to make a living. For those people, they are looking for work where they are going to be paid for their writing. Writing for free doesn’t help pay the rent, and if you offer your services for free, you value them at $0.

    This is damaging because firstly, you are creating the impression that writing is not real ‘work’. This is a dangerous attitude and encourages exploitation across the board.

    Secondly, you’re undercutting writers who actually value their work at more than $0, who now won’t be able to find work because you’ve agreed to do that job for free.

    How can we encourage a creative arts culture where no money is changing hands? Why is it expected that writers will work for free? You certainly wouldn’t ask a doctor, plumber, painter, nurse to work for free. At least not 95% of the time.

    If you value your writing at $0, work for free. But try to work for yourself instead of undercutting professionals who wish to be paid for their work, who have studied and gathered many years of experience – and don’t deserve to give their hard work away for free.

    No offence meant to Lip or the author, I just wanted to point out that it’s a bigger issue than just personal preference.

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