Monday, February 28, 2011

The "F" word

OK, it's probably not the one you're thinking of. The one I'm thinking of is "FREE." Do you write for free?

Why is writing so undervalued? Is it a supply and demand issue? Too many writers, an endless supply of cool stuff to write about? Maybe that’s part of it. Or a business model that places a premium on advertising, and fills in the empty space around the ads with, oh yeah, information.

Early in my career, I did freelance work for a local publication and earned $25 per article. I would usually do two or three articles a week, normally covering evening school board or city council meetings after working a full-time day job.

Since I had Saturday deadlines, every Friday night, usually while watching “Miami Vice,” on the little TV in the bedroom, I would put my notes and my portable Smith-Corona typewriter on a card table and write until I was finished. On Saturday, I would turn in my articles and get my check from the previous week. Some checks were for $50, and some for $75. I would take those checks to the grocery store and buy my groceries for the week.

A couple of years ago I asked someone what that same publication paid for freelance articles. The answer was “$25.” I was surprised, to say the least. I think both Sonny Crockett and I can attest to the fact that $25 went a lot further then than it does today. I question why writers are making less, when everything else in the world costs more.

I don’t understand why it happened, but the business model for most information comes from an inexpensive distribution of information that sold advertising to cover costs. So the advertising covers the cost of the information, which in turn, can devalue the information.

As writers, we need to value our work. If we don’t value it, then who will?


  1. Mary,
    This is certainly true. I cancelled my subscription to Reader's Digest when the ads out-numbered the articles. I used to get paid for Suburban Journal articles and essays, but those days are gone too. One after another, the places which we can submit to are folding. It is sad. We as writers must value our work, but in a climate with stiff competition we have to be realistic, which does not mean write for free, unless it is a literary magazine.

  2. Sad but true. I write for lit mags for free, but know their budgets depend on free labor. It's a choice I make, even though I don't like it!