Market Value and You

What I’m reading: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
What’s on the iPod: Fell by Scott Blasey

Yesterday was a day of new beginnings. Okay, they were small beginnings, but I managed to get some stuff lined up that will make March rock financially. Amen. I’m doing better this month, but the checks aren’t arriving fast enough. Isn’t that always the way?

I have yet to get to my article assignment. Though I have a few weeks to go, I like to have things squared away sooner on the new assignments. Gives editors time to ponder and make changes without racing to beat the deadline. Or gives them time to ignore it until the deadline and then race to make changes, which is the usual experience.

Had to deal with a banking issue. I never like hearing the words “Your account is past due” especially when it’s a business credit card. Worse, I’d paid it. But the bank, which will remain nameless, has managed to foul up the “easy” automated payment system to the point where I thought I was paying the correct bill, but was paying an account with no balance. Super. How did that happen when I chose the correct account? Beats me, but no one’s hearing that I was careful and that the problem may not have been on my side. From now on, they get checks. I’m done trying to work out the problems with their “easy” system.

Thanks to Yolander Prinzel for sending over this link about the sale of The Huffington Post to AOL for a cool $315 million as reported by the National Writers Union. Mind you, the NWU is calling for an organized revolt of sorts against such places and practices.

My question: Why now? Why not when these places were already grossly underpaying its writers, if they were paying them at all? It’s been years that content farms have been throwing crumbs at their writing masses, placating them with false accolades about how “valued” and “journalistic” they are. Where were the strong reactions from associations then?

There seems to be a reactive response from associations and the influential crowd in our profession that doesn’t sit well with me. First, how can you organize – or unionize – freelancers? Second, how effective will said organizing be if there are still writers out there willing to work for nothing or next to it? Not that the NWU doesn’t do its best to alleviate the issues by raising awareness, but I would much rather see a more unified attempt at educating writers as to their value.

If you’re a writer who has written for Huffington Post and you’re wondering where your share of the $315M is, consider this your alarm clock. Time to wake up and realize your writing has market value. I’ve been preaching it, as have untold numbers of professional writers. Selling your work for peanuts or giving it away is just stupid.

News flash: You aren’t simply a writer. You are a business owner. As such, you need to take care of that business. That includes setting your rates in line with your overall financial picture. What you earn pays your bills, your insurance, your retirement, your taxes, and if your lucky and have some left over, your savings account. To undervalue your business’s value is to undermine your career.

Writers, what do you think of the news?

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  • Cathy February 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I'm with you, Lori. The cartoon is kind of silly (and not in a funny way). How is Huffington any different than some other company that sells their business whose marketing department was comprised of freelancers that they paid mere pennies?

    It is about how those freelancers value their services. It is the same battle that retailers face with goods being made in China (or wherever) for pennies. There will probably always be a market for that cheap labor. The only one who can stop it for your business is you.

  • Gabriella F. February 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Agreed, Lori. All true and all sad.

    Funny, I saw this on The Daily Dish just this morning:

    I like they way they characterize content farm writers as people "with a passing knowledge."

  • Jake P February 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I look at it from the financial side: HuffPost, a company that was bringing in revenue on the order of $30M a year, isn't worth $315M ($300M of it in cash!) except in fantasyland. 10x revenues? Please.

    Moreover, if anyone might have a claim on a piece of the big bucks, it's the ad salespeople. Sorry, HuffPo writers, you're an expense, not a revenue source. Ariana made a killing, but in the end I suspect AOL shareholders are going to rue the day. The CEO buying $10M the other day is a ruse.

    That NWU link made me laugh, but not in the way they intended. It is asinine that they position this as writers being "conned." I'm so darn tired of people who think of themselves as slaves or serfs who are at the mercy of Big Mean Companies. Get over it, or get a staff job. /rant

  • Lori February 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Cathy, I think the frustration for me will always be that writers take these jobs. They're better than that (and if they're not, the world will let them know soon enough). The idea of "Oh my gawd! I'm published in Huffington Post!" is irrelevant if there's no money attached. You've volunteered to help strangers earn obscene amounts of money and forget your name altogether when they cash the check.

    Gabriella, that's HILARIOUS!!! I'll never view a PB&J in the same way. 🙂

    Jeez, Jake – why don't you come out of your shell and tell us how you really feel? LOL I too hate the "victim" mentality. Worse, I hate the phrase "But there's nothing else out there! Why won't you writers tell me where to find work?"

    Nails on chalkboard.

  • Jake P February 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Sorry for the "Serenity Now!" moment, apparently getting pre-wound up to rant at Jake's Take 🙂 There's a similar conversation going on over at EFA, and the whining is epic from several parties — the same ones who think that the (laughable, IMHO) NWU "Bill of Rights" is some sort of magic cloak of invincibility. (Good luck with that.)

    And Gabriella's link is a piece of inspired beauty!

  • Wendy February 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    How can you not be moved by those who take the time to educate others on things like pouring milk? There are people,out there who had to live their life not knowing it. It's a tragedy and we should be doing more to help them. LOL! Okay, the link Gabriella provided is funny.

    As far as the Huffington post deal, I don't really know what to say. But, I think you're right, they should spend more time focusing on building self-worth or something like that.

  • Cathy February 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Jake-EXACTLY 🙂

  • Lori February 17, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Jake, don't you dare apologize! I'm loving it. On the NWU Bill of Rights – great idea, totally no impact whatsoever on the status quo. There are people who, no matter how much you try to educate them, will never get the message.

    Wendy, if it weren't for content like that, I'd never know how to tie my shoes. LOL

  • Jenn Mattern February 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Well Lori, you know how I feel about it. 😉

    I'm honestly sick of these associations stepping in and making a fuss when something's big news. Either stay on top of the industry and be the ones leading the discussions or stay the hell out of it and let freelancers act like the responsible independent business owners they're supposed to be. Why is it they only seem so turn up either A) when it will bring them their own attention or B) to make ridiculous claims that do more to hurt freelancers than help them (like the ridiculous attempt one of them made a while back to say freelancers should standardize their rates). I'm all for community groups of like-minded folks getting together. I'm less for people who try to step into a role traditionally for employees — something freelancers should be doing everything in their power to separate themselves from.

  • Lori February 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Jenn, I do know how you feel. 🙂 Likewise. I get a little weary of reactive responses by these so-called "champions" who claim to be protecting our interests. You want to protect my interests? Do so from the start, not at the end. And tell me how I can better myself so that crud like this doesn't happen. Don't send up a rallying cry when all is said and done.

    Writers need education and resources to better themselves, not outrage that does nothing more than stir up an empty pot.

  • Jenn Mattern February 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    It's more stirring up a sense of entitlement. The reality is simple — if you can't convey your value and get paid accordingly, then you're not entitled to anything after the fact. Your job as a freelance professional is to sell your work. If you can't do that, you're not cut out for this game. I also think it's interesting that they don't seem to ask actual writers how they feel about the situation (unless I missed it). Not all people who contribute to publications for free (online or off) are professional writers trying to sell that service. It's an extremely common PR tactic in other professions to offer your articles for free if you think it will help sell books, your professional services, etc. And it works extremely well. But as writers we sometimes lose sight of valid work if it doesn't fall in line with our own goals. That's not to say it's ok for companies to actively seek freelance writers, hoping to pay them pennies or nothing at all. And I'm not saying HuffPo necessarily fits in that group for all contributors. But when organizations come out like this not considering things beyond the freelance side, it reeks of ignorance more than anything else.

  • Lori February 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Can I just bottle you? :)) Amen.

    True enough on contributed work, Jenn. I've worked for clients in the past where I've written articles to contribute. The client pays me, not the publication. "Expert" opinion is often given for free. It's free publicity.

  • Anne Wayman February 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Yikes Lori, I missed this post of yours… shame on me for not paying attention.

    I didn't write for Huffington but I'll bet many of the folks who did did so because it was a place where progressive voices could be heard. I know as a progressive it's hard for me to not think they sold out… we'll know one way or the other eventually… altho' I don't have a whole lot of confidence in aol surviving… but that's another story.

    NWU has done some decent negotiating for writers and been effective – helping with grievances, copyright issues, etc. I join them from time-to-time because I believe in the idea of unions.

  • Ron – Copywriting Blog March 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Here's what I think about it:

    Market Value | Writing

    Check it out. I even trackback'ed you.