Marketing Down a One-way Street Going Up

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I need a few fewer weekends that leave me feeling more spent than the work week. Once again we had a slew of plans, parties, and interruptions to what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend. Friday night was blessedly quiet. We watched old movies and fell asleep early. I think. I can’t remember. There was just too much going on this weekend.

We had his work party Saturday, so that meant I needed to figure out what to wear. I had the top — just needed the pants. Luckily I’d seen some on sale, so the trip to the mall was quick and planned out in advance. Then home to make hors oeuvres, and then off to the party.

Sunday was rough. Since we were out late Saturday night, that hour time change hit me like a hangover. I dragged my carcass out of bed at 8, missed church entirely, but did manage some liquid energy from Starbucks. Then he and I headed to a few open houses before heading to the city for our meditation group. There went Sunday.

The entire weekend, I was dogged by an article I’d read at I’m a long-time subscriber of the magazine, so it was shocking to see this particular piece, shared with me by Gabriella (thank you!), in which the writer, an Atlantic staffer, describes his reasons why he’s not paying writers much, if anything, for digital content. His brief “I get where you’re coming from” attempt at siding with working writers before yanking the rug out from under us was insulting given the context of the article. The article in summary: “We have budgets and we can’t pay you for as much content as we need.”

Boo f*cking hoo.

The author, Alexis Madrigal, tries to convince us, using numbers and what he says are current Internet strategies, why his publication just isn’t in the business of paying much for content, when in fact they’ve done so in print form since the genesis of their magazine. He uses emotional ploys of his own starving-artist phase to win us over. However, those of us who have starved and found our way through it beyond getting a 9-to-5 weren’t exactly convinced. Less convincing still is the same old, reworked, overused bullshit saying just how much exposure we’ll get for working for free, especially for the likes of The Atlantic.

Did he just say that?

Yes sir, you too can have 80,000 unique hits on an article. Know what that means? You can pay off your car, your electric bill, your taxes….. because you know, hits are like cash. Apparently. Why else would anyone think it’s such a superb deal?

What sucks most is that he thinks this digital exposure is going to lead us directly to wealth and notoriety. Tell me — if every publication out there adopts a HuffPo business philosophy of pillaging via “exposure” where exactly are the paid jobs we’re to attract going to come from?

There’s a gaping chasm in your philosophy, Mr. Madrigal. What’s more, you haven’t said why it is you haven’t made the same compromise.

Here’s the real problem with Madrigal’s thought process. Right now, it’s the freelance writers getting screwed out of payment. Maybe for him and his employers, that’s an acceptable trade-off — they get excellent writing and the writer gets “exposure.” However, it’s not going to take long before these same employers are going to see that hey, Madrigal’s pulling in a rather decent salary. Why are we paying him when we could just get these freelancers to do it for nothing?

Ouch. Wouldn’t that hurt?

As long as The Atlantic pays its print writers a decent wage, I’ll continue the subscription. However, I won’t be visiting their online site until their policies (and attitudes) change to one of fairness. If a writer provides a service, that writer should be paid a suitable fee for said service. Until there’s a return to decency, I won’t give them another click of my mouse.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Devon Ellington March 11, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Totally agree. I'm not a flasher, I don't need exposure. I'm a business professional, with skills that deserve a living wage, as does any skilled professional.

    I'm not going to view THE ATLANTIC's online content, and I have not renewed my subscription, either.

    It used to be both a prestigious publication and an ethical one. This non-payment is a serious breach of ethics, in my opinion.

    why should I be punished for both being good at my job and loving it?

  • Lori March 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    You're quoting me! I feel honored. 🙂

    Same reason I won't view it, and why I've never clicked on or read anything coming from Huffington Post. If you don't pay, I don't give you my time. Period.

  • Gabriella F. March 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I swear, Lori, this had me frustrated for days on end.

    I totally get why unethical publications do this: It saves them money. (Ethical publications don't do it because it's wrong to profit off others' unpaid talent.)

    However, as you and Andrew Sullivan pointed out on his blog, it's funny how only writers are being asked to work for free. It's not designers. It's not editors. It's not ad sales people. The critical team member who can make or break your success by connecting with the reader, that's the one you screw?

    On the flip side, I will never understand those who give their work for free. Never.

    Have writers learned nothing from the Arianna debacle? I mean, the woman sold a company built off free labor for more than $300 million, and people are STILL writing for that damn for-profit corporation for free. Stuns me.

    See, you got me going again. Perhaps I needed to be charged up. 🙂

  • Paula March 11, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Frankly, I have trouble taking anything seriously when it comes from someone defending the very same business model he said up front prevented him from "making it" at a writer.

    And if his bloated manifesto is any indicator of his writing skills, he must have lucked into his job. A better writer could have made his point in half as many words.

    When I severed ties with LatePayer I reminded them how important good writers are to their bottom line. Without writers the sales team has nothing to entice advertisers. Without writers there is nothing for subscribers to read. Without writers there is no publication – print or online.

  • Lori March 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Gabriella, thank you again for sending the link to me. I was stunned when I read it. NOT what I expected.

    It's been mentioned that the problem may stem from a glut of writers in the market thanks to newspapers closing their doors. Yes and no. The problem runs deeper than just an increase in freelancers. I would think the problem is in trying to curb the costs of two publication media — print and Internet. And I get that it's a problem. I don't get how it's my problem. Or your problem. Or any writer's problem. It should be a business problem that requires a rethinking of the business model, not of the pay scale. Yes, they could conceivably reduce the prices they pay, but there's a serious problem that runs deeper than what freelancers are being paid if the solution is to stop paying for freelance work. That indicates to me either someone who isn't running their business efficiently, or someone who is trying to get something for nothing. The former can be fixed. The latter should be thrashed.

    Paula, I didn't quite get why that made it okay, either. And I suspect there was a word count he was trying to make.

    You're so right — good writers add to the bottom line, not detract from it. I know their print issue is filled with talent that I go back for, and have renewed that subscription for three times now. Good writers are an investment, not an expenditure.

  • Paula March 11, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Maybe you need to write a letter to the editor of the print edition explaining why you renew that but avoid the website.

    Compliment with one hand, slap with the other.

  • Lori March 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Maybe I do, Paula. I think that's probably my next step.

  • Paula March 12, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    BTW – Don't you love how my comment about his lack of writing skills included a typo? Proves even good writers can benefit from good editors.

  • Lori March 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    LOL! I did not. But you're good to point out your own foibles. 🙂