The story so far:
As you recall, when I last left you I was meditating about whether I should join the band of brothers, the distinguished 9,475,342 writers who have already elected to write for nothing. It is a form of mental gymnastics called bloggerobics, performed by writers at their desks or at play, consisting of repeating the mantra: to blog or not to blog.
I am sitting here today in my admirable Ghandi-like abstinence mode, wearing a bed sheet, preparing for a life as a blogger-in- residence. Bed sheets reduce the clothing budget, should I take that fork in the road.
My position without a blog at this late date is a source of embarrassment. Everybody who is anybody was doing blogs. Why not you? There is still room on The Internet for yet another one, a recent survey revealed.
Not since the invention of moveable type by Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg in Strasbourg in 1440 has there been such wild enthusiasm for a contribution to human thought. And I am still sitting here like a bump on a blog, immobile, unable to share in the fun of not getting paid.
Tell us, Mahatma Kitman, whither thou goest?
As if wasn’t bad enough that in these confessions I have been exposing myself to public humiliation by revealing that I had once been guilty of writing for free all those marvelous blogs (what an ugly word) for HuffPo in its early days, and the discovery that only as many as three people have been reading the series, outside of my immediate family, and one of them only because he mistook the address of a porn site—and now my wife is complaining that I sound so cranky while having a conversation with myself whether I should add to the global epidemic of blogorrhea? What’s not to be cranky about?
I was describing a serious shortcoming in the economics of writing today, examining the plight of migrant writers employed in slave colonies called websites, a byproduct of so-called progress in the evolution of communication, supported by the new Sweatlords of the Press (with apologies to Gilbert Seldes).
It was a perhaps a bit harsh to say Millionairess Arianna Huffington’s business plan reminded me of the Pharaoh’s method of building the Pyramids. But at least I didn’t invoke the image of “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” work sites, which also didn’t offer free health insurance and other benefits.
“Wise up, Mahatma Kitman, one of the many sympathy notes I have received about my revelations regarding modern writing conditions. “Nobody pays for anything on The Internet, except porn, stock tips and sports.” (Name withheld because he was not authorized to comment publicly).
“I am sorry you are not getting paid,” another condolence note from Mortone said. “On the other hand, no one is paying me to read you.”
“What are you-- a communist?” asked another whose name is being withheld to protect the guilty.
I must sound in these essays like a hopeless romantic clinging to the notion that writers should be paid. It’s so 20th century! But it is a comfort to realize that my experience is not a case of Marvinkitman Exceptionalism. Other dissident cranks have come forward with their stories. One at random is the case of Ira Berkow, Pulitzer Prize winning sports reporter and columnist for the New York Times (1981-2007), author of 18 books, including an Edgar Alan Poe Award for non-fiction.
“Two or three years ago,” Berkow recalled, “a vice president in charge of communications (or some such) at AOL asked to see me about writing for its website. I thought it couldn’t hurt to meet with him. Who knows what untold riches awaited me? The Veep was a young guy who had gone to Harvard and majored in technology of some sort. Someone had suggested me to him, and I had the sense he had never read anything I’d ever written. After a brief chat about backgrounds, he said he’d like me to write for the web site. I said, What do you pay? He said, We like the Huffington Post system. I said, The Huffington Post doesn’t pay. He said, Yes, we like that system. I said, I don’t. And I quoted our favorite 18th Century author regarding blockheads. I left with a handshake and never heard from him again.” (He actually said ‘Huffington Post paradigm,’ putting what I’m sure he thought a glossier face on it).”
Ira and I and all the other whiners are being too kind in our dissents. Let’s be blunter. What these web sites are doing is a crime. They are thieves.
To be fair, Arianna is only the most successful of the parasites that live by stealing the work of writers. Kitman’s law states: As soon as somebody figures out a way to steal without getting caught, others will do it.
Arianna, for one, doesn’t think she is guilty. She says she believes that her giving full exposure to a piece of writing compensates for lack of money in the transaction. Exposure minus compensation in her book is of equal value.
“That is not true,” explains former Author’s Guild president Nick Taylor. “ If anything the right to put your work on the site exceeds the value of compensation for it with exposure. She has the right to believe she is not taking advantage of writers, but it’s a lie.”
Say you are lucky enough to have something published, so to speak, on HuffPo, and you are not paid. As if that wasn’t enough good fortune, the aggregators take a spin at the same wheel.
Aggregators are web sites that don’t bother to pay for original material. Why should they when they can pick up from The Internet without cost written works from more popular web sites that haven’t paid the writer and then embellish the honor further by reprinting it without payment?
Among the biggest aggregators, we find that boon to the writing community, Huff Po. It fills in the holes in its opinionator pages with material from other web sites without payment. Other worse offenders are Google News, Yahoo News and for politics, The Hill. Google adds lagniappe to the laurel of having your work stolen by making it available through its search engine everywhere in the known Universe, and on other planets, for all we know.
The all-new, improved Digital Age information system works like clockwork for everybody except, let me look at my notes here, the writers.
Old-fashioned old fogey print medium is not ignoring these trends in the economics of writing. There was a day, for example, when magazines were known to pay free-lancers for their work. Recently, this employment notice was posted under “Jobs-Freelance Writers – Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism ( journalism.berkeley.edu):
“We’re looking for an experienced writer with a background in feature articles to write profiles and feature articles (ranging from 100-3,000 words). The ideal candidate has a solid publication record from outlets such as National Geographic, Outside Magazine, New York Times, Smithsonian and travel and in –flight publications.
It just goes to show it’s hard to keep a good idea down.
We are living in a culture of theft, as Nick Taylor calls it. And it’s spreading. Already photographers and artists are on the endangered species list. Up and down the creative workers food chain, purveyors are hurrying to get with the program. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Scott Turow, Authors Guild president, details how book writers are being hoodwinked in the brave new world of e-book publishing...
The Internet robber baron policy should make even fat cat book writers’ teeth chatter. But this is another story.
It’s no fun not being paid, but I also have trouble listening to all that twaddle about the good plantation owners like Arianna have done by breaking the MSM monopoly on opinion mongering, providing a new on-ramp permissive entrance policy, while the toll booth robs the writers blind.
Some of the victims of this con game can be philosophic. I admire their stoicism. “I console myself with the thought that even if Charles Dickens had written every one of his serialized novels for nothing,” Twitter novelist Bob Blechman consoles me. “He’d still be dead today. Also F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
But I digress. The purpose of this essay was to give the second reason why I might be hesitant about jumping on the blogger steamroller that is making it possible for writers selling their work at such bargain basement prices. I see that I’ve run out of space.
Suffice it to say, the second reason is actually worse than the first. See if you don’t agree in the next thrilling chapter of “Throw Another Blog on the Fire.”
To be continued