"Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."
~ Red Smith
For professional writers*, the Internet is becoming a digital sweatshop. It's not uncommon for experienced writers to be asked to do their work "for the exposure" — a euphemism for "free." Most traditional publications now have two pay rates; if the rate is $1.50 a word for the printed version, the Web site is likely to pay $1.25, $1.00 or even less. Things are far worse at online companies where articles are known as "content"; there, the going rate is usually less than $0.10 per word.
Writer Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman), who has been writing for Wired and other national magazines for years, put it this way on Twitter: "We're all 22 year old interns again."
"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment."
~ Hart Crane
When publishers buy articles, what exactly are they paying for? Assuming they care about good writing, it's a lot more than words. The best writers draw on a lifetime of experience with words. They have learned not only the rules and craft of writing, but the art as well. They can use words the way composers use notes, forming them into phrases, sentences and paragraphs that pull readers along. They can make complex concepts simple, understandable and even interesting. They can deliver information painlessly and convince the reader entertainingly.
"Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them."
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
It's a strange paradox that a time when writers are arguably in greater demand than ever, their work is so little valued. But perhaps the problem is that so much of today's "content" is meaningless drivel commissioned to fill up space. And perhaps, also, many freelance writers lack the experience to do a professional job.
"All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath."
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
Divinipotent Daily would like to make this radical proposition to online publishers:
- Restrain yourselves. Stop piddling away reader interest and goodwill with articles about nothing that have been dashed off in 15 minutes by a desperate person earning $0.06 a word. Insist on content that provides actual value to your readers. And pay a professonal to write it properly.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
*Full disclosure: Divinipotent Daily is a professional writer.