By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City
While power is at the tip of our fingers in this awesome digital age, the writer in the internet, ironically, still remains a pauper.
Although a writer’s value in the industry is key to the industry’s life (for every writer, there are 30 other industry players and workers who earn from her/his writing output, including editors, lay-out artists, actors, and marketing personnel), she/he is generally paid low or none at all when writing for the internet.
In New York and in many parts of the US, a writer is paid about ten cents per word or $50-$100 for a 500-word story. Most of these fees are arbitrarily determined.
This financial anemia for writers is a stark contrast to the robust accessibility of the public to information. At the outset, because most of the information is free and highly accessible, fees for writers, sadly, have become all time low.
How this can be resolved has to confront a myriad of issues concerning the publishers, writer’s name and experience, as well as, advertisers and sponsors.
At noon time on Saturday of October 19, four freelance writers in the auspices of the National Writers Union in mid-Manhattan ignited the discussion on the low wages prevailing in the internet.
“New York on Ten Cents a Word?” was a panel discussion led by David Hill, and composed of Sarah Jaffe, James O’Brien, David Roth, and Maggie Serota of the 3rd Annual Writers Conference of the NWU-New York Chapter with the theme “Writing Success in the Digital Age.” More than 40 writers from the East Coast attended this year’s conference.
Maggie Serota, co-host of the music podcast Low Times and contributor for The Onion and Philadelphia Weekly, told the audience that she has “never felt safe as writer.”
“I have not made a living from writing. I had other jobs to pay for my bills. Papers are just folding everywhere, and with that I had also lost my writer’s fees in several cases,” she said.
The three other panelists shared their huge challenges of losing their jobs as writers and how they managed to keep afloat through other sources of income, particularly when local publications were folding up at the height of the 2007 recession.
To be Published For Free
In These Times magazine staff writer Sarah Jaffe noted that there are writers who are willing to write for free, just to be published. As a fresh graduate, Sarah said she preferred to not be paid or be paid lowly for $50-75 per article because she is building her name as a journalist.
She however noted that there are still publishers who are capable of paying writers decently, and these are the stable media institutions who choose to pay the more experienced writer.
Stability for Newly-Opened Media Groups
James O’Brien (an independent writer and author of the Dos and Don’ts of Full-time Freelancing) and David Roth (co-founder of The Classical, a Kickstarter-funded sports website) noted that with the advent of writers becoming publishers themselves in the internet, it became financially burdensome to create a more steady income for these newly established media groups, which much show capability to pay for their writers.
Someone from the audience however, aptly said that instead of becoming an apologist for publishers, free lance writers must instead organize themselves and define the standard fees for internet articles. “Ten cents per word is truly ridiculous,” she said.
The four panelists concurred to the suggestion of defining standards for internet articles. O’Brien particularly expressed optimism that emerging publishers will eventually create ways to earn through the internet, making their media outlets capable to paying writers decently.