Writing for free, MediaBistro, the Doug Rushkoff test, splitting revenue with bloggers, and Nick Denton was right (ok,I said it)

Just got an email regarding a press story on the micro-controversy at MediaBistro over them asking for people to write for free. Thought I woud share my response to the writer who pinged me.


It’s absolutely fine for ES/Media Bistro to ask people to work for free for the byline value.

This whole micro-controversy is based on the fact that MB is banging the drum of getting writers paid while at the same time asking people to work for free. Obviously from the comments some folks in the MB community feel that MB is asking people for membership money at the same time as they are asking them to writer for free. It’s sort of feels Tom Sawyer-ish (i.e. painting the fence) to some I guess.

However, it is really more a case of gotcha-journalism.

Everyone is look to catch someone being hypocritical. I don’t think it is hypocritical at all. People who are getting paid big money freelancing for Conde Nast don’t need to take the gig, but there are other folks who might very much appreciate the exposure created by a MB clip for their folder. Maybe some folks don’t remember what it’s like to have no clips? It sucks to have no clips and try to find freelance work. An MB clip might get you a DailyCandy clip, which might get you a Daily News clip, which might get you a New York Magazine clip, etc.

Writers tend to have two modes when they write:

1. They writer for the paycheck.
2. They write because they love the publication, editor, topic, and/or exposure, and the money is secondary.

Doug Rushkoff used to write for Silicon Alley Reporter for a fraction of his fee. He didn’t invoice us for like a year at one point, and I had to force him to take the check for 10 columns at the end of the year so we could settle our accounting up!

Doug didn’t need the money, he did it because we were friend, and we would go to the Knicks games together and have these three hour discussions about the world. He knew I really respected his opinion, and I think he liked the exposure to the “in crowd” at the time. He loved being affiliated with the magazine and what we were doing, and we loved having someone so high-profile in the magazine. He got speaking gigs and consulting gigs based on the affiliation and everyone was happy.

People do a lot of writing based on the affiliation payoff, or for the good that comes from their words. Why do people spend hours on Amazon reviews? Why do people slave away at the Wikipedia? Not for money obviously.

If no one takes Elizabeth up on her offer, well, then she has to pay folks. However, there is nothing wrong with her making that offer.

Being affiliated with respected brands is very important, and always will be. In fact, as the number of blogs grows from four to forty million over the next five years it will be even more important for full-time writers to differentiate themselves with clips. I know I look at clips from certain
publications as a big plus when we hire bloggers, of course their blog writing is equally important.

So, writers should make their own call on these issues. If they want to work for free sometimes that is ok. If they don’t, that’s ok too. now, I can tell you it is hardif not impossibleto build a business on writers working for free. If you want to have long-term value it is much easier to pay writers so you can have their attention on a consistant basis. That is why we are paying bloggers now. Our revenue split model works, but you get more attention from writers when you pay them a specific fee for a specific amount of work. It’s much easier. So, Nick was somewhat correct when he said people wouldn’t want to do the split. Some do of course, but more like the steady paycheck. Live and learn!

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