Monday, August 24, 2009


On the Fence

Picture this. Two houses. Big yards. A picket fence between them, a fence with no gate.You live in the house on the right. It’s old and comfy but getting past its prime. Could use a coat of paint, the roof leaks, chimney needs re-pointing. There might be termites.The house on the left looks sounder, smarter, more modern, more… now. Though it’s hard to say for sure; the view is partially obscured by the picket fence, and across that big yard, it’s all a bit hazy.

To get a clearer view, you hoist yourself up on the fence. As you try to make out the details of the new house, you stand precariously balanced on those pointy pickets. You can feel the points sticking through the soles of your shoes.
That’s where writers stand today, wobbling precariously on the fence. And we’re hardly alone. Publishers are up too, along with television producers, sales reps and a slew of photographers elbowing each other as they try to get a clear shot with their new digital cameras.

Behind us all stands our old, familiar home, a lovely late-Gutenenbergian design that has served us so well for lo these many years.But it isn't holding up so well now. Like the Deacon’s One-Hoss Shay, all at once, it’s falling apart. It may soon be uninhabitable. The obvious solution is to move next door. But that’s not so easy.

Look at those photographers. They once made a pretty decent living, in part because they were much better than writers at holding the line on pricing their work; in part because professional photography was a skill that required expensive equipment and years to master.
Today, photography has crossed the digital divide. Everyman can shoot publishable pix; everywoman can afford the camera that can take them. As a result, prices for stock photography have plummeted.
Next to the shooters, trying desperately to balance on their pickets, the publishers are in as tough a spot or worse. Their former advertisers are crying, “We want digital! We want digital!” But when the publishers take their magazine or paper online, then the advertisers say, “But we don’t want to pay for it!”And when writers write online, now it’s the publishers’ turn to say, “But we don’t want to pay for it.”
A few weeks ago a big travel website asked me to write a guide to San Francisco for their site. They figured it was a bit more than a month’s work. I figured closer to three. But either way, the pay was 400 American dollars.I asked if they'd inadvertently left out a zero or two.
That’s the last I heard from ‘em.

Last week, writer and Writers Lifeguard Jenn Weede passed this to me:

Internet Brands, Inc. is searching for writers for our pet websites, including, a leading provider of pet health content that helps pet owners understand diseases, disorders, and health maintenance requirements of their animals.Previous experience writing for animal publications is desired. Experience/expertise with pet-related subject matter is a must. The compensation is a flat rate with a word range and can differ with each content order. What we've typically seen come across: 400-600 words (long article) for $10. Short (150-250 words) for $4 and medium length is in between.Please contact Stacey at for more information.

Turns our photography isn't the only former profession that’s been relegated to the amateurs. Got computer? Got spellcheck? The Internet awaits. No charge. No pay, either.
I've said it before; I’ll say it again. I don’t blame Stacey or TravelDoofus or Conrad Black for making these awful offers.
I blame the writers who accept them. No matter how badly we want to get into that new house, it’s bad precedent to go in starving, in rags and on our knees.I said no. Jenn said no. We’ll find a way in the front door.
Standing up.


Virginia Winder said...

How right you are. People think that being a freelancer is some sort of nice hobby. Maybe it's that word "free" that confuses people. Perhaps we could be called paidlancers.

jules said...

You might be right, Virginia. Think I'll use that as my sign-off when I'm negotiating.

Incidentally, the response I've had from other writers indicates that We Are Not Alone. They all tell the same, sad story.

Some day, this will get sorted out. Let's ensure writers are part of the sorting process.