Mar 6, 2013

Reports of media's death may be exaggerated

So The Atlantic screwed the pooch again, asking freelancer Nate Thayer to work for free. And now staff at the once-venerable magazine are rushing forward with all the usual excuses and lashings of self-pity over the state of publishing. This bears almost no resemblance with reality as I experience it, day to day, making a living as an independent journalist.

I have web-only clients paying $1+ a word and my print outlets top out at $3. Amid all the handwringing, I -- and a dozen other salty veterans I know -- had record profits in 2011. The previous year, 193 new magazines launched, according to Mediafinder, offsetting 176 closures, including the much-loved Gourmet. How exactly do these numbers crunch into the Death Of The Literary World all the headlines keep screaming about? Or is the hysteria just a convenient way to keep suckering new talent into taking peanut pay?

Yes, the turbulence is scary, and very talented people and publications are still struggling out there, which breaks my heart. But some outlets are finding ways to support professional authors with grace. I hope The Atlantic finds a way to number among them.
Times they are a'changing. Keep calm and carry on.


  1. I suspect you're right, but I also suspect that there's a further nuance to explore. Ten years ago, the world of business and marketing writing ( a area that I am personally quite familiar with) had distinct striations of pay for writers of different skill sets, experience and even, ahem, schmoozability. Who ya know, y'know?

    Today, it's very different. While a few writers (my entirely ballpark estimate is ~20%) continue to command excellent pay scales, many writers are being marginalized by the merciless push to get content - fresh, repurposed, blatantly re-published or even stolen - out on the Web.

    This is not too different from what's happening in the job market in general. In the more general market, there are still a number of people who continue to make good livings, perhaps - today - even better livings than they've made before.

    But the majority of workers are experiencing difficulty in finding gigs, getting paid a reasonable wage, and then keeping the gig! They compete with offshored job markets, a deliberative turndown of hiring by organizations who see more profit in maintaining low hiring profiles and a large number of people looking for the same job.

    So while I agree with you that the death of the media may very well be exaggerated, I suggest that in the throes of its morphing into whatever-it's-going-to-become, many people are finding themselves in competition with offshore writers at pennies a word (or article!), sites with largely regurgitated content and no requirement for excellence, and editors who are looking at budgets and thinking "maybe they will work for additional exposure".

    It's a tough and changing market and your last paragraph resonates "the turbulence is scary" - it is!! - and ". . .some outlets are finding ways to support professional authors with grace." - they are, but I suspect it may perhaps be more that they've figured out how to market themselves in different ways that actually require professional writers!

  2. Stick to your guns, Amanda!

    Your stuff is worth reading. That's your job.

    If it's worth reading, it's worth being paid to write it. That's the publishers' job.

    1. Cheers, Russell! Last time I looked, 1-2% of most publications' budgets went to editorial salaries and content creation. Where does the rest of the cash go?

      I'm with Wonkette. "someone should conduct actual analysis on WHY this is happening and who, exactly, is making all the money, given that so many people are working for free (or sorry, for “exposure” or “experience”) at the same time that so many companies are posting record profits."


  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Jeffrey. I agree that these are evolution (not death) throes. At the same time, Google's changed its algorithm to discourage article spinners and content farms, and many companies that outsourced, crowdsourced or repurposed stories from partners are scrabbling for more original bespoke material from professionals now. So hopefully the pendulum is swinging back to a healthier, happier place for all of us writerly types*. Fingers crossed!

    *And I do mean all writerly types, as I've seen my students landing more -- and better paid -- gigs, not just salty veterans!