Free Content: It’s All in the Wording

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Every time we talk about writing for free, there’s outrage. Writers from all over the web chime in to discuss whether or not one should pay dues by writing for free and most agree that unless it’s for a meganame magazine or charity, the other party is taking advantage by trading content for exposure.

Enter blogging.

After blogging took off, many bloggers – me included – began guest blogging for the bigger name probloggers. I also put out calls for guest bloggers here. I had a contest called FWJ Idol where each week bloggers competed for a job here at FWJ. I chose the FWJ Idol route so the members of this community could choose the next blogger. I also had a guest blogger month to celebrate our 3rd anniversary. Well known and not so well known bloggers contributed writing for this event. My goal for this was to give lesser known members of the community a chance to be heard. Both times I was called out privately and publicly for requesting free content.

I thought about it a lot. It bugged me. I stopped asking for guest blog posts and now everyone who contributes is paid.

If you follow me on Twitter you know I have daily discussions about the people who ask for free content for websites and newspapers. No one is happy about the requests for free work. How dare they ask for free content! How dare they not pay writers! How dare they! This isn’t publicity, this is taking advantage!

So I blogged about it a few days ago: Guest Blog Posts: Free Content or Good P.R. In my post I wondered if guest blogging was the new write for exposure scam. After posting, something interesting happened; hardly anyone agreed with me. Very few people saw guest blog posts as “free content.”

So now I’m confused.

What makes it OK to work for free in one place, but not another? Why can’t I write for this guy’s popular website for low pay, but I can write for a professional blogger’s popular blog for free? Why is a content mill paying $15 an article – with byline – a bad idea, but a free guest post is golden?

Discuss…

Comments

  1. As you know from experience, writers can be very vocally opposed to free gigs. It’s a natural reaction to a marketplace that is all too happy to profit off of their hard work without offering anything in return.

    That said, I think guest posts are a totally different playing field, because of their SEO value. If you’ve built a good site (which you have) and give blog post authors bylines and links, then I don’t see any problem in asking for free guest posts because you’re offering something in return.

    You may not find any takers, but I don’t think it’s wrong to put the opportunity out there.

  2. We’re in the middle of a radical restructuring of what constitutes economic value.

    More simply put: most writing is simply information, and information has almost no value at all. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

    People that hoard information will be rendered irrelevant by Google & friends.

    People that hoard information about competitive tactics in, say, marketing, will be put to it by their competitors giving away for free what used to cost a lot of money.

    When everyone has the same access to all the information, what then? When everyone can publish for pennies (thank you WordPress!), what then for professional writers?

    I don’t know.

    But I suspect we’re all going to find out pretty soon, because people just can’t work for free, not in the long term.

    Just to clear, I spent 15 years learning some pretty amazing programming skills (c, c++, etc), none of which are worth more than $15-$20/hr in general. Being a specialist on a particular system is still lucrative… just as being a copy writer specializing in the diet industry is still lucrative.

    We live in interesting times.

  3. Tania Mara says:

    Why is a content mill paying $15 an article – with byline – a bad idea, but a free guest post is golden?

    Honestly, I don’t get it. Especially when I see so many famous bloggers out there who are making tons of money but still won’t pay you a cent if you write for them.

    The other day I saw a blogger stating that anyone who doesn’t understand the importance of guest blogging is a “complete moron.” Well, I’m certainly not a “complete moron,” as I do understand there are times when guest blogging might lead to more freelance writing work. Yet, I still believe certain bloggers abuse their guest posters. It seems I’m just a “partial moron” after all. :P

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