The Free Labor Economy Pt. 1

There are many political aspects to this conversation topic, but for this post I’m only going to cover the free labor economy and how you as a writer get victimized by it. Most of you aren’t even aware you have been victimized or you have been condition to accept such things as “the way it is.” Yes, there are many politicians seeking to abolish the minimum wage completely, but, you as a writer already work in a field where the minimum wage does not exist.

NPR has had a few shows discussing the free labor economy and exploitation of content creators, hopefully they will continue to have shows speaking on this topic. The last one I heard was about someone taking music/songs from obscure artists and creating music videos for them then placing them on his You-tube channel. The musician/artists was thrilled that someone created a beautiful music video and that video had thousands of likes. Somewhere in the piece one of the people involved stated “there was no money changing hands” and that is where the discussion got interesting. The reporter pointed out that You-tube certainly sold advertising around that content and that the channel “owner” probably received money via one of the revenue sharing programs. This was NOT a collaboration sharing in the spoils.

Writers are either unwittingly or willingly victimized in the same fashion. Oh you have all heard of those content factories paying pennies per hundred words if and only if you put ALL of the click-bate SEO terms in the article as many times as they request for each. I have even heard of some which don’t pay. Instead they offer revenue sharing if and only if your article achieves X click-thrus. Problem is they keep track of the metrics and you can only hope they are extremely honest about it.

There are more subtle forms happening with wanton abandon on the various social media platforms. You join a group on a topic on Linked-In, FaceBook, etc. You enjoy the exchange of ideas and discussions, yet, your content is being used to sell advertising or encourage some to “upgrade” to paid subscriptions and other services being sold. There aren’t even pennies per word being offered to you.

Don’t fall into that “building your brand” myth. If you joined a writers group and you are a writer, respect of all your peers in that group isn’t going to sell one copy of your book, unless it happens to be one of the thousands of books on writing and even then it is iffy. If you are going there to learn, fine, just remember you are writing and not getting paid for it so minimize your education time. You will learn more about the act of writing by finishing your work and sending it out for professional editing than you ever will listening to other writers tell you how they do it. Every writing process is as unique as the writer using it. Even when following some kind of cheat sheet we all do it differently.

Having said all of that, you can learn a great deal about the business of writing from such a group or this blog. About avoiding Amazon at all costs, scheduling print runs, asking for print quotes, putting together an ad campaign. etc. Make no mistake, if you intend to make your career in writing, either now or in the future, you need to invest in it just like any other career. One cannot be an auto mechanic without both tools and skills. Those things cost both time and money.

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