Thursday, 21 July 2011

Writing for free: experience or exploitation?

This was going to be a blog entry criticising a particular indie music magazine. One that doesn't, and has never, paid any of its writers. But then something happened that gave me a change of heart. First of all though, allow me to explain some of the background.

At the start the full-time editorial staff of this magazine, which you can find at WH Smith and 'all good newsagents', were earning next to nothing and had to fund themselves through other jobs. So if they weren't in a position to pay themselves, they certainly wouldn't be able to pay anyone else. With this in mind, I happily kept writing for the magazine, content in the knowledge that they needed to increase their brand and circulation etc.

But as the big company ads from companies like Top Man, Firetrap and L'Oreal pushed the front cover and contents page further and further apart and the sponsorship deals, branding stages at festivals and an endless stream of gigs and club nights, increased, I became certain that they must now have some money coming in. I asked repeatedly when writers were going to be paid but as those requests for payment were met with, 'Not yet', I realised I was now being taken for a ride.

What the magazine's owners were relying on was the fact that there would always be a pool of up and coming, inexperienced music journalists that they could draw upon; writers that would write for pride and prestige and to increase their portfolio rather than for money (see the recent UK launch of the Huffington Post for a vaguely similar scenario). As a start-up magazine, this was acceptable but as a successful, ad-filled, glossy and, it must be said, well-respected and recognised publication, I felt their business model was built purely upon exploitation so I stopped writing for them.

But while this blog entry was going to be an acerbic rant against the magazine in question – who I must add are not alone in filling their pages with unpaid copy from hard-working journalists – I realised that perhaps they weren't that bad after all.

So, why the change of heart? I'll explain tomorrow.

Originally posted on on 21 July 2011.

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