Recently, I shared a story about the perils of freelancing with my EN501: Advanced Professional Writing Students: A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist by Nate Thayer. What I wanted them to look at was not only Nate’s account of how he was asked to write a story “for exposure” by the Atlantic, but also the comments made after he posted on his blog. The story is old now, but the questions remain: What are we willing to pay for quality writing in this digital world?
My students then did a “free write” exercise in which they were asked to answer the question posted at the top of this post. Their answers were very thoughtful and I share them here:
B.J. Brown: Writing is a craft
I consider myself a willing, if modest supporter of the writing I consume. I pay for two newspaper subscriptions, for both print and online access. While I seldom buy books for myself, I often give books as gifts. I will pay in the neighborhood of $30 for a hardcover book, and I shop at independent booksellers whenever I can. I rely on my town library for my own reading; I support the library through my taxes and an annual donation. I also make an annual membership contribution to my local NPR station, which I consider another source of good writing. On the other hand, I don’t pay for the half-dozen podcasts I listen to regularly. I wonder if I’d check The Writer’s Almanac now and then if I had to pay 99 cents for a poem, even though I appreciate the introduction to writers I’d never have otherwise heard of.
Writing is a craft, even an art, and I believe artists and artisans should be paid for their work. Should writers calculate and charge an hourly living wage? Should they put their work out for auction? The first seems impossible and the second too subjective and fickle. I can’t imagine an alternative to the free market, but I do think that writers and artists should benefit more from the sale of their work than market middlemen. I also believe that good writing and art are public goods that merit public support. At the least, access through public libraries and museums, and teaching the arts through public education, should be generously funded.
I must admit that I get my news on the Internet for free. Twitter is my local, national and global news sources. However, the reporters delivering this news deserve compensation from their organizations(and the organizations deserve compensation from advertisements? Is that how it works?). I have purchased full albums from musical artists I really admire but I have also downloaded songs for free, justifying it to myself by saying that Justin Timberlake has already made enough money without my help. As for personal spending on writing, I’m a sucker for writing as an art form – short stories, novels, poetry, etc. I will spend money to support writers and own copies of their work. The last time I went into a Barnes & Nobel just to browse, I accidentally walked out with three paperbacks (The Circle by Dave Eggers, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo and The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling) and a receipt for about $65. I am aware that libraries exist but I enjoy filling my shelves with books that I can keep, write in and revise whenever I want. To me that is money well spent.
Nicole Jean Turner: Willing to pay what I hope to earn someday
What I would pay and what I hope to be paid for good writing are two different prices, which make me sit here and ponder why I feel this way. I suppose, if I can more means, I would be willing to pay what I expect to earn for/from good writing, but because of my tiny paychecks and negative student loan balance, currently I won’t pay much for good writing by choice. For example, The New Yorker. Even though I wanted to subscribe for a while now, I didn’t subscribe until recently when I found a link online to subscribe for free through a contest portal. The most I’ve ever spent on a book that wasn’t for school (I can’t think of a specific instance) but I think from $25 to $30 sounds about right. There are times I do go out of my way, such as collecting from eBay copies of old magazines that had short stories in them that I wanted. There is one book – Rage, by Richard Bachman – that I’m willing to spend a couple hundred on if I can find a copy. (Granted, I know I can buy a copy on eBay for $400 but I really don’t’ want to spend more than $200 on a book that won’t even get money to the author because it’s out of print.) But for the most part, I won’t pay for good writing if I can find a way not to, simply because I can’t afford it. If I had money, though, I’d be more than happy to buy more literary magazine subscriptions, etc.
Of course, good writing has monetary value. I believe the hours put forth in creating, researching, copy editing, and publishing must be compensated. But it’s not always easy to determine what that compensation should be. Enlightening nonfiction and fiction clearly is clearly worth more, especially when I compare it with the poor quality of the erroneous or sloppily written work online. I do believe the market demand determines so much of what we are willing to pay. For example, I was willing to buy Chris Bojhilian’s book on tape because I had a long car ride in front of me the next day with no Bluetooth connection. His audio book as entertainment for me in the car alone was priceless. I am willing to pay more for books, magazines, and news that I know will be quality work. I keep an online subscription to the Boston Globe and the New York Times because I find them the most credible. I grab magazines and journals more as entertainment for travel or when I have extra time in a waiting room. I believe having some price on these words keeps them more reliable and demands a better standard of creativity, prose and research.