Why You Shouldn’t Write for Peanuts

Yesterday, the New York Times released a summary of how its digital subscription strategy is working. It’s good news.

  • 390,000 digital subscribers overall.
  • Growth rate of 20% fourth quarter over third quarter.

“It’s a strong indication that some readers will indeed pay for digital news access,” wrote Ken Doctor on Newsonomics.

As a writer, and a freelancer, I feel as if I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. For the past decade, the question of whether people valued quality “content” seemed to be up in the air. In the volume-driven game of the Internet, we were in a race to the bottom. How bad, how shoddy, could the words and the images be before readers turned up their noses?

An increasing number of newspapers are adopting pay walls. In October, an article in The Economist, citing the online publication PaidContent, said more than 100 newspapers had erected pay walls. I’m sorry that it took us content-providers this long to stand up for ourselves, but I’m glad that we finally are.

I’ve been standing up more for myself and other writers in pay negotiations, lately, too. When the work one of my jobs was asking me to do consistently work than could reasonably be done in the time we’d agreed, I went back and got a 30% bump.

In helping another writer negotiate a ghostwriting deal, I went in very high with the first number. I didn’t expect to get that large a contract, but one thing I’ve learned over the years from the business people I write about is that they respect people who value themselves highly. That can only play to your advantage as you negotiate.

It is something of a truism in the technology world that people will pay for convenience. I believe that people were always willing to pay for good information, clearly presented. It’s just that we weren’t presenting it to them in a convenient-enough format. Technology–the new kinds of pay walls–is finally allowing us to do that.

There’s a been a hue-and-cry lately about the way that amateur photographers are moving into spaces dominated by professionals. Upload your stuff to Wikimedia commons; your picture, too, may one day end up on the home page of Time magazine, which no longer needs to pay a photographer for the content. The amateur is happy with any payment at all for the photo; the professional trying to make a living wage is out of luck.

That will sound familiar to us writers, who have been suffering pay-scale comparisons to amateur bloggers for a decade now. But there are signs in this corner of the content universe, at least, that things are turning around.

Have you noticed an increasing willingness to pay for good writing? Tell us in the comment area. 


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