It seems Sheldon Cooper’s nemesis turned friend has stirred things up with his junk punch to HuffPo for not paying their contributors. Wil Wheaton of Next Generation/Stand by Me/Big Bang/proud nerd fame was miffed when an editor at HuffPo contacted him about re-publishing a post he wrote for his popular WIL WHEATON dot NET blog. The miffing wasn’t in response to their request. He miffed-out because they informed him that they couldn’t offer him payment for using his content. He refused and took to Twitter expressing his outrage.
Underpaid artists across the globe applauded his stance. Those of us who are trying to earn a living via creative endeavors shouldn’t be expected to work for free. We should be paid for our art, especially if we’re contacted by a company valued at $50 million to reproduce our work. That’s the royal “we’re” and “our.” HuffPo has not contacted me, and I doubt they will if they ever read this post because I agree that it is absolutely ridiculous that HuffPo doesn’t pay their contributors.
HuffPo wants you take the gamble that the exposure you receive by appearing on their very popular website will eventually translate into cash, and to be fair, I do know of a few authors who have received a bump in sales because of their work being published on HuffPo. The benefit is not guaranteed, but it is a tantalizing carrot on a stick for struggling writers to chase.
I am torn on the matter. On the one hand, Wil Wheaton is right. HuffPo should pay its contributors. They shouldn’t have a business model based on a free-workforce. For a liberal-leaning company, it is a terribly non-progressive and utterly disappointing policy. On the other hand, as a struggling writer, I would take the gamble. Wheaton is in the enviable position of having a large number of followers. He is a well-established brand that doesn’t need the exposure because he can generate his own.
Like it or not, HuffPo’s “exposure only payment” policy does have some value. It’s not completely ethical, but at the same time, it does have the potential to “next-level” a writer’s career. However, it’s a hit or miss proposition with no assurances that you’ll receive the golden ticket. I hope to one day be able to follow The Wil Wheaton Doctrine, but I simply can’t afford to pass up opportunities to gain mass exposure at this point in my career. So in case you’re wondering, HuffPo, you can republish this post.
Essentially, HuffPo views their entire website as advertising space. There’s the virtual real estate they charge actual money for, and then there’s the space they trade in exchange for content. In other words, they view contributors as advertisers getting free space. And, an argument could be made to support that philosophy. We live in a brand driven society. Brands are supported by exposure. HuffPo offers a lot of exposure. I don’t make the rules. That’s just the way it works. For me and the millions of writers like me that need exposure to make a living, it’s an arrangement we are forced to accept.
The strange dichotomy here is that Wil Wheaton gained even more exposure by taking on HuffPo’s nonpayment policy, not because of the policy, but because HuffPo is behind the policy. If he’d gone after the Super Duper Nerd Gazette for making him the same offer, no one would care.
IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE: I have had a couple of contributors for this blog over the years that I did not pay. As you can see, this blog is free of advertisements (with the exception of links to my books), so that’s where I make the distinction. If you’re a site generating direct income from outside vendors based on the number of unique visitors to an article or post, then you should pay that contributor for that work. I don’t care how much exposure you can offer a writer.