Every writer loves to write, and most of them would love to make a living doing what they love. Few have the opportunity to do so, so we must settle on being satisfied seeing our work in print whether or not we are paid. And it is satisfying, particularly at the beginning. You feel validated. But now it seems everyone is a writer, or at least everyone has the ability to get their voice heard by a large audience. The prestige of being published has been diminished by blogs (such as the one I am writing), Twitter (to which I have an account), and other outlets for which the barriers to being published are much lower than say the New York Times or The American Political Science Review. Therefore, the validation that comes with being a published author has also diminished. So those of us seeking to be identified as successful writers can no longer distinguish ourselves by saying we are published authors but instead by how many followers we have or whether we receive payment for our services.
Because there are so many free outlets, those outlets that demand a fee from readers or rely on advertising dollars are finding it hard to make it and are therefore turning to those willing to do it for free in order to compete with others who are willing to do it for free. And, oh, how many of us are willing to accomodate, for there is still a hope that we will be recognized for our craft, or perhaps it is just our love for it. Writers are driving the market to a large extent because so many of us are willing to, or have no choice we think, but to do it for free (as I am) or for a nominal fee (only if I could secure even that). The first step to getting paid for our work is to demand it collectively. Doing that would be nearly impossible given that there seems to be no willingness on the part of writers to take the necessary steps. If everyone who ever writes were to demand a fee, no longer would free sites be able to remain free (except where there are large advertising dollars coming in) and there would be little choice for readers but to pay. Either that, or people just stop reading. Which is possible.
The second problem I see is--or perhaps third if we consider our willingess to do it for free even if we could organize as the first problem, victims of our love as it were--the lack of clarity on intellectual property laws and the seeming inability to enforce them given the obscurity of many publications. Much of my work has been reproduced, or cited, without my authorization or the authorization of my publishers. In some sense I am happy others are reproducing my work as it increases my exposure and when I am cited favorably it increases my prestige (which probably sounds more flattering than it is). Our writing is the product of our labor just as any tangible, physical object produced is the product of someone else's labor. Think of the anarchy, think of the lack of incentive to be a producer, if physical property rights were enforced with the same lack of vigor as intellectual property rights. But, in large part, this falls back on the writer. Do you really think I would demand reimbursement or file charges if some high-traffic (or even low-traffic) site or publication reproduced this blog entry? (Hint: I would do neither).
If we want payment for our work it starts with us. It is not an intractable problem but it does require writers to get the ball rolling.
Causes Kyle Scott Supports
North Carolina History Project , American Political Science Association