Wil Wheaton, a.k.a. Wesley Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation, lashed out at Huffington Post recently after the online news provider asked to reprint his blog article—for free!
See, many consider HuffPo as The Borg of online news sources because of its business model. Like most outfits, it pays for original and aggregate content. However, it has an unpaid blogging section. Rather than simply saying, "Thanks but no thanks," Wheaton waged war against this business model, tweeting, among other things, that writers and other content providers "...Deserve. Compensation. For. Your. Work."
Most of his followers tweeted in exuberant agreement, oft repeating the word "deserve" which, well, no. Nobody "deserves" to get paid for anything. If you want someone to give their money to you, you must provide something for which they want to. HuffPo says right up front it does not pay bloggers, at which point a blogger has every right to not write for HuffPo, or write in exchange for exposure—a concept which is being ferociously ridiculed by Wheaton and his Twitter followers.
"I wish I could cash in my exposure coupons," tweeted @soju_shots.
"Exposure is something people die from, not pay bills with," wrote @amahnke.
Yeah, OK, but exposure is not worthless either. Exposure is where it's at, actually. Soda drinkers must be exposed to Pepsi in order to know to buy it. Music fans must be exposed to the Rolling Stones in order to purchase tickets. And readers need to be exposed to your byline so they can buy your schwag. Yes, of course, exposure doesn't pay the rent per se, but sure as Worf don't like Wookiees, neither does obscurity.
Let's get real for a moment about working in the arts and entertainment fields. We want you to think we do it for some altruistic motive, that we have a special (retch) gift we must share with the world. The truth is, however, we mostly do it to get out of doing real work. We hate cubicles, we hate manual labor, we hate answering to bosses and so does most everybody else. That's why there are so many people trying to break into the arts, thereby increasing supply and reducing demand for artists. The sad truth is, unless a writer or musician or actor breaks into super fame status, their crafts aren't worth a whole lot, money-wise.
"...[Huffington Post] can absolutely afford to pay contributors," writes Wheaton on his blog. "The fact that it doesn't, and can get away with it, is distressing to me."
Get away with what, Wil? HuffPo is merely providing a space for writers to have an audience. If that's beneficial to you, then publish there. If not—then don't. It is disingenuous to say HuffPo doesn't pay contributors. It pays its staff—the writers, photographers, editors and graphic designers. Anyone who is an employee of Huffington Post is considered a contributor and gets paid. And these are the people who drive most of the traffic to the website, not the bloggers. In fact, it is very expensive to attract an audience and you can easily argue that the Huffington Post bloggers are "getting away" with not paying for that access.
It's called trade, Wil. That's all it is, just trade. HuffPo has determined that the effort and money it invests attracting readers to your article is equal in value to the effort and money you invested to write that article. The only thing left is to determine is if it's worth it to you.
Another word that was used by Wheaton, and oft repeated by his followers, was "period."
"...If you [create] something that an editor thinks is worth being published, you are worth being paid for it. Period" he wrote.
"Newbie writer or experienced, we all deserve to get paid, period," tweeted @FoxxyGlamKitty.
I hate that. As if "period" ends the discussion. Sorry FoxxyGlamKitty but you are wrong, period! Newbie writers typically don't have the chops, or fan base, to make paying them worthwhile, exclamation point. No magazine in its right mind would hire an unknown newbie with so many available experienced writers, period, exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point, and frowny face.
Wil Wheaton is a world-renowned actor with nearly three million Twitter followers. He doesn't need exposure and can afford to say, "period." But what if a struggling band who can't fill a 50-seater on Saturday night is asked to open for The Rolling Stones gratis? What if some newbie graphic designer running his company from his parent's basement was asked by Pepsi to redesign their logo—for free? Not to compare the exposure of blogging on HuffPo with that of a Pepsi logo, but the point is—it's not a period. It's a question mark. Exposure has a value and you just have to determine if it's enough, and the right kind, to make it worth your while.
So don't demonize HuffPo for not wanting to pay for your thing. Demonize yourself for not making a thing that is good enough for them to want to pay for it. Then do something about it. Or not. Your choice, as it always was.