There’s a conference I want to go to in April. I spent an hour dreaming-and-surfing about what it would take to get me there. Between flights, accommodation and the cost of the conference, I would be looking at around $1200. If I wanted to make my blog a little prettier and update its very-amateurish-composition, a web company would be happy to help me refresh my look with quotes starting at $1000.
That’s a lot of cash for a gal who makes no money from writing. Writing is partially a hobby, and mostly a ministry for me. I write for joy and in service, and for now – that is plenty of reward for a vocational mama. However, making zero money as a writer helps me pay for zero miles towards a writers conference. Website updates and conferences are things that business people get to do, not hobbyists.
This is exactly the problem: writing is treated by the world at large as a service and a hobby, rather than a professional skill. Tim Kreider’s excellent piece in the New York Times last week “Slaves of the Internet Unite” lamented the pitiful situation where even decades into a writing career, writers are still promised “exposure” rather than actual compensation. Many, if not most, online publications do not pay contributors at all; and those that do rarely pay well. “Artist dies of exposure”, he ruefully comments.
In her thought provoking piece, “Recognizing a wordsmith’s worth” in Think Christian, Caryn Rivadeneira appeals to Christians to consider our response to this trend. She writes “Christians need to ask if James’ words about the cries of the unpaid workers reaching God’s ears apply to writers.”
“A workman deserves his wages,” said Jesus (1 Timothy 5:18). And writing is work.
However, we live in the “I want it for nothing” age. Why pay for a newspaper when you can read online? Why pay for the movies when you can stream them online? And so why then pay writers when there are others willing to craft words for free?
Which leads me to a crazy thought: what if there was some kind of “fair trade” stamp for online publications: something which indicated to readers that “this content was ethically sourced, and no writers were exploited or left malnourished as a result of producing these words?
Consumers will do what consumers will do. There is an increasingly ethically-minded group of coffee consumers who don’t want their perfect cuppa joe to be brewed on a slaves’ back, and they will pay extra money for a bag of coffee labelled as being “fair trade” sourced. Maybe there are readers out there who would value (monetarily) a website which values (monetarily) their writers.
It’s a crazy idea. I’m just throwing it out there. If you like the idea, would you give it some exposure and share it? And if you don’t like it – well, you got what you paid for.