Harlan Ellison: Pay the Writer!

Wow. It’s wonderful how the Internet cycles topical content. Not being a sci-fi guy, I haven’t read much from Harlan Ellison. However, after watching his 2007 rant about the eroding value of professional writers (thank you Amir!), I’m a new (and big) fan. Imagine: Ellison spoke out against the assumption that writers should work for free FIVE YEARS AGO. I can tell you from experience, it’s > 5X worse now.

Here’s my favorite soundbyte, in which Ellison responds to a Warner Brothers executive asking to use his interview on their DVD for free:

She said, ‘Well it would be good publicity.’ I said Lady, tell it to someone a little older than you who has just fallen off the turnip truck. There is no publicity value in my interview being on your DVD. If you sell 2000 of them, it’ll be great. What are people gonna say? ‘I really like the way that guy gave that interview. I wonder if he’s ever written a book. I’ll go buy that book.’ There is no publicity value! The only value is if you put money in my hand. Cross my palm with silver, and you can use my interview.

PAY THE WRITER! Please take the 3:25 minutes to watch and consider Ellison’s point. Now, let’s apply it to me. If you send me a link to something you want me to put before my readership, you’re asking me to spend my time working for free, reading your content, checking out your about page, downloading your images, perhaps making my own images, maybe writing some questions for you to answer, and formulating my own words to say about all of it. You hope, by me doing this, that it will attract the attention of people who will give you money for what you’re selling. Essentially, I am the middleman for a financial transaction of which I get no cut.

"Fuck You. Pay Me!" by Charles Linder (spotted at ART-MRKT SF)
"Fuck You. Pay Me!" by Charles Linder (spotted at ART-MRKT SF)

As Ellison says, complicating matters is the abundance of amateur writers who are willing to write about your work in 30 second bursts while their bosses aren’t looking or from a netbook at the neighborhood Starbucks. In our little niche of the art world, if I pass on your content, you can just approach a dozen other blogs who will likely post your press release verbatim. As Frank Kozik says: “I love blogs. It’s free publicity.” He’s right of course. However, I’d suggest that you check your Google analytics and see where your hits and traffic are really coming from. Is the churnalism leading to sales?

Or do the bloggers who put in a little more time on original content, interviews and unboxing videos help you out more?

Journalism vs. PR protester found and submitted by Julie B.
Journalism vs. PR protester found and submitted by Julie B.

Many people understand this. You know who you are, and I thank you each and every time my postman brings me a letter or a parcel. “Exposure,” however, is really just a euphemism for “ain’t nothing gonna come of this”. As one of the YouTube commenters expressed on the Ellison video, “If banks accepted exposure, I wouldn’t mind working for exposure.” Amen!

If *I* approach *you* about a story, much of the above is not applicable. But if you find what I do for you to be helpful, there are many ways you could help me back. For instance, it takes a minute for you to “endorse” me on Twitter.

I also love and save all hand-written correspondence. Sometimes I scan and post them too.

Props from Sergey Safonov

And a tasty sandwich never hurts either.

Jeremyriad non-bento by Anna The Red

If *you* approach *me* about doing something for *you*, please have some consideration for my time. I don’t tend to go around asking people to paint me pictures for free. I wrote a breakdown of how my time adds up. If you’re not a writer or a blogger, it may be surprising. Please check it out here.

Or as Ellison says: “Everybody else may be an asshole, but I’m not. Do YOU get a paycheck? Does your boss get a paycheck?”

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