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Is Blogging "Giving It Away For Free"?

Hi all, today's post is about blogging, media, and the freelance market. Since it was pretty long in typewritten format, I decided to record it; listen up, and then leave me a comment about what you think!
(The transcript is available below, and it includes links to some things I mention)

[EDIT: The audio player does not seem to be working, so here is a link to the post itself if you want to listen]

Check out some more of my writing and stories, including one I read aloud: Pressing the Record Button.
You may also be interested in some of my other opinion pieces, including What Blogging has Taught Me, Single Sex Education for Women and Girls, and Discrimination and Mixed Metaphors.

Is Blogging "Giving It Away For Free"?
This question came up during a workshop at Write-o-Rama this Saturday: is blogging devaluing the freelance market by "giving [content] away for free"? When a writing workshop geared towards creative exploration escalates into a heated debate, it's pretty impossible to sit on the sidelines. Indeed, I continued to think about this question long after the discussion had ended.

I believe that I can see both the "yes, it is" or "no, it isn't" sides of the argument, but I have a strong attachment to which "camp" I fall into. First, let me lay out the two sides:

Yes, blogging is devaluing the freelance market.
The main logic on this side is that bloggers are giving their time, craft, and content away for free, so publishers will either lower the amount they pay freelance writers or they will not hire them at all because they can access and link to the information online. Those that argue this point look to the traditional model of publishing - sending it through an agent, getting accepted by a publisher or editor, and getting paid for the job - as the way that media should be presented. They also argue that blogging makes "experts" out of us all: if anyone can blog about it, then even their amateur or unresearched opinion can be construed as fact. They can outshine the real experts in a field simply by becoming more popular.

No, blogging is changing the freelance market.
Those who argue this side claim that the traditional market of publishing has already dissolved. They say that with blogging comes the opportunity to put your name out there and transform the little-known writer into a published one. They acknowledge that this bit does not come overnight; it takes a lot of effort to create a blog, get advertisers and sponsors, find your way into a niche, and ultimately market yourself as a brand worth buying into. But they argue that this effort is not in vain, and that even if there are some amateurs that rise to the top, ultimately the experts will still be regarded with greater esteem if the quality of their writing measures up.

My opinion?
I’m a blogger. I respect that field and believe firmly that media is changing. I think that saying blogging cheapens the freelance market oversimplifies the hard work that goes into writing and marketing your own pieces. I also know that to get most of my media, I get it from or through links on blogs. It is impossible to deny the fact that blogging and the internet have come to town, and that they change the way people connect to one another.

But what this shows is something else entirely: this debate is between exclusivity and inclusivity of information, and the fear that people have when once exclusive circles must become inclusive.

Take the example of women writers that are published in traditional magazines, that VIDA Lit explored in 2010. Because publishers hold the power to accept or reject as they see fit, they are allowed to choose who they exclude and who they include every year. This is an exclusive market model, where only a few writers get chosen and of those few - depending on the magazine editor - even fewer are representative of marginalized groups. A.k.a. women, minorities, queer people, etc.

Blogging and the internet opens up that market to include these voices. While not all writing on the internet is brilliant, it still allows for more voices to be heard and more pieces to be put out there. This is an inclusive model that allows for people of all walks of life to find their niche.

I believe that those who hold on to the traditional market model are afraid of opening up the once-controlled environment of publishing because that means there’s both more competition and more room for hegemonic opinions to be knocked down by someone who disagrees. They then rely on the argument that the voices on the internet are "amateur" and will drown out "experts" as code for challengers that threaten established opinions in writing and publishing.

As a woman of color, I enjoy having a forum where I can hear and be heard. The world of blogging comes with both unique opportunities and unique challenges to the lone writer, but I think the change is for the better. At the very least, the change is inevitable - as we have seen from the decline of newspapers in recent years.

So, now I turn it over to you. Which side of the debate do you fall on? Do you think there are good points on both sides? What do you most jive with in terms of writing and publishing your work? Leave a comment!

Views: 1

Tags: blogging, free, freelance, market, writing

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Comment by Jordan A. on June 10, 2011 at 11:02am
Thanks for your comment; I appreciate hearing you weigh in, especially since you said you’re not the biggest Internet fan!

I agree with you on the point that many best-selling authors are basically marketable ones rather than engaging ones. Life is short and we should be able to read the materials that capture us, even if they may not be what the mainstream is consuming. Needless to say, that’s a big appeal of zines –work that is engaging, but not necessarily out there for mainstream consumption. I believe that’s where another divide comes in: those who want to make money with their writing and those who don’t. I may have neglected to emphasize this in the post, but a very valuable aspect of inclusive markets is that they aren’t limited by concepts either. My take on an inclusive market almost leaves out the “market” part and treats it as a sphere where people can create for themselves or for a very limited audience, even if it dissolves and is never read.

I also agree that there are many other ways to be marginalized and that even broader category groups will marginalize within themselves – hierarchical structures about what is considered closer to the “ideal” set of ideas exist within all groups. But I disagree that those large groups have narrow viewpoints in principle. I think we are all affected by the status quo because no one can be the ideal. There may be levels on which people try to unify their cause by rallying a cry around one issue/identity, but that immediately exiles some members of that group to the fringes.

The question is then whether preserving the status quo means that we always have a separation between “fringes” and “mainstream” within all groups or if those groups are working to break down a larger hegemonic value system.

On another note, as a zine librarian assistant, I am fortunate enough to be able to read a sizeable collection of pre-Net media for my job. I believe that there are still places that value paper goods in a way that doesn’t tokenize them as “craft” objects, but I do agree that it is harder to find them now with the burgeoning use of the Internet. I believe, however, that it allows people who would not otherwise be connected to find a reception for their pieces, so that the zines you make are not distributed only to your own friend group. While some may say that goes against the original purpose of zine-making, I think it’s wonderful to have people link their ideas to one another in a new way.

I encourage you to check out a zine library if you have one near where you live and thanks again for your comment!
Comment by James N. Dawson on June 10, 2011 at 8:57am

A fellow zinester and Internet-skeptic once gave me a link to an article about all the thousands (or millions?) that just eventually went dead.  Nobody read them.  I read very few, and those I choose to read, I print out.  I can't see how people can read screens.  This post caught my interest enough to read, but reading it on screen would've been too much of a chore, even though it's only a little longer than a page.

I'm a pulp fiction reader, mostly of horror.  In California, I usually wouldn't spend more than a dime on my paperbacks, and I'd buy mostly paperbacks.  Only a fraction of those books rose above average, a few were good, fewer yet, excellent.  The best-selling authors, to me, were usually the most mediocre.  Apparently they marketed "their product" well.  There's only so much time in a life, and I'm cheap and poor, so I'm not going to risk spending very much on fiction I read for pure entertainment, diversion and relaxation, when it's very unlikely it's going to "deliver the goods". Sales pitches, hype and "marketing", turn me off very, very fast.

There are many, many other ways of being "marginalized" other than being female, of color and queer.  There are philosophical/sub-cultural minorities that are ignored/invisible.  Big established magazines may ignore women of color and queer people, but the latter ignore anybody who doesn't parrot their narrow ideology.  That's probably par for the course.  People are tribalistic, even "progressive" and "inclusive" ones.

The Internet may be here to stay and offer a few advantages, but I'm on the Internet not because I think it's better than zines, amateur journals, APA's, magazines, etc., but because market forces and cultural shallowness have made print and other pre-Net media rare and hard to find.  Few people seem to like paper media, except as "craft items" or vehicles of standard leftist politics.  There seems to be a steady shift toward a discussion of blogs and Kindles on WMZ.

Not to say they don't have as much a place in the big tent of amateur publishing as anybody else, but I think there's a difference between the "entrepeneurial zinester" and the "trade/networking/communication/low-budget" zinester.  The former is more a part of the "Small Press" and "Little Magazine" wing of the self-publishing community.  They have "pro" aspirations.  Not criticizing that, but they have a whole different set of concerns that junk-zinesters.

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