Recently, the publishing world was roiled by the news that the Huffington Post was going to be sold to AOL for a cool $315 million. However, whatever the political feedback of this move — and from what I've read, Arianna Huffington has insisted that her site isn't as political as everyone thinks it is — there has been a lot of pushback from the writing community that she has created.One thing that the Huffington Post has been known for was its ability to attract eager writers who were happy to contribute their prose without any type of compensation.??Now, however, there is apparently a sense of betrayal in the ranks of the Huffington writers. What was acceptable, even welcome, when they were writing for the Huffington Post has become, in the words of several columnists, slavery — when working for AOL. For example, one Huffington adherent,??R. B. Stuart,??wrote in an an article for The Improper entitled Huffington Post 'Slave' Writers in Revolt Over AOL Sale:
As a contributor to The Huffington Post since 2008, I have posted 25 original articles that I value at more than $25,000, for free … Essentially, the 6,000 writers Arianna lured with coveted bylines, then exploited while the site raked in ad revenue in the millions of dollars have now been sold without their permission, under the guise that we???ll continue to write for AOL for free.
My question is: Why was she doing it for free to begin with?There are, of course, some legitimate reasons for writing for a company without compensation, especially if you're a beginning writer. For example, you may want to collect a body of work on a site that's more prominent than a personal blog so that you can??use it as a reference to find paying work elsewhere. Or you may wish to promote the agenda of a non-profit and/or political organization that you believe in.?? In fact, several of those who have written to protest the deal have said that they wrote for the Huffington Post because they had the sense of being part of a politically active community. Another Huffington writer,??Douglas Rushkoff, says in the Guardian that ??this last was precisely the reason many wrote without compension:
…the sense was always that we were writing for Arianna ??? contributing to an empire that spent its winnings bussing people to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do their thing in Washington … We're not really witnessing the demise of HuffPo ??? just the demise of the justifications for writing for free. I would do it for Arianna. I won't do it for AOL.
Unfortunately — and perhaps it's because I'm old enough to be cynical about these things — as far as I could tell, the Huffington Post has been, as far as I could see, a for-profit enterprise for quite a while now. The site is busy with ads and bolstered with articles and photos from sources such as the AP, and apparently has a stable of paid columnists that make up the bulk of its front-page copy.In his FiveThirtyEight column in the NY Times, Nate Silver wrote a piece entitled The Economics of Blogging and the Huffington Post in which he asserts that the volunteer writers who contribute their prose to the Post aren't really the source of most of its income. Using the number of comments appended to each piece, and concludes that the unpaid articles don't really generate enough page views — or income — to make that much of a difference.??
Being a small fish in a very, very big pond isn't always the way to build up a name for yourself, much less to make money from it.