Sorry, but it’s true.
Erin Biba doesn’t get paid much when she writes for online outlets and she’s pretty sure that’s other peoples’ fault. In a very silly essay at Medium, Biba explains how her “talent, critical thinking, ability to ask the right questions, and skill in explaining super complex topics”—presumably developed during her “$60,000 graduate journalism degree from Medill”—entitles her to more than the market’s willing to pay.
I can write and report a kickass story with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. But the algorithm that decides how much I get paid for all that badass-ness doesn’t put any value on how good I am. It cares not at all how well written this story is or how much experience I have. All that’s important is how many times you guys click.
The going rate for this essay, she tells us, is “two and a half cents per click.”
Let me start by noting that, while $0.025 doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s actually not too bad. The essay runs just 612 words and they’re rather ranty and unpolished. I hope it took her less than an hour to write. But it’s likely getting a ton of traffic, as stuff that goes viral on Medium tends to do. How much? I don’t know. Probably more than my most popular column at Libertarianism.org this last year, at the very least, and that got 14,567 clicks. If I’d earned her rate, I’d have pocketed $364. Which isn’t bad. If she hits even twice that, she’ll get a nice pile of cash.
Still, the trouble with Biba’s tirade isn’t the numbers. It’s the sense of entitlement and the lack of, well, critical thinking and asking the right questions.
The core of her argument is just that online writing pays authors based on the traffic their writing generates and offers lower pay than many print outlets. Those print outlets, unable “to quantify the value of [the author’s] contribution to their business by counting clicks,” tend to pay more, and thus often pay to produce “great stories” instead of “the most popular ones.”
Biba reads this as print outlets “understanding the importance of a good writer,” while online sites care little for quality and want only traffic. Yet here’s an opportunity for Biba to ask one of those right questions she says she’s so skilled at asking. Namely, if the sort of writing print appreciates is so great, why are print sales in decline? Related: If those sorts of stories, the kind Biba wants to write, are so obviously better than the “journalism written entirely by amateurs with no experience, no education, and limited talent,” why do online outlets—which can meansure readership—ask for the latter and not the former?
Perhaps it’s that there’s just more of an audience for short and simple than there is for long and deep. And perhaps that’s always been the case, but in the past, in the print-only world, there wasn’t a way to measure it. So editors assumed everyone liked what they like (i.e., in-depth stories), when in fact most people actually would’ve preferred Buzzfeed listicles.
The fact is, if lots of people want what you produce, if what you produce is in demand, the market will compensate you accordingly. If Biba pulled in big checks when we had no way of measuring how much people actually wanted her writing, but now doesn’t when we do, then perhaps the problem is people just aren’t interested in what she writes. No matter how expensive her journalism degree or how talented she’s pretty sure she is.
Except, of course, for this particular instance of Millennial entitlement. I imagine it’ll pay her pretty well.
This essay original appeared at AaronRossPowell.com.
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