Why The Arguments That The Huffington Post Must Pay Bloggers Is Misguided: Payment Isn't Just Money

from the you-made-the-choice dept

We didn’t mention the whole AOL buying Huffington Post story earlier this week, because there just didn’t seem to be that much to say about it. It was an interesting deal, to be sure, and I’ll be curious to watch what AOL does with the property, but, beyond that, it seemed like just another content acquisition deal. However, almost immediately after the deal went through, I started seeing some rumblings on Twitter, picking at the scab that has always annoyed a certain group of people about The Huffington Post: that it doesn’t pay most of its writers. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for this issue to start to spread, with the inevitable summary line of: “Hey, HuffPo became famous because all these people worked for free, and yet, they don’t get a cut of the sale.”

That story is now snowballing. Dan Gilmor wrote a blog post arguing that it was the “ethical” thing to do to start paying bloggers. Douglas Ruskoff said that he’d no longer blog on the site for free. And, of course, a bunch of cranky HuffPo contributors have created a whole campaign arguing that Arianna Huffington had no right to sell the site, since it was built off of their free labor.

They’re all wrong.

Of course, we’ve been through this before. Five years ago, Nick Carr tried to argue that all the various big Web 2.0 sites like (at the time) Digg, YouTube and MySpace were really digital sharecroppers exploiting labor. As we argued at the time, this was hogwash. People were using those sites because they provided a valuable service. The reason they provided labor was because they got something of value in return — whether it was attention or hosting or distribution or reputation.

Three years ago, we saw an almost identical controversy after AOL bought Bebo and musician Billy Bragg demanded some of the $850 million AOL paid (in retrospect, a massively bad decision). Bragg argued that Bebo made this money based on all of the “free labor” of musicians who used the site. But that ignored the fact that those musicians got tremendous value in using the Bebo platform to connect with fans and distribute their music… all for free. The folks who got to keep the money were the ones who took the actual risk. The ones who had to cover the expenses to keep the site and the service running, even when it wasn’t making enough revenue. They took the risk, they should get the reward. The people who used the site did so of their own free will knowing quite well that the benefit they got from using the service was worth it to them at the time. Along those lines, if Bebo had struggled and faced bankruptcy instead of a massive buyout, would Bragg have felt obligated to give them money to keep it going? Similarly, if HuffPo had been running out of money, and Arianna had gone back and demanded that those who used the platform pay up retroactively, how would these people have reacted?

There are more ways to “get paid” than with money.

The reason that people chose to blog for free at the Huffington Post was because it’s a fantastic platform for exposure. It brings traffic like no one else out there, and if you want to present something in a way that’s likely to get more attention than on your own blog that no one visits, posting at HuffPo can be quite a good way to go.

And that’s the point: the people who chose — of their own free will — to post at the Huffington Post for free did so because they clearly got value out of doing so. Otherwise, why would they have done so in the first place? To then say that the only proper thing is to pay them is completely missing the point. It’s an attempt to retroactively go back and change the terms of a deal. If you wanted to get paid directly for what you write, fine, don’t write for the Huffington Post. It’s that simple. Go out and pitch your stories to publishers who pay freelancers. But don’t go back and complain afterwards when the folks who actually did take the risk of putting together the site, financing it, organizing it, hiring the staff, buying the servers, paying for the bandwidth, and building it up so that it was such a successful platform, then get paid for their efforts.

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Companies: aol, huffington post

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Comments on “Why The Arguments That The Huffington Post Must Pay Bloggers Is Misguided: Payment Isn't Just Money”

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70 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

This goes both ways. Don’t expect people to contribute to your organization if you join a corporate entity they don’t agree with.

An example: I used to post (in the tens of thousands) in the Windows technical forums for ars technica, because I enjoyed helping people. I also ad-block, and when they started to bitch at their ad-blockers, well, that was all I needed to know I was no longer welcome. I occasionally revisit the forum I used to post at and it’s a virtual graveyard, apparently I wasn’t the only one that abandoned the site.

My point is people may not do it for the money, but don’t expect them to stick around it you make money off of them in a way they do not agree with.

average_joe says:

And that’s the point: the people who chose — of their own free will — to post at the Huffington Post for free did so because they clearly got value out of doing so. Otherwise, why would they have done so in the first place? To then say that the only proper thing is to pay them is completely missing the point.

So bloggers who make this arrangement with a blog = all good, but musicians who make this arrangement with a label = all bad?

Spaceboy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Pics or it didn’t happen! 🙂

I was trying to point out that musicians have many established methods of getting paid, like live performances, tours, merchandise and so on, while bloggers don’t generally have the same avenues available. My hope was to point out the flaws in Average_Joes comparison of musicians to bloggers.

Drew (profile) says:

For instance

Its entirely possible that no one would ever have known who the heck Douglas Ruskoff is, if he hadn’t been graciously granted a place to blog on Huffpo. And the fact that we care what he says now obviously means he’s reaped some form of “fame” (bad word, can’t think of a better one right now) from that exposure.

This is an easy one…

Neil says:

This is concerning to read because, while it may be understandable in the case of HuffPo, Bebo etc., it fits into a disturbing trend of opinion. At worst, it reminds me of the bullshit I would hear from bar & club owners who refuse to pay musicians who play their venue: hey, it’s a privilege to play here. I’m giving YOU an opportunity.

It seems nowadays it’s always up to the content creator to run a scam within a scam: hey, we’re fucking you over so why don’t you get wise and fuck someone else over? I’m offering you the *privilege* of having your song in my million-dollar commercial/film/tv show, so why don’t you just use that momentum to go sell some singles out of a cardboard box in your truck in front of the stadium? You ought to be glad for the exposure. Oh, what’s this? That’s just the money I’m paying the director for his skills. And this? The actor’s wages. Why? Well, they’re all highly trained, uniquely skilled artisans who contribute to the value of the production. But music? Come on… It’s your passion, right? You’d do that anyway. Oh, and hey… can I get another martini for my friend here?

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Difference between Gilmor and Rushkoff

Your post is fine, insofar as it pertains to the Gilmor “everybody should paid” line of reasoning.

Rushkoff isn’t saying that, though. As he wrote, “It’s because we write for HuffPo for free, and ? because it’s Arianna ? we do it without resentment.”

Do not discount the value of personal relationships here. I have little doubt that a fair number of contributors to HuffPo did so in part “because it’s Arianna”. This AOL deal changes that dynamic, and some, like Rushkoff, will elect to vote with their feet. I don’t get the sense that Rushkoff would stop writing for HuffPo because he’s not getting paid — I get the sense that Rushkoff would stop writing for HuffPo because now it’s really AOL.

Sure, some contributors to HuffPo did it for other reasons, such as you mention, and many of those will continue to do so for the same reasons. However, do not tar everyone with the same brush, please.

SUNWARD (profile) says:

money

that is all that has changed.

Now that AOL (overpaid) 315 million for the site, everyone wants to see if they can get a cut of it.

And now that money is involved, I am sure that is more than one blogger who is asking why they are posting for free when so much money is involved.

Yes, bloggers can complain, but they do get the exposure.

Either way, expect a lot of them to leave the site if they don’t get money in the future.

Eriq says:

The difference between "must" and "should"

Hey, I get the argument why HuffPo “must” pay writers might not fly. But isnt that a different question of whether they “should”?

What is HuffPo providing that entitles them to lots of money? Maybe you think the market has made the choice, and that the popularity of the site is in itself, deserved of such compensation, but if the popularity is based on the good will of its contributors, that could prove fickle.

If HuffPo’s writers don’t think exposure is enough compensation, or think that exposure is only important insofar as it needs to lead to compensation somewhere else, seems to me they at least have the right to request money for their efforts. If HuffPo doesn’t want to give it, fine…but maybe there will be another outlet (i.e. The Daily Beast) that comes along and has the resources to get up there and compete and lure away the writers.

Isn’t there an argument for keeping the writers happy? If that means a measure of compensation, maybe that represents a good business model. Don’t think it’s necessarily written in stone that HuffPo will remain a top website if it doesn’t compensate, so why shouldn’t writers ask/demand more in recognition of that?

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: The difference between "must" and "should"

Blogger is some coding, a database, and a lot of storage. Wikipedia is some coding, a database, and a lot of storage. Facebook is some coding, a database, and a lot of storage.

All three of those websites depend on people offering their content without being paid for it, but their value isn’t in the content but in the implementation of their small part. Having hundreds of thousands of people using it only reinforces the fact that the implementation was good.

That?s what makes the website worth $315mill, not the content but the proven successful implementation.

These people knew that they would not be payed for their posts, so no, they should not be payed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The difference between "must" and "should"

I’ve got a thought for you. Volunteer your time with the Red Cross during a blood drive. Then go and find out how much money they make from the sale of all that blood. Now… go and ask them for monetary compensation for the work you provided KNOWING you weren’t being paid for it. See how well that works for you.

Flysimulator (user link) says:

Great for exposure

There are 1000’s of websites that will host your content for free online.

This is one of the webs most popular business models. Website owners and others contribute content for exposure and traffic and in return, the website use the content to drive traffic and ad-revenue.

I am not familiar with huff post, as I am from Norway, but the same principle is valid for a huge number of websites out there (inluding facebook, twitter and google)

AW says:

Re: Free my ass

As a graphic designer/web designer I can say that the easy work has gone away because it is far easier to give away work now. Don’t hate every market because your market isn’t exclusive anymore. Make a better product or a better business model. Life isn’t fair, nor should it be. The only reason we get paid for art is scarcity. Art isn’t scarce anymore nor does it take much expertise to get what people want. Move on or wither on the vine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Streisand effect

Yeah, it doesn’t work if you still have to read a bunch of replies and spin-offs from the comment either.

But I’d even argue that it simply does not work purely because of human nature. For instance, I have to expand and see what it was that was hidden. Wait, wait….. just had a though, again….. but isn’t it kind of a localised streisand effect?

Anyway, I expand and read every hidden comment. Am I alone or is it simple human nature?

Mika says:

Exposure to your blog or website means MORE TRAFFIC and LEADS to your sites. The more traffic and leads you have = MORE MONEY. I would write for Huffington Post for free as long as I had free exposure to my website. Think of all the traffic you can get from one blog post! If you’re a decent writer that can capture your reader’s attention to make them go to your website and potentially become a lead… then hell ya sign me up!

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