Should Authors Write Without Pay?

Illustration - iStockphoto: AllanSwart
Illustration – iStockphoto: AllanSwart

From anyone else, the advice might sound like right-headed rationality, itself.

Roxana Robinson
Roxana Robinson

But as the author Roxana Robinson (pictured) can tell you, when you’re the president of the Authors Guild, nothing you say seems to fall on unbiased ears.

This time, Robinson is talking about what authors may be doing to inadvertently diminish their own perceived marketplace value. And in our #FutureChat from The Bookseller’s The FutureBook, we’d like to know what you think.

This article was written as the walkup to our 22nd May #FutureChat. Joins us at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Here is Robinson on the issue of authors writing for Web sites without pay. She’s speaking with my Bookseller colleague Sarah Shaffi (pictured next), and Shaffi’s write-up, Authors Guild warns authors over contributing online articles for free, is in the new issue of the magazine, on the stands in London today.


People write on Huffington Post, they write for Goodreads, they write for valuable sites owned by big tech companies that make a lot of money for those companies. Writers choose to write there for nothing and to provide content for nothing. That’s another issue, and that is something that writers are doing deliberately.

Now some 14 months into her tenure as the Authors Guild chief — she followed the endlessly polarising author Scott Turow in the position, you might remember — Robinson has had a quieter (than Turow) but not entirely comfortable ride. Last summer, she was getting the word out that the Guild had begun accepting self-publishing authors as members. But in the process, a blog post at the Guild’s site neglected to link to the then-active independents’ petition to Hachette CEO Michael Pietsh about the Amazon-Hachette terms negotiations.

What’s more, Robinson and the Guild were perceived as Amazon-bashers at a time when the Kindle Unlimited programme had not yet tempered so many writers’ feelings of good association with the Seattle-based retailer.

In some of my coverage of the fray for Thought Catalog, Robinson told me:

There has been a tradition of a certain amount of resentment toward the Authors Guild by self-published authors, because in the past, we did not allow them to become members. But we have changed that. And that was one of the reasons we put up that post, just to say, “Times are changing, everything is different in the publishing world, and we want to embrace our position that we support professional writers.”

Cover-1Even with the self-publishing indie bestseller C.J. Lyons taking a seat on the Guild board, the independent sector was not to be placated.

And here, just in time for another summer of something other than Guild-love, is Robinson, again going after Amazon’s influence on “the writing life” that the Guild likes to say it protects. She tells Shaffi:

Amazon discounting book prices means that there is a movement toward devaluing books. And I think that has an impact on the way people look at writing. If Amazon keeps pricing ebooks at very, very low prices, people start feeling, “well, actually, writing isn’t a valuable product”.

The question of whether low book prices have damaged the public’s understanding of the author’s work as valuable is one we’ll likely live with for some time. As the latest AuthorEarnings report from the author Hugh Howey and “Data Guy” makes clear, you don’t get far before publishers’ renewed terms with Amazon and agency pricing are in your face. Basic lines of argument have not changed, although the rhetoric now has gone from a frenzied accusation fest to kind of exhausted yammer.

Derek Thompson
Derek Thompson

If you look back to October 2013,  you can find The Atlantic’s fine Derek Thompson (pictured) in Writing for free, grappling with his own concept of the issue of authors writing “for the exposure.”

So here is the rub. Unpaid writing is all over the place. But writing is also a job. And jobs should be paid. So is it immoral for a publication to ask for somebody to write for free?…I think writers should be paid. But the idea that free writing is an obvious and categorical blight against authors and readers everywhere is a cheap thought, no matter how much its author is compensated.

And Thompson’s view is shared by many. Robinson’s view — that virtually any instance of writing a free article is detrimental to the cause — is, sure, less nuanced, perhaps. But so is her role as president of the Guild. An advocacy organisation isn’t in place to mince its policies’ words, and many such outfits find over time that they can keep their membership marching in one direction only by taking an unbending position on things.

Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook: #FutureChat today: Should authors write without pay?

Read the full post at:


This story was written as a walkup to the #FutureChat of 22 May 2015.   Join The Bookseller’s The FutureBook #FutureChat each Friday at 4 p.m. London (BST), 5 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11 a.m. New York (ET), 10 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9 a.m. Denver (MT), 8 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).


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