There is a blog post going around about the strange interaction of a freelancer with an editor at The Atlantic. The short of it is that the bargaining position of labor has deteriorated a great deal for some individuals over the past 10 years. Matt Yglesias put up a flip response, defending writing for free. This might seem rich coming from an individual who has a well compensated staff position at Slate, but Matt’s response is that he did write for free/low pay for years.
Obviously this ties in with the whole “intern nation” meme, whereby in some fields free to almost free labor is now expected to “break in.” I won’t get into the class implications of this, it is what it is. But the reality is that this is the reality, the world isn’t going to change. I wrote for free for four years, and then for nearly for free, and now for not quite free. But most of my income does not relate to blogging, this is definitely a sidelight. I have done a little legitimate writing now and then, and my own experience suggests that this is not something I’d want to do full time. I can write, but I am not a Writer. Not only am I not a Writer, but the conditions for Writers today are simply not that good, in part because there are people like me who write, but are not Writers.
This is a classic economic situation where the market is flooded with labor/content, and it is difficult to compete with free. There are many people, like Matt Yglesias and myself, who just can’t shut up. What sort of bargaining position do we have? We’d obviously write for free, we have! The whole market has become distorted, and the small coterie of writers who were well compensated professionals has naturally felt the consequences.
But the take home is that focusing on labor is looking at less than half the glass, consider the experience of the end user. When I was a kid to read about science you had to get a copy of Scientific American, Discover, or Omni. Today there are thousands of high quality science blogs, some of them written by the scientists themselves! For the consumer of media we live in a golden age. There are certain high end reportage products which will need institutional backing, but there is now an ocean of content for anyone interested in science.