Is free on-line writing devaluing paid prose?

A few days ago, NPR carried an interesting story looking at the sale of the Huffington Post to AOL. As David Carr pointed out, much of the value of the $315 million sale was created by bloggers working for free. When you look at personal blogs and social media, you might see random people telling the rest of the world trivial things like what they ate for breakfast—but altogether, what this mass of personal creativity represents is content.

"As we all twitter away and type away and update our Facebooks, we’re creating the coal that sort of fires this oven," Carr tells NPR host Renee Montagne. "And they continue to own the land."

Carr wonders if the willingness of writers to write for recognition rather than money is going to drive the devaluing of nonfiction writing, where writing jobs go to people who are willing to write for wide circulation and very little pay.

It’s a good question. It puts me in mind of a Techdirt article I mentioned a while back about how the rapid rise in numbers of near-pro-quality amateur photographers has dramatically devalued the work of stock photographers. Are we nearing that point for prose writers?

And what about for fiction writers?

About Chris Meadows (4149 Articles)
TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us---except for a brief interruption---since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books---and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.

7 Comments on Is free on-line writing devaluing paid prose?

  1. Oh no, not the whole pixel-stained technopeasant thing again.

  2. A more positive interpretation is that this raises the bar for “professional” writing.

  3. Geez, I thought that damned horse was long dead.

  4. Seems to me that this discussion is a year late and a dollar short. TeleRead does the same thing — it fills out is paid blogging with free articles from contributors. And hasn’t this been the complaint of newspapers for longer than a year: no one wants to pay for content?

    And look at Smashwords and other ebook etailers. Thousands of ebooks available for free, so many that I see no problem in downloading a dozen, trying a few pages of each, and discarding the horrendous and reading the one that is at least OK, even if not great.

    “Professional writing” is on a downward spiral, if by “professional” we mean decently paid. And traipsing along on that spiral is language and content quality.

    What should be happening is that now that Huffington has made herself a small fortune on the back of free labor, the free labor should stop providing the material unless they are decently paid. But that won’t happen because there is always someone waiting in the wings for that “golden opportunity” to be exploited.

  5. I can say that good, free fiction writing has absolutely made me hesitant to pay the prices asked for most fiction ebooks now. I started out reading fanfiction online as a youth, and while the subject matter may not interest everyone, there are some very talented writers sharing their works just for the sheer pleasure of it. My hard drive has years worth of this excellent reading material on it.

    And like Richard, I try lots of free ebooks by unknown authors and and have found enough decent to terrific writers that I find being asked to pay even $6 for an ebook laughable now. I can’t even remember the last time I paid that much. Am I missing some very good writing by not be willing to buy high-priced ebooks? Surely. But I’m happy with what I’ve found for free/low-cost, so that’s all that matters to me.

  6. Professional writing hasn’t always been that impressive. Too many modestly talented people passing themselves off as ‘writers’.

    Whenever there is a surplus of skills in any sphere of life, the price required to reward those skills drops. Amateur writers and bloggers have proven to be equally talented to those pros and the inevitable result is lower remuneration for those seeking to be paid. The best will always float to the top.

  7. This is a great topic for discussion.

    At first, my husband and I were leery of posting a bunch of “freebie flags on the heavily-trodden beaches of eSales Island” but, after posting on Scribd for half a year, the traffic has tripled on our small eBook website as well as all the third-party selling platforms (Kindle Store, Mobipocket, Smashwords…) and sales are up. It seems that in the age of constant content creation, unknown indie writers/self-publishers garner the most new fans/clients by offering free samples of their writing style despite the rather counter-intuitive aspect of such a strategy.

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