It's your legacy - own it

Mon Mar 10, 2014

If you were offered a writing job where you would get paid $5 to write an article - would you take it? How about $2? How about 99 cents? How about free? If your outrage increased with each subsequent low-ball offer, then at least you have your priorities straight. But maybe you paused at free. After all, many of us write for enjoyment, or validation, or exposure, or whatever without being paid a cent. But here’s an ugly fact - when you put your writing on the Internet, somebody is making money off your writing - and it’s not you.

They say content is king. And by “they” I mean the shrewd billionaires out there who figured out that they could build a platform for users to express themselves on, then sit back and rake in the advertising dollars as millions of users both generate and perpetuate the content with zero overhead. Users have entered into an uneasy truce with companies such as Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr because they don’t really value their contributions. A throwaway tweet doesn’t seem worth anything in the big picture (although after your 50,000th tweet you should think about the novel you could have written).

But when it comes to long-form pieces, bloggers (who are bonafide writers, let’s not forget that) take the time to craft something with a bit more substance and meaning than your average Facebook post. So when I see bloggers raving about Google+ as the best blogging platform to reach a wide audience, I just shake my head.

Or take Medium, for example. There are, quite frankly, some fantastic pieces of work on Medium. But writers are giving away this amazing content to Medium for free. If Medium paid writers 99 cents per article, how many would jump at the chance? Scoff if you wish, but Ev Williams offers nothing more than “a beautiful space for reading and writing” in exchange for all your hard work. And still, writers flock to the Medium oasis mindlessly. Well, to be fair not all writers are so gullible, as articles such as this and this (on Medium ironically) are quick to point out. By the way, I happen to know that dissenting articles are no longer being approved by Medium’s gatekeepers (editors).

Your content may be king to those who rule, but to you - the writer - your content is your legacy. Long after you die, all the writing you gave away to Medium or Tumblr or whoever will live on indefinitely, continuously generating money for the people you gave it away to. Maybe you’re okay with that - hey, it’s your legacy after all. But I know when I leave this world, my writing will leave with me (1). And I’m just fine with that.

(1) Or, more accurately, my blog hosting plan will expire and my self-hosted Wordpress installation will break with a sickening crunch of finality as the MySQL database is deleted from the server.

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