Pay the Writer


  1. Anonymous July 2, 2010

    The thing that jumped out to me about this was how this looks like a classic case of management versus labor, and how a union can make a big difference in the labor market.

    There is a need for DVD writing by Warner Brothers (management). There is a supply of labor in professionals like Ellison and “amateurs.” Management will seek services by professionals for writing and if those services are appropriately priced by Ellison, then he will be contracted to write. If, however management can contract with someone else for depressed wages — e.g “amateurs” who work for free — then Ellison’s services are not priced correctly it seems.

    Therefore, he has to either deflate the wage he makes or restrict the supply of cheap labor. He could argue that “Amateurs” can also benefit from not having management refuse to pay them for services because of the experience and negotiating skills Ellison offers. When Labor works together, management has no other options and must appropriately price the work if they believe that customers want it badly enough.

    However, in this instance, management seems to be able to take advantage of a lack of information in the market place by getting “amateurs” to do writing for DVD’s for little or no cost. “Amateurs” don’t know any better and believe this is an entry point into the labor market. Ellison is frustrated that his work is being devalued. At that point, it’s a union’s responsibility to organize workers or potential workers to combat management’s advantage.

    As much grief as everyone gives the union movement, this is exactly what they were formed to do: combat the advantage management has in setting the price of labor and prevent theft/worker manipulation.

  2. Anna Tarkov July 3, 2010

    Tom (can I call you Tom?), that’s a fascinating point. However, isn’t the problem of an ignorant workforce kind of moot now? It’s not so difficult, through research on the Internet or talking to people, to, say, figure out how much writers are generally paid. I can see how this was a problem back in the days of the illiterate factory worker, but it’s surely not the case anymore, right?

  3. Anonymous July 3, 2010

    I think I love this man too. This is a much-needed kick in the butt. And it’s also a reminder to us journalists/industry-folk to follow up with people we interview–to send them a link, or a copy–or notify them when their segment is going to air, etc.

    The no money thing sucks. But the no courtesy thing is even more bothersome.

  4. Anonymous July 3, 2010


    I’m in complete agreement with Harlan. And I know I love him!

    Valuation is a term heavily used by all media disciplines in the traditional and digital sectors by both content strategy experts (the doers) and the brand side (the buyers).

    Value should be assessed to those writing the content — their experience, their voice.

    If the money to pay writers is no longer there because of the changes in this “new economy”, then editors/publishers should change the way they do business when it comes to contracting creative services.

    Offer the writer something above and beyond a devalued rate — perhaps adding to the writers skill-set by allowing the writer to learn or hone a new or more advanced digital skill, etc., that can later be used for this publisher. Whatever that is should be negotiated between the two parties, but make it a win/win.

    This is a new day, and I think a new way of conducting business should follow suit.

  5. Anonymous July 4, 2010

    Anna, It’s clear that the [writing] workforce remains ignorant, as long as there are so many people who buy the “This will be great exposure” argument. And unions provide more than just information to the aggrieved working person: they provide the power of a group, whose numbers are the only way to equalize the power relationship with capital.

  6. Anna Tarkov July 4, 2010

    Kelly, that’s a valid point. However, there are groups like the Society of Professional Journalists and similar groups for non-journalist writers who function in much the same way. People pay membership fees and in return they receive access to the collective intelligence of the group, legal assistance and many other benefits. In that way, I suppose they work in a way very similar to unions.

  7. Anna Tarkov July 4, 2010

    In response to you, @Rwriteur, I think that’s a fantastic idea! Publications could absolutely, if not able to pay a fair amount, make it up to the writer in other ways. Have you or anyone you know ever tried to make this happen? If so, what was the response?

  8. Anonymous July 5, 2010

    Mr. Elison, along with Sylvia Wynn, a counselor at The Women’s Business Development Center, has given me confidence in pricing for my business and writing. Everything is so on point and on time.

    I agree with the Mr. Elison. At some point you have to charge something for your work. Yes, times are challenging, and people use that as an excuse – both writers and people who need writing services. Just know that people pay for what they want if they see the value in it. Even if they don’t, you can share the value of what you do. Maybe they’ll get it; maybe they won’t. If not, move on!

    I was following a discussion on LinkedIn once about companies offering writers $5 and $10 for 500 – 1000 word articles. And, people were accepting! Like Mr. Elison said, such situations make it difficult for experienced writers to get paid. You can create your own publicity through blogging and building a social media following.

  9. Anna Tarkov July 5, 2010

    Marcie, you make a great point. Writers have to be aggressive about communicating the value of their work. Someone else might be offering to do it for $5-10, but it should be obvious to a prospective buyer of your services that your work is worth a great deal more. Also, work only on your own terms. I think it’s better to supplement your income with another job if necessary rather that write for a pittance. Once you go there, it’s hard to come back.

  10. Anonymous July 6, 2010


    Like most writers, I’m faced with a daily barrage of online publishers asking for content at devalued (or free) rates. In building my own online brand — by aligning myself with people and platforms that fit more organically with my own professional efforts, I’ve been working on creating a biz model that benefits not only myself, but the publisher.

    This biz model is still a work in progress, but worth pursuing. If I can’t get the gigs I want, I’ll have to create other opportunities.


  11. Anna Tarkov July 6, 2010

    Someone has linked to this discussion here: I’ve left a comment that you might like to check out.

  12. Anonymous July 6, 2010

    Yes, I too love darling, irascible, curmudgeonly Harlan Ellison and have for several decades. He’s a gas (so long as you’re not the one he’s targeting)! And I’ve long said that white collar workers, including journalists and other writers, need to organize — otherwise, they leave themselves open to abuse by employers. Does anyone really think that we’d be underpaid and working hours that amount to ‘always on call’ if the entire profession were organized under one or more unions?? I don’t: I think we’d be able to have a life, for a change, and there would be some protection against ageism.

    I’m all for leveling the playing field — employers have way too much power in the writing and editing business. True, it would be much harder to get most journalists and freelancers unionized now, but better late than never. The only problem is that all too many white collar workers still don’t see the need for unions and accept a powerless position vis a vis their employers. Nuts!!! If the second-worst recession/depression in the nation’s history isn’t enough to persuade them of the need for unions, I don’t know what would.

  13. Anonymous July 6, 2010

    BTW, there’s a reason one of his anthologies is called Angry Candy, and you can see it here. HA!!!!! 😀

  14. Anonymous July 6, 2010

    Anna, I have to take issue with something you wrote above. Yes, SPJ represents journalists — but it has NEVER gotten involved in workplace issues unless FOI, credentialing or ethics were involved. Never once has SPJ raised a voice against hostile work environments or unreasonable employer demands in journalism, despite pressure from me and many other members (I was once a board member of the Headline Club, and this was a big issue for me; I’m no longer a member of SPJ, and its refusal to come out on the side of journalists against unfair practices by their employers is one reason I no longer pay dues to SPJ). SPJ wouldn’t even get involved in Tasini v. New York Times so that freelancers could get paid for repurposed works. I still haven’t forgiven SPJ for that. Especially as I began warning them back in the mid-1990s to pay attention to freelancers’ issues because our issues would soon be their issues, too, as more journalists lost full-time jobs. Guess they still haven’t learned.

    If I had the ability to join the Newspaper Guild as a freelancer, I would’ve done so 25 years ago, assuming the dues were lower than the National Writers Union charges, which are way more than I can afford. Also, NWU still isn’t as influential as we need it to be, if only because so few can and do join up. As it is, all I can do is monitor sites like ASJA’s Contracts Watch and try to avoid cheapskate, deadbeat, or otherwise problematic publishers. But I still don’t have any negotiating clout, and neither do most other writers and editors. So yeah, Harlan Ellison is my patron saint … but the employers still aren’t in any danger of having to mend their ways. Damn it.

  15. Anonymous July 6, 2010

    @Rwriteur — the idea that an employer might be able to offer something of equal value in training is intriguing, but just because they’re able to do it doesn’t mean that more than one or two rare ones would be willing — or would actually do it, when push came to shove. I’m reminded of my ex here complaining about buying me flowers on Valentine’s Day instead of just giving me a card, the reason supposedly being that it was an ‘artificial’ holiday and he’d rather give me flowers some other day just because he loved me and felt like it — the upshot of which was that I didn’t get flowers on Valentine’s Day or any other day, either, because he never felt like it (this is one of many reasons he’s an ex). An employer may say, ‘sure, do this for free/cheap for me now, and one day soon I’ll train you in thus and such,’ only to conveniently forget to train you in anything and still not compensate you for the work. If I thought it were a real possibility to get that training, then fine; but until I see proof, I’ll take an adequate amount of money, thanks.

  16. Anonymous July 7, 2010

    M.R. Traska,

    I also suggested that the two parties negotiate whatever the exchange/barter should be, and that also includes when and where the exchange of services take place. Don’t be passive. Set a date/time for the exchange — what you want, when you want it. The faster you acquire this new skill, the quicker it can be used for the publisher. And of course, yourself.

  17. Anonymous July 7, 2010

    The National Writers Union has been fighting for freelancers’s rights since 1981.

    One way the NWU does that is by helping its members negotiate better contracts.

    The NWU provides free contract advice to its members and we teach our members how to get better contracts. That advice is usually worth more than several years worth of dues. (Think about how much an IP lawyer would charge to review a contract, let alone the cost of having a bad clause that leaves you exposed in a contract.)

    You can check out the NWU primer for contract negotiation here:

    The NWU also provides free grievance assistance to its members. It has recovered ~ $1.5 million for writers, with all of the money going directly to the writers’ pockets. To learn more about the NWU’s grievance assistance program, check out:

    We are fighting for writers’ rights. The more people that join the NWU and help us fight, the stronger we are and the more concessions we can win.

    Being part of the NWU is being part of the solution.

  18. Anonymous February 27, 2011

    Writers forming a union? That is amusing. I just read your bizarre comment about how you have a sugardaddy and you hate the content mills, etc. Evidently you have an extremely high opinion of yourself. Just wanted you to know you come across as arrogant, spoiled and untalented. Disgraceful.

  19. Anna Tarkov February 27, 2011

    Jose, I’m not sure why the idea of writers forming a union is so amusing since there IS actually a writer’s union already: I believe that there are also others besides this one.

    I’m not sure what “sugar daddy” you could be referring to. If you mean the fact that my husband is able to support me with his salary, than there’s hardly anything wrong with that. This happens in many families and sometimes the wife supports the husband as well.

    I’m also not sure what’s wrong with disliking content mills. Most people dislike them and in fact Google has just changed their algorithm to make less content mill content appear in their search results. If Google is concerned with content farms hurting their business, then I don’t see anything wrong with me being concerned with them as well. And I’m far from the only one.

    As for how I come across, I’m sorry you’ve gotten such an unfavorable impression of me. I’m sure you realize how easy it is to form opinions about someone online based only on their writing and how incorrect those impressions can be. I know that I’ve made those mistakes before too. If you truly knew me, I don’t think you would still hold these opinions, with the exception I suppose of my level of talent which you might still think was low. If so, I’m ok with that. I find that gauging talent is a very subjective practice and thus I don’t take offense at someone calling me untalented.

Comments are Disabled