Is Writing Online Without Pay Worth It?

The Huffington Post homepage announcing their acquisition by AOL.
The Huffington Post homepage announcing their acquisition by AOL. The Huffington Post

Many websites and social media forums have been valued at astronomical sums. Last week, AOL agreed to buy The Huffington Post for $315 million. The sale will undoubtedly make some people rich. But most of the value was created by writers working for free.

Many online and social media companies — from Facebook to Twitter — that rely on writers to fuel their popularity have been valued at astronomical sums.

David Carr, the media columnist for The New York Times, posed this observation in his column on Monday: "The funny thing about all these frothy millions and billions piling up? Most of the value was created by people working free."

Thousands of unpaid writers' work fills the Internet — on websites and social networking platforms.

"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 says very few people ever got rich writing.

"What's unusual about the era that we live in is not that content comes cheaply," he says. "Writing beats working, so I'm going to choose it every single time. But the fact that it seems to be dropping to a price of zero — if you look even beyond the social networks and The Huffington Post — content farms like Demand Media, where they're employing professional journalists, but they're being paid at the rate of $10 or $15 or $20 a story. As content doubles every year — becomes more and more ubiquitous — the price of it is bound to go down as is the compensation."

Carr says writing things free for social networking sites does have some value in terms of being able to promote one's own work or the work of others.

He says that many of the people who wrote for The Huffington Post were "somewhat politically motivated to contribute to the civic common in what they felt were progressive and additive ways."

But things may feel "a little different," Carr adds, when these writers send their copy to "a big, gigantic media conglomerate." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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