As media platforms have proliferated, the demand for written content has increased – but while there are new economic applications for writing (and new writing formats) these don’t always translate into profits for creators. Largely unplanned expansion online by media organisations has meant workloads but not budgets have increased and many writing jobs attract no fee and instead offer exposure as payment. In a bid to save money while finding niche ways to attract consumers, online media outlets hit upon what appeared to be a mutually agreeable solution: content was produced free of charge in exchange for much prized ‘exposure.’ Recently this system has come under attack, particularly since the buy out of the Huffington Post by AOL. Historically, writing work has always involved a double economy: remuneration and reputation. Even the ‘hack’ writers on Grub Street, unambiguously ‘for hire’, recognised that staying in work meant maintaining their profile.
Today, the need to promote the professional self is believed to be even more urgent. When there are many highly trained individuals with the same skill set, talent levels and ambition all vying for the small number of positions, what distinguishes any one person from another is name recognition. Writers are thus ever keen to get their names in print and, increasingly, on air and online. Add to this the fact that social media networks (which provide the scaffolding to the new media industries) have provoked shifts in everyday values: exposure and ‘profile’ have taken on new currency to all members of the network society not simply those involved in new media work. But as a form of compensation exposure (while undoubtedly valued and valuable) distracts from the broader worth of new media labour. After all, it is among the distributed labour networks of the new media industries where so much of the action and innovation in our culture is taking place.
(Thumbnail image for this post used from the Web comic Cat and Girl. You can view the comic full by clicking here.)