Isn’t it wonderful that the owners of Associated Content are selling their company to Yahoo for a reported $90 million? That’s “wonderful” as in: I’m full of wonder and amazement how it has come to pass that huge numbers of desperate people are willing to work for (almost) free in order to further enrich a brazen few.
Associated Content’s 380,000 freelance contributors are paid close to nothing for providing what the company calls “a broad array of passion points” — with passion being defined as topics that Google has determined are popular search terms (and thus honey to advertisers).
Journalism and professional writing were never great gigs, money-wise; lucre has lured few into the trade. But the Internet age has really sharpened that point. Consider multi-millionaire Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post is supposedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars — and yet doesn’t pay many of its contributors. Or Examiner.com, which is owned by multi-billionaire Phillip Anschutz and doesn’t pay its 300,000 contributors much of anything. Or Demand Media of Santa Monica – another outfit that claims $200 million in ad revenue — and demands its contributors give up all rights to their work in exchange for an average $15 an article.
The saying used to be the freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns the press. Fair enough, and in this electronic age we can all own our own press – we can be masters of our own domain name. But really, why do people exchange their time and skill for pocket change just so millionaires and billionaires can get richer? Yet that’s essentially the business model. It works because the global Internet — the same phenomenon that has made every one a potential publisher — has gutted traditional media employers and empowered mass purveyors of “crowd sourced content” and their advertisers.
If you’re the writer, you might do it because you need the experience or the contacts or the electronic equivalent of “clips” (work samples). If you’re the proprietor, you do it because you’d be a fool not to. After all, why not encourage educated, talented, articulate people to work for free? Who needs Bangalore when you can get Third World labor in Santa Monica? Let’s call it the Fourth World, replacing what we once knew as the Fourth Estate.