I have been writing for one particular gaming publication for 4 years now, and a new owner has decided to turn profit-share instead of payment for each article.
If you aren’t a freelance writer, you might not realize how ridiculous revenue share promises are, but you have definitely encountered the unpleasant results. Basically, the publisher or site owner agrees to pay the writer a percentage of advertising money generated, usually based on the number of clicks a particular story has generated.
It’s payment for getting clicks on a page, not payment for insight, analysis or wordsmithing. The writer’s job expands from writing a great piece, to writing a great piece with a clever headline, promoting his own work on his social networks, growing his social media following, and generally being his own advertising department, with no guarantee of payment. It encourages rushed article respins over longform analysis, yet another slant on a popular keyword over a unique topic, and reaction pieces over careful research. [pullquote]Revenue share for writers encourages all kinds of awful internet behavior, like clickbaiting headlines, failing to spellcheck, and endless self-promotion.[/pullquote]
Underpaying the writer(s) gives me a bad feeling. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve encountered it, but it’s particularly sour at a publication where I’ve been writing at a very low rate for a long time, in order to pay those mythical career dues. This magazine was already my lowest paying outlet, by quite a bit, and going to revenue share will be even more of a paycut. My average article for my other editors earns between 10 and 20 times what I make here. My highest paid piece (which is by no means a regular thing, too bad for me!) has earned me literally 50 times this fee.
But I have loved this particular outlet for several reasons. First, the community is great. When I write for this site, the comments are relevant to the topic! Even when commenters disagree with me, they’re just pointing out reasons why they felt differently about a game, instead of telling me that I am incompetent scum.
The meanest comment I’ve ever gotten here was when I covered Robert Yang’s talk at G4C, and Kotaku also chose to cover the same speaker, our of a at the same event. As a journo, I felt good that I choose the same highlights from a day of great speakers, that a mainstream, well paid journo at Kotaku choose, but one reader must have read Kotaku’s first, and found mine derivative. In comparison, I’ve read and received pretty abusive comments on plenty of other gaming outlets.
Second, I have been writing for this outlet for 4 years. Four! Years! Years in which lots of other things in my life changed. When I was waitressing and looking for work, when Next Island folded and I lost my job, when Stick and I split up, all kinds of times when my life was not going my way, I thought about my contributions to this outlet and reminded myself that I have all these thoughtful pieces for an important and beloved gaming publication. This magazine has been a huge part of my identity.
I’m not sure if I will accept the paycut to continue with this outlet or not. There are a lot of reasons to continue, like four years in a truly great community, but a lot of reasons not to, like how my landlord refuses to accept internet bylines and valuable exposure in lieu of cash.
(Note for my friends: It might be fairly clear to my friends which outlet this is, but I’m not going to name it, because these are my thoughts about my experiences, and not meant to be an attack on the mag or on any individual connected to it.)