Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Comment of the Week: Yasmin Nair

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | April 10, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Site News
Tags: Arianna Huffington, BlogActive, blogosphere, End of the LBGT Blogosphere, Mike Rogers, Pam Spaulding, Pam's House Blend

On Bil's post The End of the LGBT Blogosphere As We Know It?, in which he muses on the viability of the queer blogsphere. He notes Mike Rogers' cessation of BlogActive and Pam Spaulding's comments about considering closing shop. He also frankly discusses his concerns about the financial viability of continuing Bilerico, but also his discomfort of asking people to donate to the blog without paying contributors.

Many commenters, including contributors, said they'd be fine with a donate button and not getting paid. But Bil said:

"We have the Huff Po style thing going. Putting up a donate button that would only go to me, Jerame and Alex doesn't seem right to me when there's so many other folks out there writing fantastic content for us. We already get the measly advertising dollars."

In response, Projector Yasmin Nair said

...To those contributors who insist that they'd be fine with a donate button for the site, not the writers: perhaps there's a difference here between those of us who write for a living and those for whom writing is something done on the side. Regardless, it's incumbent upon all writers to remember that writing should be paid labour...I do hope we won't, in all our talk of support, forget that writing is labour....

I don't think there are any easy answers here, in terms of sustaining genuinely alternative queer content on this blog, but forgetting that writing is work that should be paid first is not the way to go about it. Comparisons between TBP and NPR or MSNBC etc. are not effective because those are in fact giant corporations - and their sometimes unionised staff, including writers, would never work without pay, and should not.

So what say you, Projectors? Is it a good idea to put a "donate" button on Bilerico? Should writers be paid first? What will keep the lights on at Bilerico and other queer blogs?

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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | April 10, 2011 7:06 PM

Obviously Bil and his colleague's desires and sensitivites should be controlling here, but I for one see no problem with a "Donate" button on the site. The distinction between writers who expect to get paid and those who don't would seem to be reasonable and fair, and any misunderstanding concerning which category one falls in could be easily taken care of by something in writing to that effect when one becomes or continues to be a Bilerico contributor.

In one sense, "donation" isn't the most applicable term. NPR describes the situation in terms of paying for a service that might otherwise be subsidized by commercial ads. I fail to see much difference in what Bilerico does in this regard.

I'm fine with a "donate" button. I'm sure many of our readers would be happy to pay as they're able.

Of course, I love that Bil and Alex put in so many hours to keep this thing running, and if there's revenue they should be paid for their labor. But I agree with Yasmin. Writing is labor too, so writers should also be paid.

Bi & Alex should get money from a Donate button! Of Course everyone knows that they are Millionaires (More correctly -Millionaires! If they added up what they owe and what they should get it is in the negative) WE should pay for all the hard work!

I wanted to interject here before the thread got too long.

I understand the impulse to pay writers according to the number of hits, and the idea that somehow blogging pays through "notoriety and readership" (see below). Unfortunately, buying into both those kinds of logic is exactly what enabled Arianna Huffington to exploit her writers the way she did - a multimillionaire (she had many millions in her bank account long before the AOL deal). That someone who could afford to pay her writers and pay them well chose not to do so is reprehensible, but I also blame the blogging world and, frankly, many of her writers who are now kvetching about not having been paid after the merger.

You can't make a deal with the devil and then complain about the smell of sulphur. And, I'd say to them - what do you not understand about contracts? If she did not have a contract to pay them after a merger, she doesn't owe them anything. Violating contractual rules that should be a standard that actually *helps* writers (how would you like it if a publisher reneged on your pay?) does us no good.

The much bigger question is: what does and can a writer hope to gain from social medial and blogs? Are you looking for a one-shot book deal based on your presumed notoriety or do you actually plan a sustainable and long-term career as a writer? For writers like me, who make our living through writing, the notion that "notoriety and readership" actually helps in the long run is a fallacy. Yes, absolutely, my work here on TBP and elsewhere has helped raise my profile somewhat, but this is not and will not be the last platform or avenue, and nor should it be if I want to keep growing as a writer. And the supposed notoriety and readership does not translate easily or even ever into a paid career. The guy who wrote "Stuff White People Like" did get a book deal - but how many of us remember his name? And what is he doing now? Have you even heard of his second book(it's out there).

Let's not buy into the myths that the social media folks would like us to believe. Lots of things are changing in the world of writing - but in the end, it's one thing to be a popular blogger/twitterer and quite another to be able to write for money for your entire life. And, trust me on this, a lot of really good bloggers are lousy writers in the sense that they're incapable of actually sustaining an arc or an interesting argument beyond 700 words.

As for a donation button, I'm not averse to helping Bil, Jerame, and Alex keep the site running, but there has to be an ethical way to do it that also benefits the writers - without whose content the site would be pretty empty (and here, I point, again, to Bil's ethical statement on that). The fact that some writers here don't think of their work as labour should not delude us into thinking that their work is not worth the cost of their labour.

What if the donate button went to the writer of the article on who's page it was clicked, with a certain percentage of the money going to the site?

I gather that TBP has never incorporated, or formed up as an LLC -- either might be appropriate. You would then need to formalize rules about how positions -- including contributors -- are compensated. You would also need some type of board that would set policies such as these.

That is a barrier that TBP must eventually hurdle over if you have any possibility of becoming a "big corporation" like AOL -- or you may need to do it just to establish the revenue streams that you need to survive.

Just a thought or two ... You got any interns that happen to be working on their MBA?

I see now that I got ahead of myself ... the approach you really need is a business model and a business plan, then build the best business structure that can implement your plan.

Saying that is easy ... doing it creatively is very hard ... even the big guys are having major trouble with it ...

Actually, I have a different view entirely. Lets face it, blogging is the modern version of the editorial page from the local newspaper. For the site owners they do have expenses to meet AND they do expend their time putting all together for the viewing/reading public.
The current format that all websites have of selling ad space? Its great and all but honestly if it doesn’t pay the bills and some money must come in to cover the expenses then I can see a donate button coming in to play but a subscription would be viable as well.
Paying regular contributors who routinely have high veiwing numbers I can see. Paying someone like me who’s submitted 2 or 3 articles that have had very low veiwing numbers? I would be happy with a ‘Belerico Project Reporter’ t-shirt. (why is there no t-shirts Bil?)

I actually talked about this a bit on my show this week, and what I said was that writing most certainly is work, but the deal with being a blogger is that what you get paid is notoriety and readership. Sure, it doesn't pay the bills but it can lead to paying work.

As far as a donation button goes, I certainly wouldn't have a problem with it. If it helps the site keep doing what it does, then I think it's worthwhile, both from a contributor's and a reader's perspective.

My writing for the newspaper and for PRIDE Magazine takes precedence over Bilerico for one major reason. I get paid for what I write for the newspaper and for the magazine. The instant a blog gets ad revenue, it becomes a business. Revenue at Bilerico is entirely dependent upon what the contributors write. The only non-monetary benefits that accrue to a Bilerico contributor are exposure and/or personal satisfaction. I suspect those are what drive the contributors to produce stuff herein.

I think the solution is subscription. Bilerico might want to consider following the NY Times model and set a subscription price and access. If Bilerico did that - and if it worked - Bil would be morally obliged to share revenue with his contributors. Afterall, blog karma's a bitch.

I'm not quite seeing the controversy here. It's a donation button, it's not a mandatory payment like at the Times (which has so many loopholes it is hardly mandatory). Why not compensate people for their work?

I had a comment that's lost forever due to my computer running out of electricity (anyone want to buy me a new mac power cable?), so I'll distill it down to the important parts:

1. I don't get the assumption that a donate button would result in many thousands of dollars for the site. The ads don't. There's no reason to believe people would put that much into it. If we get like $50 in a month, do we have to send out 10 cent checks?

2. We can't put up a pay wall. We don't have the pull that the NY Times does.

3. As one of the two people who labor the most when it comes to writing for this site, yes, writing is real work. It should be compensated. Editing is real work too, and it should be compensated. Neither are at this point, although the latter brings me a few dollars to make this job slightly less not-worthwhile.

4. Wouldn't we have to turn off the ads if we put up a donate button? It seems unseemly to have both. Maybe a sponsorship box, though.

I see no problem with both.

Why don't you open up an account at CafePress and sell awesome Bilerico gear? :D

I like this idea a lot. I'd love a Bilerico Project t-shirt.

I'm torn between laughing and crying. Crying because this is a remarkable thing, Bilerico, and its loss would be, well, just that.

But I'm laughing because I see so many "donate" buttons on sites that do nothing more than post, ahem, art photos of glabrous young men.

I also agree with some of the commenters who have suggested coming up with some sort of business model whereby readers pay for content. The question is finding the right balance between what you're asking and what you're delivering. And, of course, that would sort itself out rather quickly. Is $10 a month reasonable? $15? $5? I would gladly give you and all of your writers $.50 a day because I can think of few sites where my "donations" would be as well-justified as the ones I would be asked to make here.

Well, except for those "art" sites I mentioned earlier.

Couldn't we work it that contributors are entitled to a percentage, but that they could forego payment if they wish? That way, contributors who are professional writers could get paid, but those who choose to do it gratis could do so as well.

I write because I love it- my money comes from elsewhere. In fact, my job pays for (and informs) my writing. For some of us, this is community service, volunteerism, information sharing, and activism.
If I got paid, that might be nice, but I fear losing the heart and passion that currently fuels me in favor of cash....

I know you mean to speak to your own situation and the place that your writing has in your life. But, in all sincerity: why do you assume that being paid somehow means losing heart and passion? Again, I realise you're speaking to your own situation, but I think a lot of people generally assume that somehow payment sullies the purity of writing.

That being said, I actually have issues with the idea that writers need to justify their work in terms of love, passion etc. - writing is not a noble calling, just as teaching is not a noble calling. They're both professions, and they both deserve to be well paid. Whether or not a teacher thinks of his or her job as a calling should not influence their pay. You can be a damn good teacher - i.e you can actually teach your students well - even if you don't live and breathe your profession 24 hours a day.

In our affect-laden environment, we've lost sight of the fact that people simply deserve excellent pay and benefits in their work and that we have no right to demand these affect-laden narratives from them about "loving" what they do. Maybe I love what I do, maybe I don't. Why is that a criterion to decide my pay?

As for the idea of writing as activism and volunteerism etc. (and I'm addressing others' points here, not just yours): It's the logic of volunteerism that actually drives wages down - we see that in the world of adjunct teaching, for instance, where the fact that some retired professionals (or rich people) are willing to teach for little to nothing because of their "love" for the profession has allowed university administrations to justify paying poor wages to the rest ("Go ahead, refuse to teach for crap - we can find someone else to do your job.")

Any system that agrees that some people should be paid and some not, just because the latter can afford to work for free, is a system that furthers exploitation. Pay everyone a fair sum (I'm speaking generally, not about TBP - Alex makes good points above). If some can do without the money they make, let them do what they will with it - donate it, buy ice cream, whatever. But don't incorporate non-payment into the system.

I've written about the problems with the notion of "art" for free/social justice here, in a piece titled "Make Art, Change the World! Starve!: The Fallacy of Art As Social Justice":

All good points- and it's the passion that you express them with that I love so much!

I believe all work to be noble, and whether or not it's recognized as such is beside the point for me. Fairness is important- you're absolutely right, but so is the dignity of labor. Even for those of us who choose to do it regardless of compensation.

And you're right, it was simply my personal experience and thoughts. Just one of many....

Bil, Jeramy and Alex: I cannot live without Bilerico. Please put up the Donate button; or, establish some kind of pay-as-you-read system; or, give me the option to subscribe. Bilerico is the one online joint to which I would happily pay a subscription fee, or pay-as-I-read, or just make a regular donation. Yasmin and others are right: writers need to be paid, but I think some might decline payment and that would be fine. Others might not decline and that would be fine. But payment to writers needs to be administratively simple for you editorfolk. Maybe a quarterly payment plan for writers; or payment kicks in at specific increments of postings...payment is instigated at 15 postings and then at the next 15 or something like that. The only people who can afford to volunteer--for anything--are people who do not need to rely on their volunteer entity to pay them for their time and energy. I am always grateful for volunteers and their generosity of spirit and body; and I would not want Bilerico to go bust because there weren't enough folks who can afford to volunteer. Please let those us who can and want to support you to do so!

When money flows into an enterprise management then makes the decisions on how to disperse it. If management decides to pay some writers, not pay others or even charge some writers to publish I really don't need or want to be involved in that decision process.

I avoid paypal and subscriptions that auto-renew to a credit card. Please Bil could you provide a "payee name" and an address? I'll start the ball rolling by setting up a small recurring monthly check. It is free through my bank in today's wonderful e-banking system. That also allows me to modify it at will.

When I say start the ball rolling I am serious. Enough with all the discussion. And I challenge other readers to join in this voluntary support.

Donation, subscription, whatever. I'd pay for this site, either way.

I do feel that the writers ought to be compensated in some manner, but I like the suggestion that they can choose to waive said compensation in favor of site maintenance needs. That option ought to make it clear that their work is valued as the necessary item it is, but also that some feel that monetary compensation for their labors here isn't in and of itself necessary.