Print advertising is heading for the rich pickings of the Internet. Magazines and newspapers are floundering and as a result we journalists are being hammered financially, with word count, publication and page reductions. The natural answer is for us to follow the money -- head for online journalism?
We seem to be in an ugly transition where doors are closing at one side and not enough are opening at the other. Our pay is being squeezed. I have done some investigation into this from a personal perspective and found reasonable paying sites going to revenue sharing, those relying on revenue sharing from the start, and those who think a dollar an hour is a fair rate of pay.
What is revenue sharing?
Wikio Experts advertises on Journalism.co.uk. Initially I thought them a con job when I asked them about their, on the surface opaque, method of paying you. They told me when I asked, '€15 articles which pay €2.50 upon validation and up to €13.50 over the year beginning upon publication as a revenue share from advertising revenues your article generates. All Wikio Experts content must be search engine optimised...' They risk €2.50 on an hour of your work (a typical time to write 500 words blogging) and then share the risk with you for the advertising revenue generated from your blogging. This is known as revenue sharing.
Revenue sharing is a new model where you get paid by the click on your blog. You get little or no income upfront, and a share of the advertising revenue from those who see your blog and the advertisements around them. Where advertisements are plonked by your feature in a 50 page magazine, the only way you will get your blog seen at all is via a search engine spider finding it among billions of pages. It thus requires 'text rich' copy.
Some celebrities play a game of getting as many pop song titles into their responses to a journalist as they can. This is pretty much what 'text rich' means -- getting as many words the spider is interested in as possible, to a piece of readable copy. Make a spider happy and draw in the readership. Clicks mean quid!
Such sites that give a share in revenue are advertising on serious journalism pages. This should be where you look first. When I initially burrowed down into the model I saw the risk involved and blew my top. How dare they pay so little upfront! Thinking about it, it is a very good way of keeping us writers on our toes, because we share the risk of our writing drawing in revenue with the website.
Brave new world
The Internet is not as comfortable as an established, high circulation newspaper like The Economist or The Sun. Where The Guardian is a comfortably paying print company it is haemorrhaging money. Revenue sharing ensures you the writer shares the risk with the employer. Our job has been for many years not to enlighten the reader but to get eyes on ads. We can get into the same old routine and editors keep on paying us that we tarnish, and ad revenues fall with us. Prior to the advent of the Internet, poor writing killed magazines -- not directly because of falling sales at a newsagent, but because the falling sales drove advertisers away. The ad men pay our bills, not the newsagent!
Anecdote has it that many journalists are taking the risk involved, and making good money from it. It requires a new skill -- you have to diversify or die anyway so why not try it? From a personal perspective it is galling that I must share the risk with the company, but we do anyway to a certain extent -- the magazine flies or dies on the quality of our journalism, and the quality of the writing draws in advertisers. Your editor gets fusty and long in the tooth, taking the same old shit? Circulation falls, your word count / publication / page count falls, and so you suffer anyway. These are slower and more radical changes, a tsunami against a stormy sea, and for a number of journalists, pay by click on multiple income streams is a safer way of spreading the risk than relying on the survival of an ever smaller number of magazines.
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