Rule one, “He (she or it) who pays the piper calls the tune.’
There are other rules which you might want to keep in mind.
Rule two, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
Rule three, “Pay peanuts, hire monkeys.”
These are all simple, while tried, maxims which have stood the test of time and are bitter and cynical enough to survive even into the internet age.
But it’s the internet age that is now showing how, deep down, these three rules still count.
As well as my time consuming professions of farming, writing books and suchlike, (all guaranteed not to put too much strain on my amateur status) I also do freelance journalism.
And here again we’re seeing a field of endeavour evolve in front of our eyes. When I first sent copy to magazines, I typed it using a typewriter, double spaced, and kept a carbon copy for myself. The good copy I put in an envelope and posted it, courtesy of the Royal Mail, to the editor.
Then we had fax, which probably wasn’t a particularly big advance.
Then we got word-processors and email.
Now the editor is the important person, the editor is the one who decides what is wanted, so as a freelance, you aim to write stuff in a style that the editor will like. He or she is the customer (editors are rarely ‘it’) and your job is to keep the customer satisfied. From the publisher’s point of view the editor should know their readers and ensure that the periodical is optimised to appeal to those readers, but that’s their problem. For the freelance it’s the editor who commissions, it’s the editor who decides.
Anyway over a similar period, magazines and newspapers got caught up with technology and went onto the web. The web is fabulous, provided you don’t want to get paid. Some stuff goes behind a pay-wall and I suspect a lot of people are like me, if google leads me to an article behind a pay-wall, I just go back to google and take the next suggestion that doesn’t.
But for magazines the web offers a possible future. You get rid of two big costs, printing and distribution. So you can make your product cheaper and still make the same money. But how do you collect the money?
If the reader isn’t willing to pay who do you turn to? Well a lot of print magazines and newspapers have relied on advertisers for many years. Some have entirely relied on advertisers, giving their paper away free. OK the reader gets a free paper but editors get remarkably nervous about upsetting advertisers and the editor can find his advertising department giving him a timetable showing what sort of articles they need to go with the adverts they hope to get. Even if the advertiser doesn’t realise it, doesn’t want it and would be horrified by the prospect, the advertiser can be dictating the content.
And now I’ve come across another model. Rather than having your readers come to the webpage where the advertiser can tell how many visitors click on their stuff, you post the periodical out attached to an email. You then tell the advertiser that you’ve sent it out to 10,000 (or however many) people. You’re telling the truth and the advertiser hasn’t a clue how many of them read it.
But along with this I’ve known publishers decide that, actually, there are plenty of people out there who will write stuff for nothing, so rather than employ professionals, you just need an editor who will tidy up the free stuff (often press-releases issued by companies you hope will advertise) and frantically rewrite stuff found in blog posts and other strange corners of the web so it’s not easily traceable. This is a lot cheaper than actually paying people for independently produced content.
Now the reader might not like this, but unfortunately the reader is largely irrelevant, because the editor isn’t putting together a magazine to please readers and get more of them to buy, the editor is putting together a magazine to please advertisers and to convince them that their advertising budget is well spent.
And because they’re the ones paying, one can only assume that advertisers will get the publications they want.