Sunday, March 09, 2008

are big publishers treating professional writers as hobbyists?

A few days ago, I attended a panel discussion put on by the Rotman School of Management's Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. Entitled The New Economics of Selling Digital Media Online: How IP [Intellectual Property] Protection Fosters Economic Prosperity, the discussion covered the usual refrains of intellectual property, the right of creators to charge for use of that property, and the lack of enforcement of IP laws in the "Wild West" of the internet. Most of the comments related to the music industry and the difficulties it has had with peer-to-peer networks, including a point made by the Canadian Recording Industry Association's president, Graham Henderson, in his closing remarks. He brought up Chris Anderson's article on the free economy in the March issue of Wired magazine, and took Anderson to task for the following passage from the article:
Some artists give away their music online as a way of marketing concerts, merchandise, licensing, and other paid fare. But others have simply accepted that, for them, music is not a moneymaking business. It's something they do for other reasons, from fun to creative expression. Which, of course, has always been true for most musicians anyway.

Henderson bemoaned the attitude that musicians shouldn't expect to make money at creating music, and that the creative class may increasingly come to be viewed as hobbyists.

It got me thinking. Are publishers treating professional freelance writers as hobbyists? Since writing, both online and in print, is subsidized by advertising, and readers already expect to get content for free or nearly free, it could be argued that the assault on freelance writing income comes not from those who consume it, but from publishers who are asking for more rights for less money. There are even those who expect writers to produce well-conceived copy for free. My question is, are publishers relying on the for-the-love-of-it drive in writers, and in turn revealing their disrespect for the profession – or perhaps "hobby" – of writing? Are publishers turning professional writers into hobbyists?

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