Is Writing Online Without Pay Worth It? Many websites and social media forums have been valued at astronomical sums. Last week, AOL agreed to buy The Huffington Post for $315 million. The sale will undoubtedly make some people rich. But most of the value was created by writers working for free.
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Is Writing Online Without Pay Worth It?

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Is Writing Online Without Pay Worth It?

Is Writing Online Without Pay Worth It?

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The sale of the Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million made at least one person very rich - actually, probably a couple of people. But that huge purchase price has led many of its legions of unpaid bloggers to wonder, what about us?

David Carr is the salaried media columnist at The New York Times, but he's written about and experienced the phenomenon of unpaid content and he's here to talk to us a little bit about this deal.

Good morning.

Mr. DAVID CARR (Media Columnist, The New York Times): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You titled the piece that you wrote in The New York Times yesterday "A Nation of Serfs," meaning what? Meaning people on property that's not their own.

Mr. CARR: Yeah. When you talk about people who provide platforms - be it Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or Koora - they own the interface and the technology. Huffington Post is a little different deal because they are a news platform, but again, a lot of people working for them in unpaid ways. And as we all we all Twitter away and type away and update our Facebooks, we're creating the coal that sort of fires this oven and creates these values but they continue to own the lands.

MONTAGNE: Right. And there's somebody at the top who benefits mightily in that kind of old-fashioned capitalistic way.

Mr. CARR: Well, let's be honest, it's always been, it's nobody ever got rich -well, very few people ever got rich writing.

What's unusual about the era that we live in is not that content comes cheaply. You know, writing beats working, so I'm going to choose it every single time. But the fact that it seems to be dropping to a price of zero - if you look even beyond the social networks and The Huffington Post - content farms like Demand Media, where they're employing professional journalists, but they're being paid at the rate of $10 or $15 or $20 a story. As content doubles every year -becomes more and more ubiquitous - the price of it is bound to go down as is the compensation.

MONTAGNE: Well, a way you describe though, the charm of being able to write for free, it's very much an opportunity to use your wit with an audience.

Mr. CARR: Oh, it's a great place for showoffs, there's no doubt about it, those of us who write for a living, we're among the first and early adapters of Twitter along with technical people. And it's not as if we get nothing in return. We're able to promote our work, much of what I Twitter about.

Sometimes I, you know, write about my commute home to New Jersey on the bus, but other times I'm promoting my work or the work of others. I've been rewarded with almost 300,000 followers, and those people are a kind of social and business asset. I can't really put a number on them but there's some value in that.

MONTAGNE: And just one other thing about this sale. I wonder even though it doesn't change what the agreement was with the Huffington Post, that is, we get an audience and you get our talent for nothing. It's maybe one thing to write for the Huffington Post and another to write for this, you know, gigantic entity, AOL.

Mr. CARR: Yeah, you're talking a big corporate blob that's worth $2.2 billion in terms of market capitalization. And while I'm sure people are interested in accessing an audience, you'd have to think that a lot of people at the Huffington Post were somewhat politically motivated to contribute to the civic common and what they felt were progressive and additive ways.

It feels a little different when you're sending that copy to a big gigantic media conglomerate, at least I think so.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. CARR: Oh, an absolute pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: David Carr is a media columnist at The New York Times.

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