As 2010 leaves 'Uh-Oh' decade behind, what's in store for writers?
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: January 5, 2010
If you're glad to bid the 'Uh-Oh' decade adieu, you're not alone. Those earning a living from the magazine industry have to be at the top of the list of professionals welcoming 2010 as the beginning of a new, more profitable age. Predictions by experts, however, don't look so benign. Kay B. Day
Folio asked magazine and media industry professionals for predictions and the results won't send any freelancer leaping. Folio said, "We saw bankruptcies. Layoffs. Shuttered magazines. Shattered dreams. But it's nearly 2010, dammit. That's all behind us now. Right?"
We know the answer to that one. But there is always opportunity amid a meltdown, and chances are, success will go to those who can adapt and change.
I don't believe fees will rise. One of the greatest barriers to freelancing right now rests on low fees for work. Many media outlets who contract with writers for blogging and other recurring work pay on a per click or page view basis. Few disclose the criteria for determining what a true page view is, however. For example, I read very fast and most other writers I know do as well. So even if we do speed read those 500 words in a blog post, the writer may not get a penny if there's a time element involved in the computation.
At the moment, partly because of the manner search engines use to rank Web sites, no value is placed on good or even accurate writing. Rank is, as far as we can tell (because search engines are not exactly forthcoming about how they rank pages), determined largely by backlinks. There is no algorithm for determining whether the content is well-written or even truthful. And often there are not enough editors to vet the majority of content, especially at large blog directories where anyone can set up a site and spin away.
The silver lining, however, is that cream eventually does rise to the top, and as media outlets compete for eyeballs, good reportage and creativity will eventually begin to be valued. Some large media companies have already announced they'll begin to charge subscription fees. If this happens, smaller sites can follow suit. The Web has been built around a free mentality because it began as a means of sharing among academics. But that free state cannot endure in perpetuity and yield quality content.
The pay scale for freelancers is actually an excellent reason to start your own stand-alone blog or website. If you're going to give your work away, you might as well do it by building your own brand.
That's one reason I believe we'll see even more variety than we see at present. Syndication can be a boon to stand-alone Web sites. I get a monthly royalty via my Web site syndication through Newstex. I get more from that source than I do from third-party ads, and that brings up another matter.
Stand-alone sites with a valued demographic—solid numbers of educated, professional readers—may soon get smart and develop their own advertising packages. There's a great deal of opportunity there because the blog or Web site owner reaps 100 percent of the benefits. I'm working on custom advertising packages for my own Web site.
The trick of course is to get the traffic, and that brings to mind another option. At present most of us rely heavily on search engines and social networking for traffic. I believe Web site owners and freelancers will begin to increase offline marketing efforts to bring readers to their Web sites. Use of print materials and print advertising, handouts at workshops and seminars, and contests are a few tools many of us who own stand-alone sites can consider.
While 2010 holds the promise of a bright new year, it may also hold the promise of more litigation. The new Federal Trade Commission guidelines are a bellwether for what lies ahead—lawsuits over writers who promote a product but don't disclose they're getting paid by the manufacturer or distributor to write glowing reviews of that product. Even book reviewers are beginning to tag content with disclosures that books reviewed are sent to the writer for free.
Another major area of concern is content scraping. Right now there is little enforcement or even courtesy. Recently I saw a highly ranked blog had appropriated one of my photos that someone else had placed on a photo sharing Web site, all without my permission. The owner had linked to my site, but there was no photo credit whatsoever. When standards decline, there is always a backlash.
Many experts believe 2010 will see video content elevated even more than at present. I'm not sold entirely on that—I still believe that when people seek information it's actually more user-friendly in written form. But there's no denying the value of video—and still images too— when it comes to enhancing content.
One group of writers should benefit in 2010—anyone writing about politics. When elections loom, there's an uptick in traffic as people seek information about candidates.
The green industry should continue to benefit as environmental concerns remain center stage. And investment writing should prove profitable for those with solid backgrounds in the field.
The market may be whimpering as 2010 gets off to a start, but there will be opportunity just as there always has been. And most of us will be glad to leave the 'Uh-O' decade behind, simply because a fresh new decade looms ahead, full of technological promise and inspiration.
The new year is a blank slate at present. What we write on it and how we benefit are entirely up to us.
|Kay B. Day|
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.