For the past hundred years or so, the gatekeepers held the power.
The magazine, newspaper, TV network, or radio station decided who was hot and who was not. What would be published and what would be left on the cutting room floor.
Advertisers decided the trends and which brands we would be exposed to.
And, we content creators were at their mercy. We had to please the gatekeepers and accept insufficient payment or no payment at all for the privilege of the exposure. Our fates were usually in the hands of an old white male executive in a suit puffing on a cigar.
Today, the Internet is the middleman.
Media content has never been cheaper to produce and distribute at scale than it is now. Today, we all have the power. Anyone with a phone in their hands can create a buzz, break the news, get heard, or build an audience.
Content creation and distribution have been democratized. These are exciting times we are living in and most people fail to grasp how incredible it is right now. In the future, people will look back on this time and regret that they did not act sooner by staking out a claim of digital real estate to make their mark in the early days of the Internet.
Having an online presence is a powerful thing indeed and those who have one, have the leverage.
This means traditional publishers, though not irrelevant, have far less leverage than they used to. Perhaps, this is why those gatekeepers who abused their power *cough*Harvey Weinstein*cough, cough* are finally being outed for their diabolical deeds.
This would also explain why many journalists and others are now freelancing on the side or full-time.
Getting a piece published with your name on it in a publication is still a good thing to do. If the publication has a brand name that the public views as prestigious, it’s certainly a nice notch on the old belt, which makes for an impressive mention in a bio. That third-party affirmation can lend you some credibility in the eyes of others. However, it’s a vanity metric more than anything else.
More valuable than being published in a mainstream big-name publication is being published on a blog or on any platform with a high amount of engagement. If the readership actually cares about the content, it will get far more positive attention, even if the audience is very niche. For example, your article about camping in the mountains will most likely receive more interest and engagement on a popular blog about camping and hiking than it will in the New York Times.
Now that anyone can potentially become an influencer by getting attention on social media platforms and guest posting/appearing on popular blogs, vlogs, and podcasts, content creators can control their own destinies.
And, when you control your own destiny, you can also determine how much you get paid.
Recently, a relatively new business magazine with a very small following in whose pages I’ve been published approached me about a new project.
While my normal standard is to be paid my fee and paid upfront, they insisted that this time I behave in accordance with conventional magazine standards by getting paid by the word and only after the final draft.
The difference between me and most writers/creatives is that I’m not simply an artist. I’m an entrepreneur.
“If you pay me by the word,” I countered, “then that doesn’t take into account a) the research for the piece, b) the interview/s with the subject/s, or c) the edits and revisions.”
As a freelancer, I set my own standard procedures and protocol as well as my own fees. And, after getting burned in the past, I decided to only accept payment in full up front. To my knowledge, no one goes to a store, takes some items home with, and only pays after they get home or whenever they feel like it. That would be called shoplifting. And, I don’t see why my services rendered should be treated any differently.
The magazine editor protested that the exposure justifies the raw deal.
What most of these publications fail to understand is that we no longer need them for exposure. If the publication doesn’t have an audience of people likely to hire me or pay me for anything, it’s not that valuable.
On the flip-side, I would write something for FREE if it was likely that the exposure would likely net me greater brand equity or new business. But, getting published does not in itself make that a likely possibility, especially when the article is in print. Being published online can more easily lead to a comment, a DM, or some other form of direct engagement that can lead to something greater.
So, if publications want to remain relevant they have to:
A) Acknowledge that they are more dependent on freelancers than on staff and will have to pay their rates.
B) Double-down on growing a brand on social media and other platforms that have their reader’s attention.
Finally, it’s up to creatives to put themselves in a position to win. Spend more time building an audience on social media, creating and publishing your content on your own, and directly engaging and interacting with your audience. Instead of trying to get published in traditional media outlets, create your own buzz and your own leverage. Once you do that, you can name your price. When you’re an influential content creator, publications, brands, and others will dance to your tune instead of the other way around.
The days of the gatekeepers deciding what content we consumer are over. Consumers and content creators are now in the driver’s seat. It’s time for publishers to take note and embrace the new reality.