Never give away work so someone else profits

UPDATE: This is an edited version of the original post since I have heard from the editor.

If you know me or have read this blog, you probably know I focus on the business side of writing as well as the artistic. Recently, I had a experience that first appeared to be troubling I want to share where someone wanted to reprint my work for free.

Since the person later explained the situation, I am not going to name this person or the market. This isn’t like Mandy DeGeit’s experience, which deserved calling people out by name. For this story, I will call them Editor and Magazine. And the title of Magazine is aimed clearly at writers.

So, I received an email stating:

I really loved your post on publishing short stories here:
https://mattmoorewrites.com/2011/04/06/how-to-publish-a-short-story-know-your-markets/

I edit a magazine called (Magazine)… and am working on my next issue. I was wondering if I could reprint that post in the magazine? If you would like me to promote something for you, maybe the book or a specific web page you want me to point people to I would be more than happy to do it. Because it is an interactive magazine, once people have read the article they can be directed straight to a web page of your choice.

 I wrote back with enthusiasm and asked for a contract. The reply was:

I don’t actually do a formal contract.  Just a ‘verbal’ agreement.  How does that sound?

Since I did not know Editor, I wanted to protect myself. I wrote back, asking for specifics (i.e., what rights were being sought) and payment (i.e., per word, flat fee, contributors copies) because during this exchange, I researched Magazine. Here is what I found:

  • It is only available as an app for iPad and iPhone that downloads the latest monthly issue automatically. That is, Magazine cannot be easily shared like a PDF or even pay-walled site.
  • Each issue costs $3.99. And Magazine is electronic-only, so there are no printing or production costs.
  • While the covers look good (they have that literary magazine feel to them), no contributors are listed.
  • On Magazine’s site, social media profiles and iTunes listings, no contributors are listed.
  • A Google search turned up two other contributors who had also been approached to reprint their blog posts for free.
  • A search for Editor’s name did not turn up anything not having to do with Magazine.

This has me thinking: Is Editor’s business model to scan blogs for good posts and bundle them in a magazine that makes him (and only him) money? That is, he makes his money off the work of others? Editor might make the argument that the blog posts are already out there for free, so exposure to Magazine’s subscribers is appropriate compensation. But this is the non-fiction equivalent of magazines and anthologies that pay in “exposure only” while the editors reap all the profits. I don’t discount the effort in laying out, producing and marketing a magazine, but that is only part of the effort. The content within the magazines is what drives sales. And if Editor is sincere in promoting contributors, why not list them by name on the cover, on the site, etc.?

Granted, my blog post is available for free and I might gain a few new readers by appearing in Magazine. But the blog post is on my site with my content easily available surrounded by my branding. Considering Editor has no physical costs in producing Magazine, I don’t think it’s too much to expect that Editor pay his contributors, even if a token amount. (To be fair, Editor might pay someone for the covers.)

It’s ironic that new and emerging short story writers need to learn the lessons of (1) never give your work away for free, and (2) always know what rights are being purchased. It seems that Editor is asking me to do just that for a magazine aimed at those new story writers.

It took a while, but Editor did reply and apologized for the delay. He explained the rights he was seeking, that he has costs and the magazine is not making him money yet. He offered me a subscription for 6 months to Magazine and if I had an email list they could have access for 3 months. This explanation changes things since he is offering me something for free. That is, it is payment in contributor’s copies/subscription. Not the same as a flat  fee or per word, but still something and a common model for emerging markets.

I told Editor I would think about it. While I am more inclined to accept the offer (provided I can access Magazine on Android or Windows, which I use), I still think this experience is a good lesson to be learned for new and emerging writers. While I believe Editor is being honest, there are plenty of others out there who want to profit from your work without giving you compensation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and protect yourself.

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