Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lousy pay, death by blog, and other complaints

The great Benjamin Disraeli said, "Don't explain. Don't complain." He was a wise man.

However, I now will ignore his sage advice and complain, loudly, and explain why.

Like most other creatives these days, I look at the classified ads for creatives. And what I see is horrifying. Most ad agencies or companies dealing with communication want to hire one person who can write and design -- AND manage a department, keep track of a budget, split atoms, and juggle knives, bowling balls and flaming torches while making Belgian waffles. And worst of all (I shudder at the thought.), know Excel.

In normal times, these jobs would take three people to fill: a writer, a designer, and at least a Creative Group Head. But that was before The Great Recession, aka The Never-Ending Ca-Ca Doo-Doo Economy. No kidding, I saw an ad for a Creative Director job in Kansas City with all the above requirements (I think gene splicing experience was also "preferred."), and the salary was... wait for it... $35,000 per year. Yes. And they'll probably get some recent college grad to do it. Or outsource the job to one of the highly educated unemployed in India, who will do the job for 12¢ per day.

I received an email recently from some Chinese person offering to do design work. China has an overabundance of smart, well-educated university grads, too, looking for paying work. Is it too late for the U.S. to become an isolationist country?

This global low-balling is playing hell with the creative fee structure. I post my print samples at Elance.com, but I gave up trying to bid for jobs on that site long ago. Because most of them involve a lot of work and the pay is listed as "under $500." Most of the clients are not what you'd call professional. And you see jobs like the one I came across the other day, offered by a client who sought a "top-quality" copywriter to produce 60 (that's sixty) 500-word articles, every one "original," with "no cut-and-paste," all proofread and perfect. And the fee he would pay for all this quality and perfection? $125. One hundred twenty-five dollars. Which I guess is equivalent to approximately $7 million in India.

I'd have to move to India to afford to take any of those jobs. Well, I've always liked the food... But no! I refuse to be used by clients who want the whole world for a crummy penny.


Today, out of curiosity, I did talk to someone who needs 15 500-word blog articles on a subject I know virtually nothing about. It would require research, of course. And then there's the writing. Guess how much they're paying. Seven dollars per 500-word article.

Now, I asked myself, how long would it take me to write one such article? Depending on how perfectionistic I'm feeling that day, I might spend two or three hours, even without the research. That's because I generally like to polish my writing to at least a dull sheen before letting go of it. With this client, taking time for that would be highly optional, if not completely insane.

To write, let's say, three 500-word articles in a day, I would make $21. Or $30, if I "work up to" a higher rate after a few months, they said.

No surprise, this potential client told me they've had a hard time retaining writers, and they can't figure out why. Well, heck, it isn't rocket science: a writer would do better working at a McJob or retail clerk job than s/he would "writing" (I use the term loosely.) for this company.

The gaping maw of blogdom eats up "content" so fast, eventually there will be a need for "content-producing machines" to keep feeding the beast. There already are bots that can answer simple questions, and online, there is a Postmodernism Generator. It rearranges a bin full of postmodernist terms around verbs and adjectives, and in a micro-second, voila! There's your postmodern essay. Postmodernism doesn't make sense to begin with, so even a postmodernist couldn't detect the phoniness. From a Barnes & Noble review of Alan Sokal's most recent book:

When physicist Alan Sokal revealed that his 1996 article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," published in Social Text, was a hoax, the ensuing scandal made the front page of the New York Times and caused an uproar among the post-modernists he had so hilariously—and convincingly—parodied.

Back to the topic at hand:

Commercial blogs offer content that is optimized with keywords that will cause the post to turn up on search engines. "SEO," or "search engine optimization" is the talent most sought by Web marketers. If a blog or site is well optimized with plenty of appropriate keywords, readers will be lured to marketers' Web lairs to see a sales pitch for something or other. So the writing is not the point, it's the bait. And it can even be stink-bait. It doesn't matter, as long as it's full of the right keywords.

Until this relatively new Internet-blog-as-marketing-device phenomenon -- which set off the explosion of "content" available free online -- writing was an art and a craft. In this terrible economy, we writers can be tempted by the need for income to take assignments that don't require art or craft, but only speed and physical endurance. While so-called "SEO experts" rake in the dough. More's the pity.

Truman Capote once said of Jack Kerouac's work, "That's not writing, that's typing." And boy, was Kerouac a league and a half better than any high-output blog writer. When the talent you've honed over decades no longer matters, and any kid with nimble fingers tapping away on a laptop in his parents' basement can underbid you for work, it's a sad situation.

But I do have hope. Next week, I am meeting with a new client about a project. And it will pay more than $7.00 per 500 words. So at least for now, I need not worry about being a blog-slogger or a retail clerk. Whew.

BTW, just to prove I'm not one of those commercial bloggers, I probably will not be able to publicize this blog post anywhere for fear of angering others in the world of blog-based marketing. I'm just whinin' for the sake of it.

1 comment:

Susan said...

At first glance, my presbyopiaed eyes read that as "trollop's comments will not be published." But I'm safe, since I'm too tall to be a troll, although I am having one of those troll hair days.

Just wanted to say this blog entry is right on the money (what money, you say?!). And of course, humorous and well-expressed, in your inimitable style.

Typesetting and design have also gone the way of the written word. By the design standards of today's sharp-eyed (though perhaps with no eye for esthetics) youngin's, all type must be 8 pt. or smaller, probably because they don't want those of Liz's and my generation to be able to read it, and thus, discover their abominable lack of any training that could result in anything resembling grace, grammar, or even a grade-school spelling level.

Typesetting used to be beautiful, an art that contributed to the flow and tenor of the words. Today you could drive a Hummer through the spaces left between letters such as "A" and "k." Auntie "Em" blew away in the Kansas tornado with Toto.

I now feel like the Wicked Witch of the West for having "dissed" (a disgusting expression, as much for it's meaning/lack therof, as for the inanity of the concept) the Younger Generation for what passes as skills.

In order to avoid responsibility for my comments, I'm now going hiking on the Appalachian Trail, where a Boomer Walker-a-thon called the "Long and Whinin' Road" is being held.

Where's the damn spell check on this thing?