Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A death spiral for science writing?

On the National Association of Science Writers list, there's a lot of concern about whether things will ever improve for writers who take pride in their craft but are being drowned in a wave of people willing to write for nothing or next to nothing, and editors (mostly online) who will accept out-and-out crud as "content." I tied to find a reason for optimism. I couldn't.

I wrote:

I have limited experience compared to many on this list, but my impression is, there is no fix. Doctors and engineers can specify or negotiate rates because there are barriers to entry in those professions. There's no barrier to claiming you're a writer and sending crud for free to the internet. There is a barrier (experience and effort) to being a top-notch writer with a high reputation, and there is a market for that: Scientific American is not going to start trolling the internet for free content. But the vast majority of "content providers" won't pay for quality and we have no way to make them. That's ugly, unfair, and it sucks (not just for writers, but for the readers who get used to reading crud and thinking that's normal.) But writers, even thousands of writers, boycotting the content farms will have almost no economic impact. Quality writers who want meaningful fees are going to be competing for a smaller market, and I can't picture any combination of realistic circumstances that will change that. It means, bottom line, that more good writers will fail to make a living at it. All any of us can do is do our best in a changing world.

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