Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The New Media and the Attention Economy: "Syndication"

$$$!A couple of times in the last month, Gawker Media sites have been all, "Hey that piece on your site was great, can we syndicate it?" Now, I am old. And for us olds, "syndication" is a term of art in the world of publishing things. In this scheme, people who are self-employed make a living by selling their work, for usually small fees, to a number of different publishers. It's how things called "comics" used to work in newspapers (and currently "don't work" most likely). And columnists, and such. Not a bad system for all involved. And now there is a new kind of syndication, as explained by the wonderful women of Jezebel today.

A little over a month ago, we began experimenting with syndications, that is, publishing already-existing content in order to bring a broader range of voices, and material, to the readers on our site…. Our interest in showcasing new voices and compelling content extends far beyond already established and well-known blogs, and, though we like to think our awareness and aggregation of stories for women on the web is fairly comprehensive, we do not have the time, or womanpower, to delve into every topic we'd like. This is where you come in. If you know of (or are) a web writer or blogger whose work would make a great addition to the site, please, let us know via email (send to with the subject header SYNDICATION SUGGESTION) what blogs/writers you're excited about, why, and provide some links to relevant material.

We once accidentally syndicated a piece to a Gawker Media site, because it was a weekend afternoon and we were confused. What happens is they republish your piece in full and then provide a small link to the original source at the bottom! There is actually nothing in this process of "syndication" that resembles "syndication." And then we were like NO THANKS and then we set an official No Thanks Policy (although of course contributors here are free to make WHATEVER decisions they think are best for them).

Because none of this means that young writers shouldn't try to appear on Jezebel or Jalopnik or whatever! If it's good for you, or you just plain feel like it, you should do it! But what's happening is that those sites, which make a good deal of money, now are trying to have two tiers of writers. There's the ones they pay (some well, some less well) and then there's everyone else, who now they don't pay at all. That this is how "figuring out a freelance rate" has devolved is unfortunate. (And in general, at least a few Gawker Media site editors are so confused by their budgets right now that they can't figure out how much they pay freelancers, if at all. Some use the bonus pool as a slush fund for freelance; some are just like "I DON'T KNOW WHATEVER.")

(As a sidebar, this is similar to what's happening at magazine websites, where they have two tiers of writers, one for the web site and one for the mag. But at least they pay the website people!)

In the end, though, the freelance pay rate confusion is easily settled, when you take the pay rate down to "no money, just attention."

The post on Jezebel is fascinating because, while it's written really straightforwardly by the site's editor, Anna Holmes, the headline is out of place, if you stop and think about it: "In Case You Missed It: The Brave New World Of Syndication." Subtle! But she clearly gets it.

Update: Can I add something here? I just wanted to be clear that I'm a Jezebel fan, and none of the gripes above have specifically to do with Jezebel-and my beef largely has to do with the company and this new initiative that's taking place across all the Gawker Media sites.

34 Comments / Post A Comment

NicFit (#616)

In the end, we will all work on content delivery. Content creation will be for hobbyists.

This sounds suspiciously like all those unpaid internships that were available to me in my college years. "Gain experience!" "Build your resume!" "Beg for change on the street to buy Top Ramen!"

deepomega (#1,720)

Can't wait for the bullshit of freelance writing to trickle sideways to freelance art. I will hang myself.

Art Yucko (#1,321)


deepomega (#1,720)

"Well the thing is, we don't really have any money for you to animate our 4 minute long music video. But the exposure will be great! Think how awesome this will look on your reel!"

garge (#736)

When I was in art school, I spent some time in the '"Career" Services' office as a work-study employee. I was in a perpetual state of rage because every 'job' 'opportunity' was either an attempt to achieve professional level work at sweatshop labor prices, or the Your Portfolio guise. (Or, of course, an unpaid non-credit internship).

Art Yucko (#1,321)

OYYH. Don't even get me started. My initiation into this very sort of fuckery was with an unctuous south-Asian fellow who owned a "perfume shop" and moonlighted as a slumlord.

Do I know you? We animator types have been trying to get a guild, or hell, at least a set of Standards of Practice of the ground for a while. Hopefully we can nip this shit in the bud.

Check this out for more info:

deepomega (#1,720)

@Lionel – I saw that posted up on motionographer or or something. I'm not sure about a guild, but at the very least a loosely organized agreement on How Not To Get Fucked would be awesome.

Don't know where in the field you are, but maybe you heard/saw about the 3D guy bringing a suit against Prologue? For them refusing to honor his contract? I used to want to go there eventually, but not any more!

In some ways that whole Prologue case got me to finally clean up the last bits of client/vendor procedure I'd been letting slide. I used to be kind of lackadaisical about certain things, like deal memos and contracts. Not anymore.

You know what happened when I started being super-pro and kind of uptight about that stuff? I started getting treated much more professionally, and I started getting paid really promptly. Like clients call me when the check is going to be late to apologize.

Anyway, Kyle Cooper is kind of a glory hog. I know many people that came up with him at IF who found him taking direct credit for their work. So don't feel too bad about it.

deepomega (#1,720)

There's a reason they call it Blowlogue I guess. Guy I know is there, getting worked over through 100 hour weeks, for months at a time, all on a (pretty lousy) day rate.

E.A. Hanks (#4,535)

Obviously this is a way for lesser-known writers to gain access to a platform and traffic that wouldn't normally be available to them thanks to Bush and his cronies.

andj (#1,074)

With Jezebel, there's an interesting irony in that they've been criticized for only representing privileged, NYC women. It seems like they've been trying hard to include "more voices" (gag), but now I guess they can include non-privileged voices while also not paying them?

Abe Sauer (#148)

So you're saying the options for me to not get paid are getting better?

BUT to make what you kid of said clear, this is very bad for everyone and the paid writers at these sites should be as worried as anyone not because they will be easily replaced but because years from now that Gawker/Jezebel/etc name on the resume will be so severely devalued as to have made all the time spent eating shit and "putting in your time" in the blog slave trade a waste. UNLESS you count on the talent bubbling to the top thing the new paradigm for media stair-climbing.. after graduating from Yale of course.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Somewhere deep inside the series of tubes, a Huffington with a very thick Greek accent is cackling loudly and stroking a pet Breitbart on a leash.

Thanks for this.

brent_cox (#40)

I can not pay myself without anyone's help, thanks.

Crantastical (#4,127)

Amanda Hess at the Sexist is great, but the Washington City Paper is an actual publication with real jobs. Interesting that they would highlight her.

saythatscool (#101)

All I know is that Remy finally agreed to publish my snuff film reviews. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

OuackMallard (#774)

This is no doubt Real and Important, but I'm getting a little burned-out on the whole "realities of the internet economy" posts. More bear videos, please.

Anderson Evans (#4,537)

It's a flawed business model that's been snowballing because at the moment it's a productive business model. It's going to change in less than a year, it's
just that nobody is sure how.
The issue is that something as simple and clear as page-views is not enough to measure quality, and there was a long time where people felt that it unarguably did. There has recently been an uproar stating that promotion before content is the real culprit behind major economic failures in the media industry across the board, this is what I believe these unpaid blog syndications, internships, contributions, etc. are attempting to break down before the complete digitization of print is upon us. Just as people hate getting spammed over e-mail, people hate their RSS feeds or twitter feeds or whatever aggregation companion they use for news intake being littered with nonsense, but there are filtration systems in every system being worked on every day.

Remember when half your e-mail was chain-letters and spam?
The spam is still there but it's being compacted, trashed, and hidden by software while at the same time our brains have learned to filter trash headlines.

The business model now, as terrible as it might seem, is just a stepping stone to more professional aggregation.

Without giving people with a drive to deliver content a chance to showcase their work, how will they move away from being ignored? How will they get any instruction for what works without an infrastructure?

One day these unpaid web denizens will be those that are important journalists, branders, and journalist amalgamaters, those being syndicated for free now will not be syndicated for free later, because when there truly is a move to the net for all media information, those that have both a platform for "attention" and a quality voice will make the living they're striving for… Or anyway that's what I keep telling myself.

missdelite (#625)

Well said.
Meet you back here in a year to see how things pan out, m'k?

wb (#2,214)

Salon "syndicating" stuff from McSweeny's AND Barnes and Noble now, pretty much using the same model.

Kataphraktos (#226)

Check out the evolution of Business Insider since it kicked off. Massive uptick in these "syndicated" posts, got rid of Carney, its best editor, seems to have "hired" a bunch of "interns" to do fluff, Blodget took over some of what Carney used to do… in another year, this will continue evolving in the same direction, with most of the paid staff gone, and the content a mix of one-off Blodget bits, intern-fluff pieces, and lots and lots of syndicated stuff I already catch from the original sources on Google Reader (only without the gratuitous shot of Tinsley Mortimer fellating some eurotrash aristo on a yacht).

missdelite (#625)

This only means Jezebel writers have run out of ideas. The multitude of posts on Lindsay "Where Am I?" Lohan and Kim "Smells Like Pee" Kardashian aren't bringing in the traffic they once did, but thanks to my Jezebeducation, I can now spell "Kardashian" without having to look it up.

missdelite (#625)

Numbers! Beautiful, escalating numbers. How much of those Mar.10 stats have to do with the Bullock/James scandal, I wonder? Hey, I'm a sucker for gossip, too, but if I see one more Lindsay or Kardashian post that's got nothing to do with anything, I'm going to — well, what? Just skip it, as usual. They're soooooo boooooorrinnngg! Unless those two bishes (add Paris/Aniston/Madonna etc. to the mix) get into serious trouble, I don't care!

Hey, while I've got your attention – how about a star, huh? What's the hold up? Don't you guys like me at all??

missdelite (#625)

I guess not.

riese (#4,541)

what happened to bloggorhea

I fear syndication opportunities like this are only encouraging a generation of schlocky, narcissistic writers to hold out hope that they will be discovered.

Spencer Lund (#2,331)

"schlocky, narcissistic writers" are exactly what you have to be if you want your content read as, basically, a mediocre writer. It's the Stuart Smiley approach. You have to convince yourself that you're "good enough, you're smart enough and gosh darn it" people are gonna like my top ten blah blah blah.

This almost nenver happens, but you need a certain amount of ego to write anyway. No one ever made it as a columnist or essayist by saying "my opinion doesn't really matter at all."

It's easy to label people who want to blog or write for a living as solipsistic a-holes that need to find a real job, but it's not exactly accurate. They're trying to succeed and a certain amount of naivete concering their talent is prolly a good thing because if they truly knew how sub-par they were, they would be crushed and give up.

Nurture those young writers with creative criticism.

This attitude is why everyone freaked out about the feature concerning Matt Cherette.

But my comment is also meant in the context of new media. Previously there was a gateway of arbiters to prevent young writers whose work wasn't deemed worthy of publication and therefore mass consumption. It's not my job as a consumer to nurture and encourage young voices with constructive criticism.

I actually do want to encourage solipsistic assholes to acknowledge their talent is sub-par and give up.

Tom McGeveran (#4,195)

I think there is a distinction to be made between syndication that is an agreement among publishers to distribute content by writers who are paid for their work, and reprinting stuff from nonprofessional bloggers who don't get paid for their work. One is mostly a marketing and sometimes a revenue share deal, which helps publishers fund original content; presumably these deals only get made when both parties benefit from them. The other does just seem like free labor.

Redacted (#2,882)

How are these editors not worried that they're setting the pay scale for the job that they do (and will presumably hope to continue doing when they're no longer paid by the Denton Empire, which is soon enough) at $0? Do they have something against their ability to pay their own future rent and drinking tabs?

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