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 submissions@jezebel.com 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.