First and foremost most publishers have an in-house team of journalists and content producers. In addition to the in-house team, most publishers use external contributors to garner enhanced commentary on specialist subjects or unique riff’s. Good publishers appreciate and value the content that each member of this extended editorial family brings to the business.
Additionally, a good publisher should always desire external writers and influencers to know that if they have news to break, or something of significance to say in their horizontal/vertical/interest area then they will make more money by posting that story on their platform rather than at their competitor(s).
In order to be fair to the contributor, a publisher should ignore the trend of not paying for their labour, as rumoured at HuffPo and countless others both here in Australia and across the rest of the globalised world.
Pro-active publishers should also ignore the low rates seen on most legacy print publications digital channels. Lots of publications pay their external contributors peanuts (c$10-25 per article) for well researched 500-1,000 word articles, using the inherent passion of the contributor against them. In high wage economies I deem this unfair; more than a little cynical; and certainly a key factor in the erosion of the differentiation between professional journalism; and the hobbyist.
Additionally, publishers should never lose fight of the fact that they are in a symbiotic relationship with their content suppliers. In the long-run, the rush to the bottom will prove entirely self-defeating for most properties and for the industry as a whole.
Instead, it is my view that publishers should investigate a scalable contributor payment model based around a sound libertarian principal that’s very close to my heart, the *meritocracy*. With this new meritocratic model publishers will be able to pay external contributors both for their time, via a flat fee for production time; and then a progressive (banded) payment based on the amount of people that view the content during its typical one-month lifespan. No multiple payments, or needless complexity. Just a payment for time and one payment one month later for performance.
Using this model, if an external contributors article garners few views and little value for the business then the writer will earn only a small payment; as befitting journalism that is worth less to the business. The cream should always be allowed to rise to the top.
Transparency is not optional
A simple question – does the average contributor know how much traffic their latest article generated?
More often than not, they will never be informed instead, it will be left to somebody in the editorial team to judge quality. I believe this is a fundamental strategic error.
In terms of transparency, I believe every paid contributor to a publisher should know how many unique browsers their individual article has generated over the 30 day agreed lifecycle. This helps the writer better understand what works and doesn’t work on the property… and therefore improve both for the betterment of their own career and the business they are working for.
It is true that over the past 4-5 years a few notable mass-market publications in the UK and US marketplaces have experimented with ‘progressive’ payment models somewhat similar to the proposal explained here.
They have however missed one key attribute, the actual time required by the writer to produce the article.