A blogger friend this week hosted a discussion about the US economy, and added a clip from a recent “PBS Newshour.” The clip featured libertarian and economics professor Richard Epstein, who incensed my friend’s readers by suggesting that minimum wage laws be repealed, and that people work for whatever wage business owners offered, even as low as two cents an hour—the theory being they get valuable job skills and connections (never mind the fact that in this version of the American Dream workers would starve to death before realizing any of those wondrous benefits—or maybe that’s what Epstein wants).
Outrage was unanimous, with one commenter suggesting Epstein be kidnaped and forced to clean toilets, or worse (okay, that was me).
But later, I realized that a lot of writers who are outspoken about living wages, and who would fight like hell for equitable pay for all, are among those who happily give their stories, poems and essays away for free to virtually any journal that will publish them.
Excuse me while I shake my brain.
I can think of only two explanations for this. Either too many writers have been conditioned by the publishing market and society in general to believe that writing has no monetary value, or, they just have yet to see the irony that they actually agree with Epstein’s insanity.
Lately, I’ve noticed diverging trends in the writing world. More and more writers are turning to business-oriented models of publishing. These include self-publishing books, or as in my case, starting journals that charge submission fees. But other writers have begun something of a backlash against this model. I’ve seen blogs and facebook posts excoriating journals that charge fees (although these folks seem to have no problem with paying $10 to $30 to enter a contest, the logic of which also escapes me). Some referral sites won’t list journals that charge fees. Duotrope, that mainstay of the writing world, relegates fee-based journals to a back channel that is almost impossible to find.
I hate to see the writing biz head towards the type of polarization that threatens so many other aspects of our society, but it seems inevitable, at least until one model comes to dominate the literary landscape. This to me is like the high tech world, where hundreds of companies vie to create apps and systems that will rule their fields.
But for writers, what it seems to come down to is this: is your writing work, or is it art? That’s a huge topic, and I’ll begin to take a look at it next week.
 The reasons for charging fees are many, but center on these two: I really believe in paying writers (and that’s where the fees go), and I’m not rich enough to foot the bill myself. Obviously there is much more to it, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.