Writers can now afford butter with their Toast
December 18, 2014 2:00 AM   Subscribe

Contributors to The Toast are paid a flat, one-time fee of $50 on publication. No further compensation is due, even if The Toast re-publishes the contribution. The Toast also reserves the right to edit at will.
These aren't ideal provisions, but they're not uncommon. What is uncommon: contributors must hand over copyright and waive all moral rights (including the right of attribution).
MeFi favourite The Toast came under fire on Tuesday, as according to Writer Beware, it turned out they paid their contributors a flat $50 fee for all rights in perpetuity. This is not surprising behaviour for an internet content farm, but what may be surprising was the resolution.

Writer Beware is a blog run and sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the story was quickly picked up by activist writers like Nick Mamatas on Twitter and John Scalzi.

Only a day later The Toast responded:
So, with that said, we’re changing our contracts to ask only for First North American Rights (so rights revert to the writer after 6 months), as well as online serial rights so that we can retain the work on our sites in perpetuity. We’re also writing into the contract the promise that we will revert rights in the case of a book deal, so that what we’ve always done in practice will be spelled out in writing. I feel pretty good about this!
With the issue now resolved, there remains the conclusion to be drawn from this, as articulated by Natalie Luhrs: "nice" doesn't pay the bills:
But that’s the thing–it actually doesn’t matter if they’re nice. Nice doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t matter how nice they are if their contracts are (were) written like that. Nice is not an excuse or a reason. It is completely orthogonal to the issue at hand. (Also: so is being new to publishing writers and paying them–again: Pavich is an attorney. He has the resources to set up an LLC and handle the business end of things, he has the resources to create a standard contract that doesn’t suck.)
posted by MartinWisse (98 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Uh, being nice attracts and keeps profitable writers. And that *does* pay the bills.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:06 AM on December 18, 2014 [19 favorites]


That John Scalzi, what a troublemaker.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:13 AM on December 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


Ethics!
posted by Yowser at 2:20 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hec; for 50 bucks I wood right well.
posted by clavdivs at 2:55 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also the toast has been profitable, so money isn't really an excuse either.
posted by ShawnStruck at 2:59 AM on December 18, 2014


We’ve always granted republication rights to any authors who asked — we’ve always given writers their rights back for pieces that have been turned into book or media deals...We’re also writing into the contract the promise that we will revert rights in the case of a book deal, so that what we’ve always done in practice will be spelled out in writing...It makes sense that, now that we’re no longer a small company that mostly publishes people who know us personally, we have to update our written terms to enable other people to trust us with their words.

Mallory Ortberg

I'll give the Toast some credit for making necessary changes, but if they thought that it would be morally wrong to prevent a writer from republishing her work in a book of her own then they should not have asked their writers to sign over the rights in perpetuity.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:01 AM on December 18, 2014 [20 favorites]


Show business baby, ain't show friends.
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:06 AM on December 18, 2014 [20 favorites]


Interesting what isn't mentioned. I used to write articles for our local paper back in the 90's, (print and VERY early days of digital) and I was paid a flat $50 at the time. Maybe by "flat" they also mean over time, no matter WHAT inflation does to that $50.
posted by HuronBob at 3:13 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wrote to Nick Pavich a while ago to complain about something else (annoying ads on the mobile version). He responded very promptly and helpfully, so I was surprised at his initial snarky response to this. I'm glad he apologised.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:14 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Uh, being nice attracts and keeps profitable writers. And that *does* pay the bills.

Being nice to writers doesn't pay the writers' bills. The issue was exploitative contract terms and underpaid writers. The Toast's ability to pay the bills was never the issue.
posted by Dysk at 3:44 AM on December 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


Glad to hear about this change, and wasn't terribly surprised to see that mensch-about-town jscalzi was instrumental here.

I had a piece I was thinking of submitting to the Toast a while back, but the lack of "first rights" language in the terms and conditions, as they were originally posted online, scared me off. Caveat venditor, you know. Now I have no excuse!
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:45 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Toast is an "internet content farm" now?
posted by peacheater at 4:16 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was really glad of the resolution. I've grown fond of the Toast, and it's nice to see them responding so well to critique.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:32 AM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


In my modest experience as a writer, "flat fee" is used in contrast with some flavor of percentage, fee + royalties, or other compensation arrangement.

I am not a lawyer, but "moral rights" are recognized in (among other places) the Berne Convention and elsewhere in discussion of author rights. In that sense they are a thing unto themselves with various attendant rights, in the same way that "copyright" is not simply "the right to make a copy." I rarely see mention of moral rights in U.S. contracts, but I have seem them in some contracts with an online or non-U.S. publishing component.

I enjoy The Toast and was put off by this story. I'm glad to see their change in stance, but I have heard many variations in the last 24 hrs on the idea that this is less a misstep on Pavich's part than a display of his true colors. Having never submitted anything to The Toast, I have no personally informed opinion about that... but I would not have signed The Toast's former contract, no matter how nice they were, unless I were in dire financial straits.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:34 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


$50 same as in town?
posted by blue_beetle at 4:55 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Toast is an "internet content farm" now?

At a flat rate of $50? I'm tempted to say yes. Evidently there are plenty of good writers who feel that is an acceptable price, but it doesn't seem like a great example of an equitable business model.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:57 AM on December 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


Wow, the number of people chiming in on Nick Pavich's twitter feed to say they, too, have never been paid for their work for The Toast is a bit surprising.
posted by mediareport at 5:05 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


What do other sites pay for similar work? I'm totally ignorant of the details on this.
posted by josher71 at 5:06 AM on December 18, 2014


Come on.... "Information wants to be free"
{\}
posted by edgeways at 5:14 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


josher71, I've just started getting back into freelancing after a long break so will defer to folks with more recent experience, but $50 for a relatively short piece seems close enough to the going standard for an online publication with a limited budget.
posted by mediareport at 5:17 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


You can get an idea of other sites' pay rates here: Who Pays Writers.
I believe it is reported by writers themselves. I don't know if they fact-check the info they get. But it's something.
posted by tuesdayschild at 5:19 AM on December 18, 2014 [10 favorites]


Mostly I cannot believe why Nick Pavich wrote such unprofessional tweets, and I wonder if he can be replaced (and if there are conversations about that happening behind the scenes). I also wonder why his only apology was hidden at the end of an interview on a site that is neither twitter nor The Toast.

I am sort of curious about how The Toast is doing, financially. They're no longer a brand new site paying authors a very small amount so they can say, yes, we paid authors.
posted by jeather at 5:20 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think the outrage is more the rights grab for $50. That amount might be fine for a short column as long as the author retains the rights to the material and can shop it elsewhere, further develop it, etc.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:21 AM on December 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


josher71: There is a whole range from $0 on up to quite a lot. Most sites don't pay their writers at all. Then there are a very large number of blogs and content farms that pay on the order of $5 per article, for articles between 200 and 2000 words in length, which amounts to about a quarter of a cent per word.

More successful sites will usually pay between 5 and 10 cents per word, and it seems like the Toast in general falls just shy of this range. $50 would be 5 cents a word for a 1,000 word piece and many of the Toast articles are not much longer than that.

I do rather a lot of writing work for hire, but I am lucky enough to be able to command a bit of a premium for my work, so I get paid between $0.25 and $1 per word for my work. There are people who get paid a lot more (though usually because they are independently famous).
posted by 256 at 5:23 AM on December 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


I am sort of curious about how The Toast is doing, financially.

The Toast's Recipe for Bootstrapping a Profitable Media Business (via Fast Company, ugh)

The Toast hires Roxane Gay to lead new sister site ‘The Butter’

Their holding company is Manderly, LLC, referencing Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:26 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


And, while I do occasionally write for 10 cents a word or less, I only do so when I can retain copyright and most other rights to the work. And when it's something I am interested in writing anyway.
posted by 256 at 5:26 AM on December 18, 2014


yeah i submit to a bunch of places where payment is like ...yeah, no, but retaining the copyright is some wacky shit.
posted by angrycat at 5:38 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


From snuffleupagus' 2nd link:

"Basically, our radical vision for the network is that women should run media for other women," [Pavich] added.

Oops.
posted by mediareport at 5:39 AM on December 18, 2014


Excuse me, that's 'Manderley.'

Here's the g-cache of their 2013 press kit, which promotes their "affluent" "ladyblogging" demographic to advertisers and offers some demographics.

Benefits to Companies and Advertisers- Manderley’s corporate vision is to bring authentic and positive female voices to the world of for-profit ladyblogging. The company is a showcase platform for exciting and creative writers. Aimed at, but not exclusive to, the 18-35 year old affluent female demographic, we offer advertisers traditional and native access to a more sophisticated and intellectual audience. With emphasis on production value combined with data, Manderley helps brands develop relevant content for an increasingly media-savvy demographic. We offer our brands:

∙Access to an affluent, well-educated, bicoastal, metropolitan, primarily female demographic.
∙Topical, positive and intellectual content to enhance brand reputation.
∙Integrated content marketing campaigns which are specifically designed to meet the needs of discerning clients.
∙A loyal readership engaged in the site, its advertisers and its authors, through social media.
∙Direct access to authors who will assist brands in building meaningful dialogue with an open and upscale demographic.


On the value proposition of their freelancers:

Content- Sometimes called a “ladyblog,” also classified “a women’s humor website,” other times a “literary site,” The Toast is an eclectic mix of original writing, cartoons, fashion, pop culture, politics and general frivolity. The Toast is 100% original content, eschewing link blogging and “SEO bait” to offer its readership engaging pieces that draw a reader’s attention and loyalty. The tone is always happy and upbeat. It’s clever without being twee, sharp without being snarky, and fun as hell. The Toast is committed to paying its freelance contributors. The content breakdown for the posts of the past two months show the breadth of our 200+ freelancers..... [pie chart]
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:42 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ortberg posted somewhere yesterday (can't find thrnquote now) that copyright had a lot to do with defending their authors in the event of plagiarism. Is that a common thing a website like The Toast has to put up with?
posted by lownote at 5:50 AM on December 18, 2014


Nick Pavich is a founder, so he's not going anywhere. Maybe he will apologise today?
posted by jeather at 5:53 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Drinky Die:

"That John Scalzi, what a troublemaker."

ZOMG HE IS THE WORST I met him once and he smells like licorice WHO EVEN EATS THAT SHIT
posted by jscalzi at 6:03 AM on December 18, 2014 [68 favorites]


The one time I met John Scalzi he was all like, I'm going to drink your beer and eat your cake. In exchange I will play my ukulele for you.


Fair trade.
posted by 256 at 6:19 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ladyblogging? Fucking really? Ladyblogging. Wow, my heart-on for The Toast just shrank 3 sizes. Also, I unilaterally refuse to sign away perpetuity rights, which means I don't publish a lot on-line anymore, as most publishers ask for that with their piddly little $50 token.

This story makes me surprisingly angry. I've got to quit assigning moral value to sites that publish content I like, and just accept that in this brave new world, creators are continuously fucked from all sides.
posted by dejah420 at 6:21 AM on December 18, 2014 [23 favorites]


lownote, Pavich used the "we just grabbed rights in perpetuity to protect our beloved writers from plagiarism" excuse in his interview/apology at Scratch, too. Rings just as hollow there, and the interviewer calls him on it right away.
posted by mediareport at 6:25 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I write for Slate a lot. I don't get paid if they republish one of my pieces. Am I supposed to? It never occurred to me. Actually, looking at my contract, yep, they have worldwide rights in perpetuity. Then again, they pay a lot more than $50.
posted by escabeche at 6:26 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


" but what may be surprising was the resolution."

Is this roundabout way of saying "You won't believe what happened next."?
posted by symbioid at 6:34 AM on December 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


ladyblogging


Minneapolis Woman Explodes On Train

Commuter on Eastbound Green Line spontaneously combusts; authorities seeking person who coined the term "ladyblogging" because holy shit what an asshole
posted by louche mustachio at 6:40 AM on December 18, 2014 [54 favorites]


I'm a writer. I like to get paid for "producing content."

There must be something motivating these writers to write for such a low rate, and then sign their rights away. I suspect it's the perceived prestige of being able to say you're a Toast contributor.

But anyone considering writing as a "career" needs to know that it is not a field noted for strong business skills. Your competition will write for free. Your competition will sign their rights away. Why? So they can publish in the Toast or wherever.

But it takes a lot less effort to write one article for $500 than it does to write ten articles for $50 apiece. It's important to evaluate whether or not the "exposure" is really worth giving away your time for free.

Happily most publications I have dealt with are honest, even if they cannot pay much.

So the question is why any self-respecting writer would have agreed to the Toast's terms in the first place. It's writers like this that are destroying, or have destroyed, the publishing model. At least from the perspective of a writer.
posted by Nevin at 6:50 AM on December 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


The tone is always happy and upbeat. It’s clever without being twee, sharp without being snarky, and fun as hell.

Remember to smile while you ladyblog! There's soap powder to sell to affluent bicoastal metropolitan sophisticates. Don't be a bad feminist.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:50 AM on December 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


i just searched boston.com for that headline you jerk

im so tired
posted by poffin boffin at 6:50 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


'ladyblog' sounds like a low-tier D&D monster. Beware the ladyblog who croaks in the deep.
posted by Think_Long at 6:52 AM on December 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


Re: giving away all the rights to your words for a paltry fee: is this not the exact sort of scenario where collective bargaining is effective recourse?
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:56 AM on December 18, 2014


grumpybear, that's assuming you get the whole collective to agree to the bargain and you don't get people who will do the work at a lower cost. The problem with internet content is that there are so many people making content, so cost of living, alternative lines of work, and other considerations that make location-specific groups a more viable and cohesive unit.

In other words, there are too many ways for the collective to be undermined by starving artists from around the world.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:03 AM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


The Toast is an "internet content farm" now?

Almost every bloggy pageview-y website is a content farm (unless you happen to like it.)
posted by michaelh at 7:13 AM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


Wow $50. I don't know what I thought they would pay, but... more than that, evidently.

My very first writing gig paid 50 cents a word. Rates have been mostly gone downhill since then.
posted by retrograde at 7:14 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


So the question is why any self-respecting writer would have agreed to the Toast's terms in the first place. It's writers like this that are destroying, or have destroyed, the publishing model. At least from the perspective of a writer.

Clearly those people just starting out trying to get exposure, learning the game and making terrible deals are the problem. They are ruining it for more established writers who have already have good connections and reputations and can demand people pay decent rates.

This market has the exact same problem as the acting market and other creative fields, tons of supply, less demand, means someone somewhere will work for free.

Unions won't fix that problem it will just ensure that those outside of the union are the ones having the problem.
posted by edbles at 7:15 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


"That John Scalzi, what a troublemaker."

ZOMG HE IS THE WORST I met him once and he smells like licorice WHO EVEN EATS THAT SHIT


I tend to consider Mr. Scalzi a minor force of literary nature, licorice smell or not.

(Besides, that's prolly from all the absinthe he swills...)
posted by Samizdata at 7:32 AM on December 18, 2014


Re: giving away all the rights to your words for a paltry fee: is this not the exact sort of scenario where collective bargaining is effective recourse?

There are writers' unions.

The challenge is that people will write for free. There are even people who will pay publishers for the privilege of writing, much as we do here on MetaFilter.
posted by Nevin at 7:36 AM on December 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


So the question is why any self-respecting writer would have agreed to the Toast's terms in the first place.

I probably would have, just because I didn't know any better. I'm not a capital-w Writer, but I did some small time writing for the internet a few years ago. When a magazine came to me about republishing rights, I had no idea that they were even a thing. Happily, there, I was paid a nice amount for the original work and retained ownership of my words, so it wasn't a problem. But it's not a surprise that someone might take advantage of people who don't know to watch for that sort of thing.

Not that I have a ton of experience, but anyone just starting out and pitching to places like The Toast might want to look through The Billfold's articles with the freelancing tag.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:42 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


$50 and no repub rights seems pretty standard, sadly. In fact, it happened to me...

see what i did there
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


I have friend who has a fulfilling day job, three kids, etc., and is emphatically Not A Writer, but is talented with words and when he has a funny idea, he'll spend his lunch hour writing it out and then fire it off to McSweeny's to see if they'll take it. He has about a 10% success rate, which is pretty good.

I'm not sure what he gets paid, or if he gets paid; he's doing it to amuse himself, and if somebody wants to put it where a lot of people can see it, and give him money, all the better.

This is where it gets tricky for me; I don't think my pal is setting out to Undermine The Struggling Writer, but he's part of the legions of "content providers" who don't really do it for a living and enjoy the occasional cheque that covers a restaurant meal.

"Real" writers who want to make a living writing for sites like the Toast aren't just competing with other "real" writers, but with talented "amateurs" who can create equally good material, but on the hobby level, if you're looking at short pieces and one-off stuff.

Obviously there's a different scale when it comes to people who write novels or long-form journalism, but "10 Things Your Cat Does When You're Not Looking" is the sort of stuff that puts you in competition with hobbyists who are thrilled to get $50 for something they'd probably just post on their blog otherwise.
posted by Shepherd at 7:56 AM on December 18, 2014 [17 favorites]


As someone on the long haul from writing for beer money to writing as a serious portion of income (it's a long way away) this is about what I'd expect for a small WFH peice for a small website, TBH. The ownership thing is pretty nice.
posted by Artw at 8:02 AM on December 18, 2014


I'd actually be interested in knowing whether the Billfold itself pays all of its writers now, and what their pay scale is-- this article is from two years ago, and I don't know if they've updated it. Who Pays Writers gets a brief mention here from August, but not with respects to the Billfold's own policies.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:05 AM on December 18, 2014


I've written for the Billfold, and most of my pieces received no payment (which is unfortunate). But last I heard, which was—to be fair—a while back, Mike Dang was trying to pay for reported pieces, $50 or $100 each. No idea if that is still the case or if it's become a blanket policy for all articles, which would be great. But still not enough money!
posted by good day merlock at 8:08 AM on December 18, 2014


OK yes, "ladyblogging" is pretty terrible. But I've noticed how Mallory Ortberg uses that word publicly: it's always really jokey. I think they're very wry about calling themselves a ladyblogging concern, but meanwhile it's also a convenient shorthand that they can put in business plans and conversations with out-of-touch suits who have money and sort of pretend it's serious. Like...the opposite of code switching?
posted by clavicle at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


The ladyblogging wars begun it has.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:16 AM on December 18, 2014


So the question is why any self-respecting writer would have agreed to the Toast's terms in the first place.

That framing seems a bit unfair. I've done very cheap or free stuff to get my name out there in the past, and later hit the point where I just laughed at folks who wanted me to write for them without pay. Both seem to me ok positions to take, and I won't attack young and/or new writers who choose the first option for a while, as I did. But sites that take advantage of the ignorance of those new writers with bullshit moves on copyright deserve all the opprobrium they get. I certainly would have been suckered by that garbage when I was just starting out, delighted to get the exposure at a site with good traffic.
posted by mediareport at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


So the question is why any self-respecting writer would have agreed to the Toast's terms in the first place.

I have not written for the Toast but I have written for a similar site with a similar contract which you can probably figure out if you look at my last comment or Meta history.

It was the first time anyone paid me for my writing, period. I'm not saying I wouldn't have liked to get paid more, but $50 is more than $0. $50 I wouldn't otherwise had, plus a relationship with an editor and the chance for more $50s in the future.

I still think writing for exposure sucks, but I have definitely gotten more work, some of which pays better, as a result of those articles. Before them no one knew I could write; hell, I didn't know I could write, to be honest.

Listen, I know nobody wants me in the Real Writers Club, which is fine. You can't have any of my $50 worth of Crunch Wrap Supremes, though.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:28 AM on December 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


I met a homeless guy at the local McDonalds. Maybe 35, Haitian, carries around a steel drum kit. He was supporting himself by using a laptop to write and submit online software reviews. He downloads and installs the programs, runs them, and writes the review. All of this on the Mcdonalds Wifi and electrical outlets. He said he gets $20 each for them, and he spends about 4 hours doing them. So he earns about $5.00 an hour.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'm glad the rights situation got worked out.

Notably, publishers provide significant value to writers beyond the dollar amount they pay writers. It's not like we are currently limited in our ability to self-publish on the internet for free. Rather the opposite.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I make this comment with some trepidation, because I'm not a writer and don't really have an emotional investment in this kerfluffle so maybe I'm missing something, but the level of GRAR! this incident seemed to get both in the comments on the Scalzi blog and others OP linked to and here on the blue seems a little disproportionate to me.

My take (and this is explained in the original post, not even as a follow-up) was that The Toast had a shitty contract that, while apparently not hugely uncommon in online publishing certainly clashed with the stated mission of the site. They got called on it, the publisher initially reacted defensively in a shitty way but within 24 hours of getting called on the bad contract it has been changed and there was an apology for how it was shitty. I get that in an ideal world the contract wouldn't have been shitty in the first place but can't we be happy that once it got some attention the situation was quickly resolved in a mostly positive way? Isn't that as close to ideal as we're likely to get?

The internet cycle of bad thing -> outrage firestorm -> declarations of eternal hatred for and never again using/paying/visiting source of bad thing -> down the collective memory hole a month later seems exhausting and sort of weirdly flattens the level of outrage that might be appropriate for any given thing. This is an over broad generalization but I sometimes feel like I see the same level of outraged prose for everything from a bad contract to sexual assault allegations to 20 years of US foreign policy. (I'm referring to mefi comments/tumblr/twitter stuff, not the original Writer Beware post or Scalzi's blog post or that sort of thing.) Certainly different things effect people differently but it all starts to sound the same after a while, and I think it leads to outrage fatigue which just enables future shitty things because everyone is too tired to run to the barricades for every thing.

Am I wildly off base on this? Need some calibration from outside my own content bubble.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:48 AM on December 18, 2014 [25 favorites]


I like paying writers, I'm a writer, I got paid a few times for writing long form type stuff, but there's this thing now where suddenly people are acting like any blog that makes enough money to support itself and some staff members needs to pay any contributor what a professional journalist or essayist or fiction writer would expect to get paid for a long, thoughtful or expert piece. This is a bootstrapped blog posting essentially what could pass for the best forum posts from SA circa 2008, not a newspaper. $50 seems more than fair to me for most of what I read on there.

Writing for exposure doesn't actually suck at all, it's really fun and great to have people reading your work through the audience base that the site owners' hard work and funding have established, and I don't understand where this MY PRECIOUS GEMS THEY WANTS TO STEAL THEM thing came from. Or maybe I do: What sucks worst is being broke and having no way to support yourself, and to have the former avenues of payment for truly hard writing efforts no longer exist for you when you're getting started. That majorly sucks. It also sucks to not have any way to express yourself or any audience to care about what you have to say especially when you just want to write a funny parody poem where how about what if a cat wrote Lean In or whatever. So when a site is like "Hey want us to put your 3 hours of work in front of a big audience?" that is not a bad thing. It is fine. Go ahead and do it and feel no shame, or pass or send it to somewhere else that might pay more instead. Up to you. The attitude among more established writers that denigrates as scabs people who are perfectly happy giving their talent away to a publication they love in exchange for a reputation among the community they want to impress, that seems really unfair.

Anyway, sounds like they did the right thing fixing that rights issue, good job Toast!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:51 AM on December 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


The Toast had a shitty contract that, while apparently not hugely uncommon in online publishing

No. The Toast's rights grab *was* hugely uncommon in online publishing. That's the main point here.

I think everyone's glad The Toast recognized their freelance contract was unusually shitty. I also think it's fair to ask what the publisher's initial tweets, bizarre "we were fighting plagiarism!" defense, and (to me, more important) lack of visible apology in his Twitter stream say about him as a person, and what that means for the publication he publishes. I'm particularly interested in seeing how The Toast handles future cases where sites plagiarize their freelance writers. Will Nick go, "Oh, sorry, writers, you're on your own fighting this now because you made us give up rights to your work forever" or will he do the right thing and go, "Damn, that sucks. Let us put the pressure on those assholes for stealing your work on our site"?

Interesting question, I think.
posted by mediareport at 8:59 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I get that in an ideal world the contract wouldn't have been shitty in the first place but can't we be happy that once it got some attention the situation was quickly resolved in a mostly positive way? Isn't that as close to ideal as we're likely to get?

I think that the publisher's lack of apology for his shitty tweets and the weirdly large number of people who were like "actually we were never paid by you" that haven't been addressed are glaring omissions, but the immediate (and retroactive) changing of rights back is really good.
posted by jeather at 9:01 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


jeather is there a source with more details on the not being paid thing? Is it in the Luhrs piece? (That's blocked for me at work for some reason.) I saw some mentions in the comments but I didn't realize it was a big deal.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2014


Nice is not an excuse or a reason. It is completely orthogonal to the issue at hand.

Incidentally, is orthogonal the new mathy sounding word that people like to use to sound smart? I've seen it here on the blue too. Please just stop. It seems to be used instead of "completely unrelated to" but orthogonal vectors still live in the same vector space. If you have to use a fancy math word to inflate your writing and stroke your ego, use disjoint. It means basically the same thing but is closer to the concept.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Incidentally, is orthogonal the new mathy sounding word that people like to use to sound smart?

No, it's been used that way since at least the 90s.

Also I'm relieved to hear that I don't have to dump the Toast on grounds of not paying writers and rights grabs.
posted by immlass at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


jeather is there a source with more details on the not being paid thing?

No, it's in comments at Whatever and The Toast and also in a bunch of replies to Nick Pavich's tweets.
posted by jeather at 9:39 AM on December 18, 2014


Is there a reason CoolsiteX.com can't pay a writer $20, but then a tiny (like .01) percentage of revenue from the ads, dependent upon exclusivity of license, perhaps with a time limit?

But not the whole copyright - that sounds like some Jack-Kirby-estate level bullshit.
posted by eclectist at 9:42 AM on December 18, 2014


The internet cycle of bad thing -> outrage firestorm -> declarations of eternal hatred for and never again using/paying/visiting source of bad thing -> down the collective memory hole a month later seems exhausting and sort of weirdly flattens the level of outrage that might be appropriate for any given thing. This is an over broad generalization but I sometimes feel like I see the same level of outraged prose for everything from a bad contract to sexual assault allegations to 20 years of US foreign policy. (I'm referring to mefi comments/tumblr/twitter stuff, not the original Writer Beware post or Scalzi's blog post or that sort of thing.) Certainly different things effect people differently but it all starts to sound the same after a while, and I think it leads to outrage fatigue which just enables future shitty things because everyone is too tired to run to the barricades for every thing.

I think a large part of this is that it's not the same people every time. So the people going full-on FUCK-YOU-GRAR on the bad writing contracts are probably writers, or people who care about writers, or copyright law, or whatever, and the people going full-on FUCK-YOU-GRAR on US foreign policy are people who are into left-wing or non-interventionist politics or what have you, and the sexual assault allegation commenters are people for whom feminism is a big deal, or who have experienced sexual assault, or whatever and so on.

Everyone is full-on FUCK-YOU-GRARing about the things they personally care deeply about. And so it looks like the internet is full-on FUCK-YOU-GRARing about everything all the time, when it's probably just that different people are invested in different things and there will always be some people who are deeply invested enough in a given thing to GRAR at it. And no doubt there are left-wing non-interventionist foreign policy writers who are fuck-you-graring the bad contracts but FUCK-YOU-GRARing US foreign policy (or whatever) but you'll always notice the allcaps stuff more, and so it looks like MeFi as a whole is reacting to everything with the same level of allcaps FUCK-YOU-GRAR to everything, when in reality you probably can't really generalise like that.

That's my theory, anyway.
posted by Dysk at 9:54 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Is there a reason CoolsiteX.com can't pay a writer $20, but then a tiny (like .01) percentage of revenue from the ads, dependent upon exclusivity of license, perhaps with a time limit?

Or why not pay them £20 (no dollar sign on this keyboard!) and then say 0.1% of ad revenue from the article page, with the £20 being a non-refundable advance on that revenue stream? (i.e. you get £20 and if it turns out that your article is super-popular and makes £200,000 in ad revenue, you'd get another £180 - 0.1% of £200,000 minus the initial £20 - but don't end up owing the site some of your £20 back if it's not popular and makes little to no ad revenue)
posted by Dysk at 9:58 AM on December 18, 2014


The problem with internet content is that there are so many people making content

Also: that we refer to it as 'content'.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:10 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Incidentally, is orthogonal the new mathy sounding word that people like to use to sound smart? I've seen it here on the blue too. Please just stop. It seems to be used instead of "completely unrelated to" but orthogonal vectors still live in the same vector space. If you have to use a fancy math word to inflate your writing and stroke your ego, use disjoint. It means basically the same thing but is closer to the concept.

This mathematician 100% endorses this usage of "orthogonal" and considers it superior to "disjoint" in this context. In fact, I think it's the very best recent extrusion of mathematical terminology into common usage.
posted by escabeche at 10:12 AM on December 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


So the question is why any self-respecting writer would have agreed to the Toast's terms in the first place. It's writers like this that are destroying, or have destroyed, the publishing model. At least from the perspective of a writer.

Hello. My name is Avery Edison, and I've written for The Toast. Twice, in fact, with one piece published, and one piece due to be published in early January.

When my first essay was published, I received $25 for a 1000-1500 word piece. That was comparable to rates I'd been paid by some other, more established websites, and infinitely more than I'd been paid by the places I'd written for without payment in order to get my name out there.

I read the contract when it arrived, and understood the terms. I was fine with them (although I'm certainly glad they're changing), because the piece I wrote wasn't something I foresaw ever wanting the rights to. I was excited to be published on The Toast, because I'm a big fan of the site and I knew that the level of engagement among its audience is high, so having my name and work in front of them could only be a good thing.

Am I destroying the publishing model? No more than I'm destroying the comedy model when I do open mic nights, or work gigs that don't pay well and treat performers like crap. Part of being a """creative""" means knowing that you'll 1) start out at the bottom and have to "pay your dues", and b) later compete against the people who are starting out and "paying their dues". The advantage you have over them by then is that you're much, much better at what you do. So much so that you'll be worth paying.

As far as I can tell, this has always been the deal. It's worked out pretty okay for me, as it has for most successful artists (not that I count myself as "successful") of the last hundred years.
posted by aedison at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


the level of GRAR! this incident seemed to get both in the comments on the Scalzi blog and others OP linked to and here on the blue seems a little disproportionate to me.

The history of creators getting screwed by publishers is a very long one, and it's a basic truism that publishers pretty much always overreach and creators need to be ever-vigilant in pushing back. It's not just internet content-farms. The level of GRAR! on these issues thus always starts out high even when the particulars of any given case don't seem that dramatic.
posted by Zed at 10:39 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Zed - I understand there's that history, but that's sort of my point. In the context of that history isn't this specific Toast incident kind of a reasonable good outcome, despite Pavich's tonedeaf snark on Twitter? The contract was improved within a day of the intial complaint being raised. Why are a lot of people still (apparently) super mad about this?

It's physically impossible to maintain Outrage over Creator Oppression 100% of the time, shouldn't we be saving more for when a publisher actively refuses to improve their contract? I've seen Scalzi write about this at least a couple times in the past, like when pressure was put on Random House to improve the Alibi/Hydra contracts. As I understand it it actually did take a sustained furor for a couple weeks to get Random House to improve things. So whipping up more of a furor in that case made sense.

Upon reflection I think Dysk and the other commenters above who pointed out that it's easy to see constant GRAR even when it's different (possibly quite small) groups of people are most likely right. If I see a dozen angry twitter posts, a dozen angry metafilter comments, and a dozen angry comments on Scalzi's blog or whatever other blogs/tumblrs I read in one day that seems like an internet shitstorm, when in reality it's a drop in the ocean of the daily site traffic at those places. So it's probably a perceptions/filter thing.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:55 AM on December 18, 2014


I think part of the outrage might be an age thing. I used to write editorial pieces for a national Canadian newspaper. In 2000, this meant about $400 for a 1200 word article. Several of these pieces got reprinted in magazines and I got paid for that. One was reprinted in Reader's Digest for (imagine!) $700.

Flash forward 15 years. Reader's Digest went through bankruptcy. The national newspaper now pays ZERO for the kind of editorials I write.

Anyone who has been writing in the past ten years, can't help but feel funny in this new landscape. One has the feeling of creating value, but the market says otherwise.
posted by storybored at 11:04 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't see most of the grar coming from shitty rights, but from the sexist, condescending dismissal of legitimate concerns (which are easily being addressed with "yeah, we see the issue and are fixing it") by one of the principals in the business. A business which had presented itself as feminist and woman-friendly, and had built up an incredible amount of goodwill on that premise.

To have that content reduced to "dream journals" for "kittens" is flatly insulting to their writers - including the top-line writers like Ortberg and Gay (who must be wondering what the fuck she's walked into) - and the people who read that writing, and the people who might have been interested in writing for them in the future.

Yesterday on Twitter, both Roxane and Mallory were trying to deal with that blowback - Mallory said flat out she was angry at Pavich and that of course he didn't speak for the rest of them and she didn't know what she was going to do about it just yet. He's stripped away the sense of agency - that "Women Ignoring Men in Art History" is a funny thing a woman wrote knowing other women would get it is now dream journal ladyblogging churned out to get kitten paws on their ladyadvertising - Upworthy with period jokes, run by a man for some easy dough. Now we're all suckers.

It is additionally startling to a lot of people that writing doesn't pay shit, but there is nothing unique to The Toast on that front - they weren't scamming anybody in that sense, but a lot of people really want to believe that all you have to do is publish a couple of stories or a book and you get J.K. Rowling money.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:14 AM on December 18, 2014 [26 favorites]


That makes a lot of sense thanks for the perspective Lyn.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:37 AM on December 18, 2014


When my first essay was published, I received $25 for a 1000-1500 word piece.

That seems a bit low for a site like The Toast.
posted by mediareport at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2014


That seems a bit low for a site like The Toast.

That was in early August of this year. I think the standard rate got bumped up very soon after.
posted by aedison at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2014


$50 sounds exactly what they would pay for pieces like that. Yeah, the rights grab was weird but the money seemed more or less in line with what writing for the internet pays. I used to write tech industry analysis articles in the 500 word range for $30 a pop, and would usually do three a day.

Even bigger-name publications don't pay a heck of a lot. The Guardian pays around $150 for blog posts. That's also what Vice pays.

I wrote something for McSweeney's last week and got zero for it. Strictly an exposure gig. To make a living as a freelancer you've gotta really churn stuff out.
posted by joechip at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is where it gets tricky for me; I don't think my pal is setting out to Undermine The Struggling Writer, but he's part of the legions of "content providers" who don't really do it for a living and enjoy the occasional cheque that covers a restaurant meal.

"Real" writers who want to make a living writing for sites like the Toast aren't just competing with other "real" writers, but with talented "amateurs" who can create equally good material, but on the hobby level, if you're looking at short pieces and one-off stuff.


But if this is the case, then does the issue over usage rights and payment here with Toast really matter?
posted by Nevin at 12:22 PM on December 18, 2014


"But anyone considering writing as a "career" needs to know that it is not a field noted for strong business skills. Your competition will write for free. Your competition will sign their rights away. Why? So they can publish in the Toast or wherever.

But it takes a lot less effort to write one article for $500 than it does to write ten articles for $50 apiece. It's important to evaluate whether or not the "exposure" is really worth giving away your time for free.
"

This is a big part of why I don't work as a freelance journalist, and instead have a non-profit communication gig (journalists are pretty much the only people who make less than non-profiteers). I mean, part of it is that I'm not very good at business in general, and also not entirely awesome at matching what I want to write about to what the outlet wants to publish (Garden Fancy spiked my short piece on a Koi association's new president despite there being a great story full of generational clashes, internet fights and casual archaic racism). But the other part is that after having a journalism job for a long time, it's really hard to not get paid for something I write unless I was going to write it anyway.

I know folks who make a real career out of it, but they're almost all focused on pitching publications with a strong print presence, since places like Playboy and Outdoors will pay a grand or so for real reportage, and yeah, it doesn't take that much longer than writing short pieces for content farms.
posted by klangklangston at 12:22 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you want to write and get paid for it (and you are not famous), focusing on "hyper-local" monthly magazines is a potential strategy. Apparently (at least here in Canada anyway), glossy magazines that focus on a specific urban market are doing well. So I have picked up a gig as a regular contributor that pays pretty decently and adds about 10% to my annual income. Which is nice.

I also (among many things) work part-time as an editor for a global NGO/non-profit, and that gig has gotten me a lot of "exposure", but the problem is the kinds of pubs that publish in that field (international relations, international news) pay pretty poorly.

In fact, I pitched to one online publication after noticing their East Asia correspondent had departed. The rates they quoted me were pretty bad, and the former correspondent now works for a global security think tank.
posted by Nevin at 12:30 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's also been confirmed that the changes in contract will be retroactive and will cover the entire contents of the Toast.

Will Nick go, "Oh, sorry, writers, you're on your own fighting this now because you made us give up rights to your work forever" or will he do the right thing and go, "Damn, that sucks. Let us put the pressure on those assholes for stealing your work on our site"?

The Toast has a post where people are asking these kinds of questions and getting answers. In the case of the "is this retroactive," Mallory responded first, then Nick confirmed. I'd encourage people with questions to go to the source.

Why are a lot of people still (apparently) super mad about this?

My guess is, the Toast and eventually Mallory herself, are coming into their backlash period. I'm pretty sure they're prepared for it, watching how they seem to operate, but it is inevitable. It'll be interesting to see how Mallory's particular style of brash, in your face vulnerability and humor will alter the backlash period - people and organizations usually get defensive, but that's simply not how she and the Toast in general rolls. I think as people with the specific mindset of "call outs are good, defensiveness in the face of call outs is bad" begin to gain more power, the way communication occurs between the people with their hands on the switch and their community and consumers will become very different, and I'm excited to see what happens.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:29 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Part of being a """creative""" means knowing that you'll 1) start out at the bottom and have to "pay your dues", and b) later compete against the people who are starting out and "paying their dues".

As far as I can tell, this has always been the deal. It's worked out pretty okay for me, as it has for most successful artists (not that I count myself as "successful") of the last hundred years.


...and this is why it's effectively closed off entirely as an avenue to people with no pre-existing means or support. Sad but true.
posted by Dysk at 2:04 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Garden Fancy spiked my short piece on a Koi association's new president despite there being a great story full of generational clashes, internet fights and casual archaic racism

Is it weird that now I really want to read this?!

posted by epersonae at 2:14 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


...and this is why it's effectively closed off entirely as an avenue to people with no pre-existing means or support. Sad but true.

A completely valid, and necessary, point. There definitely needs to be more outreach and support for groups who are traditionally shut-out because by system. In theory, the barrier to entry is much lower ("all you need is a computer and an Internet connection, and you can get published somewhere," right?) but that doesn't work out so well in practice. The Toast does a lot of work to encourage writers from underrepresented groups–right now I'm thinking of their series of pieces by trans writer–to submit, which is great. In that way, more online publications should copy it.
posted by aedison at 4:05 PM on December 18, 2014


Well, you need time as well. If you're literally on the breadline, it's hard to justify putting time and effort into something that isn't going to help you scrape together money to eat or pay the rent.
posted by Dysk at 4:09 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Absolutely (and something I have huge difficulty with even at my not-that-bad level of poverty).
posted by aedison at 4:11 PM on December 18, 2014


Is it weird that now I really want to read this?!

Seeing as it's been about five to seven years, but I think I still have my notes, maybe I should try to delve back in and see what's happened since then. The brief synopsis is that whatever the big SoCal koi association (effectively the national one) was had a president who got into koi back in WWII in Japan, and was one of the main guys who brought it over here. He was president forever, and was one of the main folks setting judging criteria. He was about 80 when I talked to him, and was full of offensive-grandpa shit like calling Japanese people Nips and, if I recall correctly, literally described them as inscrutable in a way that made it sound like he thought it was a compliment. But he basically couldn't continue on as president, since his health was failing, and there was a new generation getting into the hobby. A combination of a shit-ton of money (show koi can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars easily) and the shift from print magazines to internet fora changed the tone from Good Ol' Boy to the flaming, ranting phpBB incivility so oft decried. If I recall correctly, he ran despite his failing health and the recognition from everyone that he would lose. The new president had won in part due to his bankroll and his popularity on a handful of koi boards, and while he was fairly well regarded, the old president was fuming about barbarians at the gates (paraphrased: "They say anything on the internet! It's all over! And none of 'em have a Nip's eye for fins!"). Many, many people on the boards had their own opinions, and some of them tried doxxing me and alleged that I was a spy for some other dude who was old money in the hobby and was seen as the tacit patron of the old president. For a while, I've meant to turn it into a detective story — one fictional death, and the whole thing plays out like a Don Rickles guest shot on Murder She Wrote. I honestly think I've got a better chance of selling that than the original story.

The editor wanted 300 words on how the new president would change the hobby, and I gave her that. But I also know that just by posting, "Hi, I'm ———, a journalist on a spec assignment for Garden Fancy, writing about the recent election, and I'd like to talk to people who have opinions on it" she got at least a handful of calls from irate board denizens demanding to know if she'd ever really met me and what my real name was. That makes it hard to pitch a soft consumer mag on expanding the story, and harder still to get a second story from them.

One of the things that struck me was that koi judging is a lot like judging wines — there's established criteria, but the subjective aesthetic of the judge is just as important, and a lot of the conflict seemed to be over whether the internet generation's aesthetics would wreck the hobby, especially since it's tied up in a lot of Americanized-Japanese notions, like losing points for being too perfect. The LOLs and BRBs of the internet seemed like an incomprehensible (should I say, "inscrutable") threat to people who had spent their lives developing criteria based on appeals to ancient Eastern tradition.
posted by klangklangston at 7:54 PM on December 18, 2014 [20 favorites]


Thanks for the rundown, klang! What a fascinating insight into the fraught world of the koi fancier!

PS I would totally read your koi detective story! As in, I would drop what I am reading and hook into it Right. Now!
posted by Philby at 10:41 PM on December 18, 2014


Ditto. That's fascinating, even as a quick overview!
posted by epersonae at 10:46 AM on December 19, 2014


One of my favourite things about Dick Francis (and Mary Francis, let's give credit where credit is due) was the way his stories were so deeply set in their environments. I've learnt more about merchant banking and the gem trade and of course the horseracing world from his novels than from anything else I've read.

Which is to say, I'd read the ever lovin' words out of a mystery set around koi fanciers.
posted by Georgina at 2:24 PM on December 19, 2014


I've always found it interesting how Mallory and Nicole are partners with Nick, given that Mallory especially will every now and then mention on twitter how wonderful it is to never have to report to a Man. I don't think she does report to him in any way, but it seemed odd to be so proud of the all woman business and advertise to potential employees (before they hired Nicole #2) that if they came to work at the toast they'd never have to work for a Man. I would not be surprised if Nick got bought out or asked to leave or something after this.

Also I've also wondered how well the toast is doing financially, because they're proud of being profitable and Mallory posted a lot on twitter while she was buying a house a month or two ago, but there've also been more than a couple times when she references the donate button on the site to her twitter followers. Most of these references are humorous (like when talking about Bundle or something else that generated a lot of VC or w/e), but it always made me wonder what kind of margins they're operating on.
posted by DynamiteToast at 8:07 AM on December 22, 2014


Ortberg also wrote a pretty popular book, so her finances are probably more independent of the site than other writers.
posted by Think_Long at 9:47 AM on December 22, 2014


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