Thursday, July 16, 2009

Biting the hand that feeds you, or feeding the hand that bites you

Biting the hand that feeds you, or feeding the hand that bites you

A fairly popular news website recently changed their payment plan for their writers. They did this without informing anyone, and it took days of speculation and many attempts to get an answer from the owners before it was confirmed. This lack of communication has made a lot of the writers bitter.

The algorithms that determined pay were not revealed to begin with, foiling attempts to understand. When earnings seemed short, the owners fell back on the explanation that the way earnings were calculated was complicated. Now, with the changes, it seems even more complicated, based in part on how many other pages the readers view per session. This is something the writers can neither see nor control. And although it is claimed that the potential is there for pay to increase, this does not seem to have happened in even one case.

So where would a libertarian stand on such a situation? The website is a business. It is private property. The owners can do whatever they wish with it, even destroy it if they so choose. They can choose to pay their writers less, or nothing at all. It might not be in their best interest to do so. But perhaps they have other ideas. After all, in every other business, employers pay just enough to keep the employees from quitting, and employees work just hard enough to keep from being fired. Or so I have been told.

It is dishonest to change the way you calculate pay without informing those you are paying. Perhaps it was an oversight. Certain conditions were agreed upon beforehand, after all.

I would bet that most of the website's writers are still making more money from their writings than they otherwise would be, and probably getting more people to read their writings, too. The writers must weigh the costs and benefits. Then they can make their own decisions. No one is forcing them to write for the site.