Wil Wheaton

Cult actor, blogger, writer, and all-round Homo sapiens Wil Wheaton has kicked off a Twitter, and later, blog storm, over Huffington Post‘s attempt to pay him in eyeballs. That is, he was approached by HuffPo to republish a blog post with them, in return for…exposure. Not the smartest approach to a guy who has some 3 million followers, maybe. But at least HuffPost isn’t playing favorites.

Unfortunately, we’re unable to financially compensate our bloggers at this time. Most bloggers find value in the unique platform and reach our site provides, but we completely understand if that makes blogging with us impossible.

Wheaton posted his take on this on Twitter under his @wilw hashtag, and later blogged about it. And if HuffPost wasn’t playing favorites, neither was he (see below)

WilW Tweet

There have been dissenting voices. “What This ‘Star Trek’ Actor Gets Wrong about Working for Free,” says Damon Brown in Inc., having apparently missed out on the rest of the non-Star Trek part of Wheaton’s career. “Money is cheap, but experience is expensive,” he claims.

To coin a phrase, I don’t buy it. “Huffington Post is valued at well over fifty million dollars, and the company can absolutely afford to pay contributors,” Wheaton protested. “The fact that it doesn’t, and can get away with it, is distressing to me.” And how did HuffPost get to that valuation in the first place? Bit by bit, incrementally, through contributions from the likes of Wil Wheaton. It’s ridiculous to claim that blog posts are too brief, or too ephemeral, to be paid for. I’m writing right here, right now, on a venue that pays me for far shorter wordage than HuffPost was asking from Wheaton. And if TeleRead can afford to do it, HuffPost certainly can.

Obviously, I’m thinking of this mostly in terms of writers. Especially self-published ones, who are always being assailed by recommendations to release works for free, or to run free-book giveaways, or anything to secure exposure and seduce the reader. Well, that argument may work when we’re talking self-promotion, but when you hear it coming from an organization that can afford to pay you? That’s when you should stop and think: Do you want to eat eyeballs?


  1. BTW a $50 million valuation is ridiculously small and furthermore what does valuation have to do with having the necessary cash flow to pay people more? Even if value was the same as cash on hand, it would be like spending one’s endowment. Once you’ve given away the equity you are left with ZERO. That is exactly why creative people don’t make money, they are bad at math and economics.

  2. insidious I have lifetimes of video produced on Youtube for free or for Beer money available to me and its 75-90% as entertaining as even the ad supported content on traditional television.

    It’s not HufPo’s fault that there is so much cognitive surplus that millions of people around the world will gladly write some blog posts in exchange for the thrill of having people acknowledge their work. Will Wheaton is basically in the position as Luddites or Union organizers of old. Both were completely crushed by market forces.

    I am a Youtube partner. I make video content that directly displaces the content that used to be made by pro or semi-pro media producers. I give my stuff away for free on Youtube where people are always free to block the ads on those few videos where I have ads enabled. The old people who used to make a living by what I now do for free are probably a bit pissed off, but that’s not my problem. I consider myself adequately compensated because I never deluded myself into believing such activities could ever constitute a worthwhile career.

  3. It’s not a matter of either pay the artist or live your life without art. There are a lot of artists willing and eager to produce their art without getting paid for it. The mainstream artists that garner mass audiences seem to get paid pretty well, and the ones who do it for love quite often are very happy with that arrangement. There’s no doubt that the talented amateurs tends to drive out the ones in the middle, though – didn’t Janis Joplin write a song about that? We enjoy the Celtic music at the local coffee shop on Sunday afternoons, and they don’t even put out a tip jar.

    Everyone should have the right not to blog for HuffPo if they don’t want to, and HuffPo should have the right to find free bloggers if they want to, and can. I think that’s the way the world works, right?

  4. What I never understood is this idea that The Huff is somehow “exploiting” their contributors. Are they promising some compensation that they fail to deliver? Do they have any ability to influence market prices? No, and no, as far as I can tell. Sure, they can afford to pay, and arguably it would be moral to do so. But if people agree to write for free without being pressured in any way… how can that be construed as “exploitation”?

    We can advise creators not to sell themselves short. That’s good and fair. We can also point out the hypocrisy of people who try to “pay in exposure”. That’s important. But let’s maintain the proper use of words.

    That said, trying to pay *Will Wheaton* in exposure? *Seriously?* Of all people? Bwahahaha! Now *that* deserves a good round of mockery. Kids these days…

  5. The best argument I ever read for paying contributors was this: does the publication call up their landlord and offer them free promotion instead of rent money? Do they tell the electric company and internet provider that they simply cannot afford to pay right now so they should provide it for free? No? Then why do they say it to writers? If you want people to work for you, you have to pay them.

  6. When I wrote for Jeff Kirvin’s “Writing on Your Palm,” I wrote for free. And for that matter, when I started writing for TeleRead, I wrote for free, too. It’s become a god-awful cliché to say I did it for “exposure,” so I won’t, but nonetheless, my way of thinking went that writing for an established blog on a subject of interest was a way to get my name out there and get read by more people than might drift across Chris Meadows’s Random LiveJournal Or Blog.

    Eventually, TeleRead was able to start paying me something in return for cranking up my output to daily rather than whenever-I-felt-like-it, and that was nice. Over the years, the pay rate has gone up and down, but even at its highest rate, when TeleRead was corporate-owned, it never got anywhere near Wil Wheaton’s vaunted 5-cents-per-word rate. (Really, what places out there could afford to pay me that much? Forget HuffPo and Medium—even places like The New Yorker and The Atlantic don’t pay for unsolicited submissions.)

    So, effectively, I’m still not writing for what Wil Wheaton would consider a fair rate. But I’m okay with that. Goodness knows that web advertising isn’t all that lucrative, so it’s not as if there’s any money around to pay me more. Getting paid at all means I have the right to call myself a “professional blogger” on my résumé, and it’s still a chance to link my name with a fairly-well-known blog in my area of interest. I’d probably be writing about things like this anyway, and at least this is a chance to get read by more people.

    And then there’s my fiction output. Ironic as it is given that I edit a blog about e-books and self-publishing, I’ve nonetheless been writing Internet fiction for free for years now, for some of the writing circles I mention in my “Paleo E-Books” columns and other places. (Google my name or “Robotech_Master” and you’ll likely find some of it.) It all tends to have too many song lyrics and the like to be safe to publish, even self. Still, I enjoy it when other people enjoy reading it and tell me so, and the chance to write along with other like-minded people helps make it worthwhile, too.

    As it stands right now, my one self-pub e-book was non-fiction, and it had to be pulled due to trademark issues. (Hopefully I’ll be able to have it back on the market within a month or so.) Someday, I really need to figure out why it’s so hard for me to just sit down and write something for self-publication. Back when tradpubs were the only way, I could at least tell myself there was no point in putting all that work in on something that would only be sat on for months and then rejected, but I don’t even have that excuse anymore.

    Someday, someday…

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