Huffington Post, AOL, And Why You Shouldn’t Write For Free
When Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington and execs at AOL announced that AOL would be buying Huffington Post for $315 million dollars a lot of people were surprised. In the media world, people wondered if this was a good investment for the Grandaddy of the internet, and whether HuffPo would lose its original appeal of being disassociated with media giants.
To address those two issues, in my opinion, this is a great deal for AOL, and HuffPo has been connected to large media industry for at least the past 2 years if not more. The change to HuffPo’s original “value” was made a long time ago when Huffington decided to expand her core set of leftist writers beyond an original hand-selected few. From there HuffPo became a breaking news and tabloid paper no different from TMZ or any other scandal-driven site.
The reason this is a good deal for AOL is because 75-80% of AOL’s current profits come from people who have had AOL mail for a long time and believe that they still need to pay AOL $25 a month to continue to be able to access it. For many subscribers, that’s $25 a month on top of whatever they’re paying to their internet service provider—Comcast, Time warner etc.
Unfortunately, relying on customer ignorance isn’t really a failsafe plan, and HuffPo provides a pretty cutting edge route into the future—free aggregate content distributed through multiple channels, high click rates, and aggressive pursuit of ad dollars. As you can see, there’s every reason to believe their business strategy will still rely on ignorance, just contributors instead of customers.
What the hell am I talking about? I’m happy to explain.
Huffington has built a $300 million media empire off the backs of people who write for free. The excuse that many bloggers and writers give when writing for free is that it gives them exposure. I certainly am aware that “exposure” can be a form of payment, but there are limits. You have to be choosy especially if your eventual goal is to freelance write fulltime.
On a site like HuffPo which is crowded with content, readers rarely click through to links contained in posts or their skimpy author box. When you visit HuffPo it feels like you’re being attacked with information. If you follow my pattern when I visit the site you click from article to article paying little to no attention to who wrote what. Some exposure that is!
If you’re interested in reposting your work on HuffPo or anywhere else for free, that’s not a terrible idea. Reposting can bring some benefits (for example, it can increase the number of sites linking into your blog which can improve your traffic ranking) and it takes precious little time to send a few quick pitches and pastes text.
But to maximize your time and impact, I still say cling to old rugged Writer’s Market book. As a writer, your biggest concern should be two things: 1. Building a strong byline and 2. Making money.
If I’m trying to decide between submitting original content or altered reposted content to Huff Po OR some local or small magazine that pays $50, I choose the magazine. Most people know by now that almost anyone can be published on a site like Huffington Post while even small magazines have editorial standards and require some bit of expertise in the area in which you’re writing. Further, that $50 that you get from the magazine can be used to buy ads on blogads or some other site. There’s more exposure to be had advertising on a low traffic but relevant-to-your-niche blog than there is by having a couple posts on a crowded site.
Besides, if you plan to live off your writing you need to be submitting to publications that are likely to reject you if you suck. Rejected pitches and articles can be signs that your writing isn’t progressing. You don’t want to spend a huge amount of time blogging for free for other sites only to find out that when you want to be published your writing just isn’t there yet.
Plus, when you’re building your byline keep this in mind: Most of the people you need to “impress” with your byline are pretty aware of how to tell a publication or web site with editorial standards from a blog that lets anyone post provided they have a controversial topic or a lot of twitter followers. Whatever your goal is, pursue a byline that helps you get there. Don’t just go for what appears like a valuable idea.
You know the old saying, time is money? Well, it really is to writers.