On June 6th, 2017, I began writing for a small otaku media website, similar to Honey's Anime. Despite the site being monetized with advertisements, I was told I would not be paid. The site’s owner, who I knew only by his screen name, told me that I would be paid in exposure instead of money, which seemed fine at the time since I was an inexperienced writer with no published work to his name.
On August 29th, 2018, after having long since left that website in favor of Honey’s Anime I decided to revisit the old articles I had written there, as I wished to add them to my current portfolio. So, you can all imagine how shocked I was to see that I no longer had articles on the site, or rather no articles credited to me. The pieces I had written for them were all still there, but my name had been scrubbed from each one of them, with the site owner’s name where mine should be. This is nothing less than plagiarism, it’s shady, underhanded and most of all, completely contradictory to the promise that was made when I joined. But, what many might not know is that this sort of behavior has a strong precedent in the online world.
A Brash Reaction
In April of 2017, a small video game news and review site called brashgames.co.uk suddenly became infamous across the online gaming community because of now-former writer Olly Smith, who spoke out about the work-for-exposure policy the site pushes on its talent, as well as the fact that when he eventually quit to pursue writing for publications that would provide monetary compensation, his author credit was removed from every article he had written for the site.
Smith's words did not fall on deaf ears, as the internet was buzzing about the Brash Games controversy before long and video game pundits covered the situation in extensive detail. The backlash against Brash was so extreme that it prompted site owner Paul Ryan to attempt to burn as much evidence of his skullduggery as possible (an attempt which failed completely) and inspired many more authors from Brash Games and similar sites to come forth with their stories and speak out against the false promise of “exposure” touted by so many people around the internet.
This was initially seen as an uncontested triumph, a group of abused artists giving greedy, thieving executives their comeuppance, but the mood quickly ended up on the downswing after it became clear just how prevalent these business practices were. What initially seemed like a characteristic of only the most obscure of these sorts of websites was quickly revealed to be affecting writers almost everywhere.
Even famous Canadian anime Youtuber Geoff Thew, a.k.a. Mother’s Basement, recently spoke out about having been talked into working as a full-time features editor for “exposure,” which never even came close to comparing to the renown brought by the near 700 000 subscriber Youtube channel he made all on his own. Even Destructoid, one of the most famous examples of this sort of publication, had added an intern editorial team to its roster with the promise to pay them with (in their own words) “yellow dresses and Rice-A-Roni.” I couldn’t find much information on these interns, so I don’t necessarily know that they received nothing for their work, but with what we now know about these sorts of sites as well as the dearth of information about them available leads me to believe they too received neither money nor actual exposure.
By now we all know that work for exposure is a bum deal, but it’s a sad fact that plenty of people who want to break into this industry agree to it even knowing that they’re being screwed over, just like I did. With how competitive paying jobs for writers are, it’s not hard to see why authors would feel like this is the only way they can get their foot in the door. But that just simply isn’t the case.
It was once true that writers used to have to depend on corporations to get their names out since that would necessitate expensive processes like printing and shipping, but with how widespread the internet is today, that’s no longer true. Writers don’t have to and shouldn’t settle for payment in “exposure” especially not in an environment where their bosses can simply take that so-called payment back on a whim. If you’re a reading this as an aspiring writer, please know that even if you get any sort of useful hype from a deal like the one I had, there’s little stopping your editor from taking it all away and even if they don’t, a site that isn’t even big enough to pay you with so much as pocket change is extremely unlikely to have the clout to give you any sort of notoriety you can’t simply build on your own.
The world today has so many easy tools for aspiring creators to hone their craft, so if you've been rejected by enough paying publications that you're considering working for nothing, just work for yourself. Resources like Blogger or Tumblr can give you easily-managed blogs, services like Squarespace can help you build a professional-grade website, crowdfunding platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter can let you earn financial support from people who are interested in your work and Youtube, for all its faults, can give you some of the fastest popularity growth on the entire net if that’s more your style. These are all risky of course and do not guarantee success by any means, but the only certainty provided by staying stuck working for people who won’t compensate you is that you’ll be worse off. Creators like Smith, Thew and even myself had to learn these lessons the hard way, but if any aspiring creators read this article, they hopefully won’t have to.