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Monday
Mar032008

On Wizard's alleged slave labor practices.

In the latest edition of his LYING IN THE GUTTERS, Rich Johnston detailed some of the alleged goings on at Wizard’s website as they relate to writers.

(For those of you unfamiliar with Wizard, it’s a print magazine and webzine that specializes in comic book news and other related nerd media, similar to CBR and Newsarama).

Just in case it’s useful to anybody who may be “working” there, aspiring to work in comics hype/journalism, or just following this Wizard Business bid’ness, I thought I’d share some thoughts. The following is just my take on what Rich has reported — I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of anything going on at Wizard.

There has been some debate internally at the website as to whether readers should be able to comment directly on articles, threaded underneath. Scott Gramling, the Editor-in-Chief, put the kibosh on that, telling people he did not want someone at Marvel to be able to print out one of the Wizard stories about their products and point to some text at the bottom that says “Joe Quesada’s an idiot for that Spider-Man story!”

While some negative comments that appear directly below an article might look bad in the scenario described above, placing such comments in another area of the site doesn’t really matter, as publishers already have people reading the comments and message boards of CBR, Newsarama and Wizard as well as other notable comics sites and message boards around the ‘net.

There are a lot of Wizard writers, past and present, annoyed that all the content before the Wizard website revamp has been deleted. A number of writers had written for Wizard for free with the express understanding that they’d be able to use that published work as reference for future work at other companies, and editors were given this justification as an express recruiting tool for young, unpublished writers to write for low or no pay.

And suddenly a lot of resumes have a lot of broken links.

Not only is this tragic for those writers, it’s highly n00bious of Wizard. I don’t think it needs to be explained why suddenly making years of content unavailable is bad for business. And what of all the creators and publishers whose websites link to those deleted articles? Repurposing content is a time-honored tactic in the publishing business, and a lot of content will continue to be read months and even years beyond original publication, which means more page views, which means more money.

As to the new volunteer class of Wizard writers, recruited from their message boards, I understand a number are writing three or four columns a week for no pay. The justification is that there is no money in online only articles, but if they keep writing they might have the chance to get something in print. Cue a couple of minor sidebars in feature articles in the print magazine to keep them sweet.

Who on Earth is going to believe that in 2008, the only thing that makes money is the print magazine? If that justification was actually put to the new writers, they are being lied to. Either that, or Wizard just handles their Web business so badly they don’t make any money on that website, which I find very unlikely given the success of the whole Wizard enterprise.

Writers - and this applies to all Web writing, journalism, entertainment writing, corporate copywriting etc. — you don’t have to write one word for free — ever. Unless all you want is to just go on a piece of shit press junket and ask Kirsten Dunst what kind of dog she walks or something, this poaching from the message boards thing is a bad idea. Nobody will take you seriously if you’re this sort of writer. It’s already hard enough to take the professionals seriously. If you work for free, you’re “fan press.” Don’t do it.

Now, as a freelancer, you’re probably not going to make a living on the money you get, at least not writing for the comics press, but you will get some money, and you will be a professional.

If you want to get your foot in the door and you’re willing to do the work for free, start your own site or blog or try to get hooked up with an existing fan-run operation. If you’re good and you get yourself out there, you’ll be in a better position to ask for money if and when you want to write for a commercial site, and you may even be courted directly. You will build your own resume, and guess what?

It won’t get fucking deleted!

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