John Walker's Electronic House

Imagine Publishing’s “Competition” To Get Unpaid Writers

by on Jan.13, 2012, under The Rest

It couldn’t be more timely. Two days after I kicked off a bit of a debate about whether it’s appropriate for writers to work for free for professional publications (no, it’s not), Imagine Publishing’s website NowGamer has launched a “competition” to find someone who’ll write for their site, on a regular basis, for no money.

Dressed up as an act of altruistic generosity, the site suggests that this will be an amazing opportunity for a writer to receive exposure on their site. What they don’t point out is how it’s a great way for the site to add regular content without paying for it. Content that will generate them ad revenue, and go toward paying the salaries of their staff. Servants get paid. This is a position below servant.

The title reads:

Love games? Got a voice? Then you need a blog on NowGamer!

No you don’t. You really don’t need a blog on a site that is looking to take advantage of someone’s desire for exposure at the expense of their dignity. This refrain that it’s “good for your CV” is such a wretched thing to be said. SO IS A PAID JOB.

There’s no need for me to repeat all the reasons why writing for free is wrong, both for you, and for everyone else in the industry – they’re in the post below.

It’s shocking to me to see a publication being so brazen about what I can only see as exploitation. Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves that they’re doing good in giving someone “exposure”, and have so far avoided thinking about how they would never allow themselves to receive the same treatment.

And what they call a “blog” is in fact filed on the site as a “column”. The column is generally the best paid part of any site, since it’s something given to a specific writer that the site or magazine specifically wants to be writing regularly for them. It’s not a feature any staff writer can fill. It’s something peculiar to that writer, with their name at the top, and thus generally they are paid for at a premium. The cheek of wanting someone to fill such a role for them, without paying, is astonishing.

They sell this by saying,

“Having a published blog is a great way of getting a start in videogames journalism, or you may just have a lot to say about games and want a platform for your opinion. Either way, you’ll be writing alongside some of the industry’s best games journalists.”

Yes, and they’ll be being paid. You won’t. What form of “alongside” is that, exactly?

As the excellent Steve Hogarty pointed out on Twitter, if you want a blog you can get one. You don’t need it to be generating money to pay these guys’ wages.

Imagine – this is shameful. Please stop this immediately. If you cannot afford to pay for a new columnist on your site, I suggest not advertising for one. Especially in a way designed to trick young writers into devaluing their (and thus everyone else’s) words and work to zero.

Edit: Astonishingly, one of the NowGamer writers explains that doing this is “not work”, because it’s a blog. That’s why it’s free. Good grief.


33 Comments for this entry

  • Richard Plant

    Agreed, absolutely. It’s refreshing to see that every comment on that execrable post is from a furious journalist calling out NowGamer for their exploitation.

  • DrugCrazed

    I’d love to spend the rest of today just shouting at everyone explaining why they’re wrong. But I’ve got revision to do. I posted an angry comment on their blog though, so I’m doing my bit.

  • sinister agent

    Bloody hell. Even a game diary, which is basically just describing what you’ve been doing in a (hopefully) fun and interesting way, can take a surprising amount of time and care, and the content is half done for you there. Writing almost any other kind of games post is most definitely work. You don’t have to be a journalist to realise that.

    Must bite lip. Must not go off on tangent about other industries or workfare.

    Aside from the poor sap taken in by this, I can barely imagine how uncomfortable I would be if my employer took on someone to do the same work as me, but refused to pay them. And then had the sheer nerve to make out they’re doing the poor kid a favour. I don’t think I’d be able to hold my tongue at all.

  • Dean

    Awkward – obvious it’s awful Imagine are doing this, but in this case I can see the benefit for aspiring writers. Because as you say, it’s a column, it has your name at the top, it’s about your unique voice, so it probably would help get one’s name out there better than your own blog would.

    Writing reviews for other sites for free *is* pointless as it’s just somewhere for your writing to sit, you don’t get exposure because no-one really looks a the byline.

    Again, not that this makes it okay in any sense, just that from the aspiring writer perspective it does sound like a much better deal than ‘write reviews for us for free’.

  • Petter

    Currently semi-discussing this with Ben Parfitt over Twitter, getting a lot of talk about everyone at MCV having worked for free before getting a job there. Most of us have.

    But I fail to see how that makes it alright. Ben pointed out that “it sounds to me like your problem is with capitalism and competition, not NowGamer”, which I can agree with in a sense. Having worked as a games journo for eight years, three of those without never seeing a paycheck (and that only from a certain part of my work), I really hate to see good writers head into the field while being exploited the same way I – and most of us – was.

    Imagine is way out of line with this “competition”, for all the reasons you list above. I am stumped and don’t understand why anyone would defend it. Especially not established journalists. Unless it’s a case of “I did it to be in the position I’m in, so you will have to suffer the same thing as I did.”

  • Jockie

    The problem with this is, it’s probably a great way for someone starting out writing to get exposure for their stuff as the Adam guy on Twitter says.

    I follow a few of the Now_Gamer guys on twitter and the one thing they’re rather good at is smashing out the social media stuff to get the writing exposure. I’d love to have that kind of engine working to bring people to my writing.

    If this offer wasn’t so horribly unscrupulous I’d be pretty tempted.

    And for someone not in the industry, who’d like to be, that’s another problem. Someone with less scruples than me will jump all over this offer, get their work read by thousands of people and get noticed.

    I think this kind of practice is far worse for the industry than it is for the invidivual young writers applying.

  • reallyjoel

    I can’t see how in any field where jobs are in higher demand than what’s available, that people won’t work for free to get a foot in. Or that companies will exploit that.

    The reason this is OK in my book is because (even though I run a games company myself) I wouldn’t care if the entire games industry just up and died over-night – it’s just entertainment. In the end it’s not that important. People who still dedicate themselves to it will work more and for less than if you chose to flip burgers.

  • sinister agent

    The “capitalism/competition” line is bogus, though. Let’s apply the same logic to other industries… oh wait, the economy has self destructed because nobody has any goddamn money. This whole thing reminds me uncannily of a good friend who’s having trouble getting decent work because so many employers are demanding ridiculous qualifications and years of experience for paltry wages, and there are people out there who can afford to go without a wage for months just to put ‘voluntary work’ on their CV. I’ve worked for charities that paid more than the job adverts she’s shown me, and the latter demand two degrees, IT qualifications and teaching experience, for a wage that’s barely more than a waiter’s. And then there’s workfare, where the government is directly subsidising some of the wealthiest companies in the country in order to give them free labour.

    It’s arguably worse when you’re talking about writing, in fact, because there someone’s work speaks for itself (as opposed to many other jobs, where a lousy worker can get by for many years without exposure).

    You can either write or you can’t. If it’s good enough for me to publish, it’s good enough for me to pay for the right to publish it. If it’s not, sorry kid, get some more practice in first and try again next year.

    Gah. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold that in. Sorry everone. Sorry.

  • John Walker

    Wow, I think you very troublingly devalue the role entertainment plays.

  • RevStu

    “Currently semi-discussing this with Ben Parfitt over Twitter, getting a lot of talk about everyone at MCV having worked for free before getting a job there. Most of us have.”

    Sorry, what does being on MCV have to do with journalism? They’re in PR.

  • Petter

    “it’s just entertainment”

    While I agree with John that you devalue entertainment’s role, I am not sure what it has to do with the debate. Writing is still work. Even if the industry would collapse upon itself tomorrow, I’m still working *today*.

    It is true it happens in other fields. A friend of mine is a very well-educated biologist, but even to get the shittiest jobs she would have to bend over and accept ridiciously low wages she wouldn’t be able to live on because of the competition. It sucks just as much everywhere else.

  • The Sombrero Kid

    The “you have a problem with capitalism” argument is bogus, educating writers about the value of their work is participating in capitalism, if you had a problem with capitalism, you wouldn’t want the private enterprise to exist full stop, also this kind of exploitation can exist separately from capitalism, all it requires is a group of people who undervalue their labour to the point of zero.

  • xLibitinax

    Oi you! I’m the person whose tweet you’re using on your article and you HAVEN’T EVEN PAID ME FOR MY CONTENT! A lot of time and effort went into that tweet y’know ;)

    I’ve actually been mulling about entering NowGamer’s “competition” so I figured I’d throw in the view from a mere pleb like myself.

    I’ve never aspired to be a games journalist. I’ve never aspired to be anything aside from She-Ra to be honest. I’ve written some blogs for community sites and I have my own daft little wordpress blog too. I love gaming and have done so since I was teeny tiny back in the mid80s.

    I am a single mother who’s currently job-hunting and expect I’ll end up in retail somewhere as it’ll let me work shifts around my kids’ school hours, but blogs and gaming is a little escape where I’m something more than “just a mum” stuck in a rut of cooking and cleaning. Through writing blogs, for free and for fun, I’ve met the most fantastic people (alongside a few bellends) and made some lovely friends. I’ve met organisations such as the charity SpecialEffect (who I now fundraise for). Sometimes, thanks to retweets etc, a game’s developer will see a blog I’ve done and compliment it which completely makes my week during a fairly humdrum existence. All this stuff has come about since I started blogging.

    So I may enter this competition, or I may not. Not because I expect it to be a full time job or a salary but because it’ll give me a little something extra to a life that revolves mostly around my daughters.

    I completely understand all the views I’ve seen on here and twitter and I get why journalists do not like it at all but not everything is always black and white. I haven’t commented here to try and stoke further debate, I just wanted to put forward another view.

    Peace out!

  • The Sombrero Kid

    @xLibitinax Letting someone else take money for YOUR labour is not the same as writing for free, the former is acting against your own interests & those of your peers.

  • Ben Parfitt

    Hey Stu – please check out some of the stuff we’ve posted this week and then tell us we’re in PR.

  • Roger Gray

    I am currently looking for aspiring chefs and restauranteurs to visit my home and try out new recipes. This will be of great benefit to those with professional aspirations in the field of fine dining, as it will provide practical experience in not only cooking but also in food sourcng (sometimes known as “shopping”) and kitchen management (also referred to as “doing dishes and cleaning everything up”) and all other aspects of the gourmet restaurant experience.

    Competition for this position is expected to be fierce, so be sure to submit your application as soon as possible to increase your chances to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

  • RevStu

    Similarly, I offer a valuable and completely free blowjob-technique appraisal service to hot girls.

  • Karl Hodge

    Funnily enough, I posted a similar, “professional” opportunity on SkillPages recently. It seems that plumbers think you are mental if you ask them to work for free:

  • Fede

    It would be nice if someone won that competition and then just sat there without writing anything.

    They might have considered this, and prepared a contract for the “winner” requiring a minumum amount of work needed to keep that blog.

  • Jambe

    Tangentially, I’ve never read anything at NowGamer and I don’t think I like that name at all.

    This “we want us a wordsmith slave” thing is gross and they should be publicly shamed for it.

  • Nick Mailer

    I have no problem with this. Anyone stupid enough to think that a blog is something you can “win” deserves to win one.

  • CdrJameson

    @Fade – …and prepared a contract for the “winner” requiring a minumum amount of work…

    Not such a biggie. Legal contracts require ‘consideration’ (ie. payment) to actually exist.

  • CdrJameson

    I think Imagine are lacking in ambition.

    It’d be far more lucrative to just charge people to print their work on the website.

    After all, Apple do with the app store.

  • trellism

    I have nothing to add other than: please don’t bandy around terms like slave labour and illustrate your article with images of historical slavery (neither the pyramids nor Roman boats were built or rowed by slaves).

    As you know perfectly well, slavery and bonded labour still exists and is not in the least bit comparable to convincing an idiot to provide content for free.

  • Jambe

    John should go on being as hyperbolic as he likes. Exaggeration of NowGamer’s silliness doesn’t make chattelization or debt bondage seem less any perverse.

  • Nick Mailer

    I think John mires the case by trying to compare idiot-baiting with genuinely slavery and indentured labour. The best thing to do is to make fun of these things and to point out what a prize idiot you would have to be FREELY to accept the “offer”.

  • Nick Mailer

    Jambe: This “we want us a wordsmith slave” thing is gross and they should be publicly shamed for it.

    I disagree. Wishing for the impractical is not gross. I am sure my daughter will want a pony. This will not be a moral failing on her part.

    I am sure this online journal would love to have lots of free articles produced for it. So long as it is not threatening to shoot those who decline the offer, I see no problem in its being made. Free adults should have liberty to take up or reject te silliest of propositions.

  • Jambe

    The staff at Imagine are not children, nor are they (to my knowledge) mentally compromised. If you want to hold adult business-owners to the same moral standards as young children, fine. I don’t.

    I dislike the semantic pedantry underpinning these appeals to restraint. There’s also a particularly annoying, arrogant cynicism implicit in such appeals — that most people are too dim-witted and/or complacent to appreciate issues properly. In this case, the implication is that people can’t or won’t differentiate between the unscrupulousness of NowGamer’s shenanigans and, say, the abhorrence of a human trafficking ring.

    That’s absurd. Genuine slavery is intrinsically egregious enough to warrant combating — we needn’t be all stern-faced and literal whenever we use the word “slavery”. Such suggestions always get my dander up.



    Beneath all this is the same question — when is it ethically acceptable to coercively take advantage of people? Sometimes it’s acceptable, sometimes it’s not.

    Yes, NowGamer’s baiting of schmucks for free articles is nowhere near as bad or unacceptable as sexual slavery or child trafficking, but the same issue underlies both phenomena — it’s an issue of integrity and honesty, ultimately, and of how we appraise human beings and their freedom.

    In a similar vein, how much taxation is acceptable for different classes of people? Should we tax the homeless nothing, and the rich a lot, or should we implement crazy-pants Republican-style flat taxes or even regressive ones?

    I could go on, but I think I got the gist across.

    A closing quibble, on having re-read things: ancient sources of construction and locomotion, while interesting, are irrelevant.

    Quick, get Giorgio Tsoukalos on the phone!

  • Jambe

    One more thing: the implication that anybody wants to see NowGamer legally pursued to stop them from picking up an unpaid writer is a disingenuous misrepresentation.

    Shaming a group != wanting a group legally punished.

  • TobyZiegler

    Imagine Publishing barely pays its staff and freelance writers anything. Asking a beginner to work for free isn’t much of a leap for them.

  • marcthebeat

    The internet significantly decreased the value of opinion and account, the stock and trade of journalism. I think you guys have to face the fact that you’re pursuing a career that is practically commercially inviable. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a shame but it is unfortunately true.

  • John Walker

    marcthebeat: That’s complete and utter bullshit.

  • Jc Ticknor

    I don’t think meals have any business being deductible. I’m for separation of calories and corporations.
    If someone will not know which port the first is sailing, no wind is favorable.

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