Free Labour and Free Stuff

This is, after all, the age of “content farms,” companies that employ huge numbers of copywriters to write for an audience of search engine bots instead of people. And “employ” is maybe too strong a word. Some of these copywriters are paid as little as ten cents for every 1,000 clicks on their pieces. The options out there in the “professional” field look more and more bleak all the time, as does the level of quality (how much quality can your work have, after all, when you have to use a keyword a hundred times and your whole purpose is just to satisfy an algorithm?) Writers who want to maintain their integrity are having to find other routes.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily easier to get published, but it may be easier to establish a platform, via blogs and that sort of thing, as well as reach people,” says Sheldon Birnie, journalist, writer, and song-and-dance man from Winnipeg, Manitoba. With his last novel, Down In The Flood, Birnie decided to self-publish and try the ebook route. “I think it’s great,” he says. “But you need to know your market, have a platform, and be somewhat savvy with regard to marketing. I don’t know if I would necessarily rush to self-publish again, though it is an interesting experience and many people are finding some pretty crazy success with that route. The benefit is if you have a product you feel you can market, or just want to get out there, or you are a niche writer, or you have a broad platform, this route could work better for you than taking the traditional route.”

As for whether he thinks the traditional book is here to stay?

“I can’t see people rushing to abandon the physical,” he says. “Who wants to buy someone an e-book for their birthday? Weirdos, that’s who.”

Gonzalo Riedel, a Winnipeg writer who just released his new book, Behaving This Way Is All I Have Left, through the independent Insomniac Press, agrees.

“I think there’ll always be some version of the physical paper book,” he says. “It’s like vinyl albums… I think what freaks me out most about the digital age isn’t the digital part itself, but knowing that I’m competing with so many things that take up people’s time. What I mean is that I’m flattered if someone wants to buy my book, but I’m actually honoured knowing that someone took the time to read the thing when there are a million distractions to keep them from reading it. In the digital age, I find I’ve been reading more than ever. With all the screens in my life, I feel crabby after awhile, and looking at something that isn’t a rectangle of flickering light tends to balance me out. Hopefully other people feel the same in their lives.”

BIO: Loren March is a freelance writer based out of Toronto. She is a Communications graduate hailing from sunny Winnipeg, Manitoba, and currently completing her degree in Urban Studies at York University. Follow her blog at http://lorenmarch.wordpress.com/

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