Are Bloggers Creating Their Own Sweatshop?

Oh Yes Free“I’ve been blogging for five years. Time to think about the retirement fund.”

I was having a conversation with Deb Ng of Freelance Writing Gigs on Twitter, and I smirked at her comment.

“We get to retire? No one ever told me that…”

We both know there’s no retirement fund in what we do. We’re bloggers. There’s here and now, and there’s trying to make a decent living that supports us for years to come.

It’s a bit of a joke. We blog our hearts out, pouring creativity, knowledge and advice into each post we write. We work tirelessly to put up good content that people can use to improve their income, and we don’t get paid a penny for it.

Why the hell not?

Blogging is bloody hard work. It’s long-term, it’s tiring, it’s creatively exhausting and it’s completely unpaid. It’s free. It’s done out of the goodness of our heart, our belief that we can help other people earn a better living. And from it, we get nothing.

Take this blog, for example. Set aside the services we offer, strip away the great ebooks, the recommended resources, everything but the content. What do you have?

You have a site that, three times a week, as regular as clockwork, gives readers a 700-word value-packed blog post full of insight and knowledge that’s fully tailored to benefit and improve people’s ability to earn more income and have a successful business.

Did I mention it’s free? Completely, undeniably, 100% no charge.

That’s like being able to attend a workshop given by an expert authority three times a week and learn how to improve your business without paying a penny. You get actionable value, great tips and practical advice, and plenty of good stuff that helps you succeed.

Now, that’s great. We want you to learn, to better your business, to succeed. That’s our goal with each and every post we put up on this site. It’s the reason why we put in effort to write worthy posts that each take an hour or two to create. These aren’t your average 15-minute fire-offs, folks, no matter how fast Taylor and I can type. They’re the wisdom culled of years of experience, study, and labor.

And they’re all free.

No One to Blame But Ourselves

Blogging started as personal online journals. It was free because it was idle; it wasn’t supposed to be the sort of business expertise that many companies would shell out good money for in the form of a consultant.

But business blogs started to grow and then became essential, and all the while no one stopped to think, “Wait a minute. Why are we giving away this valuable knowledge?”

Well, stop to think now: Can you walk into your local garage and ask them to teach you mechanics for nothing? Can you go to a lawyer’s office and become his apprentice without paying a dime? Could you walk into any business in your town and say, “Hey, will you teach me what you know for free? So I can do it myself and not have to pay you to do it for me?”

Of course not.

Yet blogs do just that. And we can’t go back now.

Or can we?

We’d be considered renegades to ask for payment. Selfish, even. Wrong. How dare we? Readers would be offended and insulted, according to some. Some would simply go elsewhere – pay for quality content when the next blog hands it out for nothing?

It’s not just the readers that hold us back. We’d be uncomfortable with the thought of asking readers to pay, too. No one wants to upset their readers. There’s so much hype and push these days about giving first and never asking for anything back. In fact, it’s becoming the rule, the “must do”. Everyone wants to be seen as generous and selfless.

Who said we were supposed to do that? Who started this myth that information and knowledge should be free? Who said it was smart to give a one-hour free seminar, speech or workshop almost every single day? Not authors who sell books in stores. Not experts who sell consultation time. Not businesses who sell services.

We did it. We did this to ourselves. We created our own personal sweatshops. We’ve taught people that our knowledge is worth nothing. How can we expect to charge for it now?

We can’t.

Support Sweatshop Labor

I don’t think bloggers and writers realize the mixed messages they’re giving the world, and I don’t think bloggers realize what they’re doing to themselves. Case in point…

“1$ an article! I would never accept that pay rate! That’s preposterous. That reminds me – I have to go write my free blog post now or my readers will be mad.”

“Sweatshops should be banned. They’re horrible. They take advantage of people, and mistreat them without offering fair wages. I read about them over at this blog – you should go check it out. There’s a new free post that goes up every day.”

“Charge for premium content? For a blog post? Hell, no. I won’t pay if you do that. But I will soak up any free knowledge and education then apply it to my freelancing so I can make more money…”

Yeah. This is wrong, people. Really, really wrong.

People even imply and suggest (or at least the Twitter gang did) that bloggers should be ashamed of asking for money, for any kind of payment for that solid advice and knowledge. Bloggers should be ashamed of asking for money for the posts they write, the ones that take anywhere from 3 to 15 hours of work a week.

Yet, no one feels ashamed reading their favorite blogs every day. They feel no shame learning, benefiting and profiting off someone else’s unpaid labor – without ever having to dig out a penny.

People get upset over sweatshop workers slaving away – but they think nothing of being the sweatshop owner that profits every day from every blog. In fact, many people think that’s okay.

What do you think?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.