According to the Wall Street Journal, a coalition of left-wing bloggers is trying to form a labor union that they hope will help them receive health insurance, conduct collective bargaining and set professional standards.
As much as the days where bloggers were a novelty has passed, is blogging, or for that matter the various content creation forms of Web 2.0 ready for organized labor?
Most people contributing to new media sites, including user generated sites such as About.com and Mahalo do so on a contractual basis. Most content creators do not work under employer/ employee relationships, most are paid without tax being deducted; in the most these are not regular style jobs. There is a reason for this, because in the vast majority of cases bloggers or content creators take these jobs as hobbies; the income earned being additional pay to existing employment.
And yet the going rate for a blogger is remarkably low. Whilst the top networks such as Weblogs Inc. and Gawker pay their writers starting payments of around $500 per month, many smaller networks tended to favor a revenue sharing model that rewards popular topics over effort. They do so whilst the network operators keep the majority of profits for themselves.
As David Krug at Telegraphik puts it:
While some bloggers in networks are making pennies per the hour the network CEO’s and support staff are raking in huge salaries and getting VC Money to help furnish their homes. I don’t like it. It smells funny.
The reality for most chasing a quick buck from blogging is that few except those at the top of the blogosphere succeed in raking in a lot of money. A quick look at the various Problogger style sites and ebook salesman is like looking at an Amway presentation: it promises riches but for the vast majority always fails to deliver.
I’m not entirely against unionized blogging; in a free society there should be no limitations on organized labor, but any realist will know that ultimately the market decides upon what is reasonable pay and conditions. The vast number of people looking to make a second income from blogging already own and write their own blogs and don’t make much money; simply a low paid network blogging job is often more than what they are making from their own blogs.
As long as the supply of labor that will accept low rates exists, no amount of organization will create a marketplace that provides pay rates that are equal to that of comparable fields such as journalism. Exploitation only exists where those being paid do so because they have no alternative; bloggers have many alternatives, although most do not involve blogging itself. A fair wage is a noble cause, but one that will always be undercut as long as there are more potential writers than positions available.
Disclosure: I was previously involved in the blog network industry and hired bloggers.