Rolling Stone Wants Writers to Pay $2000 to Get Their Articles Published

And it shows just how bad things have got for freelance writers.

Picture by the author via Canva

It appears to be a chance of a lifetime, getting your writing featured in the iconic Rolling Stone magazine, which has published work by Patti Smith, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson. But would you pay $2000 for it?

The magazine is now offering a chance to “shape the future of culture” by becoming a “thought leader.” They contacted a select few individuals to offer them the chance to become members of its new “Culture Council” and join “an invitation-only community for innovators, influencers and tastemakers”. If they pass the vetting process, they will be ‘allowed’ to publish original content to the Rolling Stone website. This, according to the Council’s website, is an immense privilege for the contributor, because “being published in one of the best-known entertainment media outlets in the world sets you apart as a visionary, leader, and bold voice in your industry.”

A spokesperson from the magazine told the Guardian that such articles would run separately from editorial content, in their own separate channel. “Content created by Culture Council members exists in its own channel separate from editorial content and is clearly labelled as originating from a non-editorial, fee-based member network, which allows industry professionals to share ideas in a paid forum.” But the fact of the matter is, when navigating a website, it is difficult to distinguish one section from the next — advertorials from editorials — and these articles will be an integral part of the Rolling Stone content.

By creating this system where people pay to get published, the iconic magazine has turned publishing on its head, and it is worrying from many perspectives.

Firstly, it is the epitome of the struggles faced by freelance writers today to actually get paid for their work. I found out about this story when news of it broke in The Guardian last Saturday, and I must admit it felt like the final straw. It has been a frustrating month for me, as a freelance writer.

After a long break focusing on other projects, I got back into freelance journalism this month, pitching story ideas left and right. I had forgotten how disheartening it was. All the unpaid hours spent finding story ideas, writing up pitches, contacting editors, only to be ignored, or offered dismal rates. I had forgotten the feeling of overwhelm that sweeps you off your feet when you realise you cannot feasibly live off the money you are being offered, the stress of hustling, having to eek money out of whatever job you can find. I had forgotten how upsetting it is to see that people no longer want to pay for meaningful writing — that they still expect you to be writing for exposure, or as a hobby.

Producing content, being a “thought leader” is a real job and it is incredibly useful to society. Journalism is one of the checks and balances that democracy needs to survive. In the culture sector it can bring voices to the limelight, or silence them. And increasingly, as writing — journalism in particular — becomes something that it is hard to live off, the only voices we will be able to hear are those who can afford to treat writing like a hobby, those who have enough money available elsewhere to devote their free time to writing. I am fortunate enough to have a part-time job that pays enough for me to do unpaid or badly paid writing work. I don’t have student loans to pay off, kids or family members whose care I need to pay for. I am privileged enough to be able to stick to writing, but so many less privileged voices are silenced by the current system. Rolling Stone’s new scheme is terrifyingly unsubtle — it announces to the world that to shape the “future of culture”, you need to be willing — and able — to pay. And that should worry all of us.

I have played along. I have worked for exposure, I have done the unpaid internships, I have worked for peanuts to get pieces published, or because I wanted to keep a tiny, artsy publication alive or contribute to a journal defending some political cause. I’ve accepted a lot, because I do love writing. But this is too much. When they start asking us to pay to write, we really see that it has come too far.

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