Let Us Now Appraise Scripped's Exploitation of Desperate Writers

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on June 16, 2012

From The News Desk

[Update: Scripped has just announced they will pass 100% of revenues made through Showwatcher back to participating writers.]

Are you an entertainment writer? Want to get fucked in the ass by someone who once met Kevin Spacey? I have some tremendous news!

A company called "Scripped" has partnered with Spacey's Trigger Street Productions to allow you to write about entertainment for absolutely no financial reward. But there will be a party. And you'll get a byline. Just like real writers get.

This was the utterly resistible offer emailed earlier today to users of Scripped's screenwriting software. The company is launching a new review site -- 'Showwatcher' -- and it wants your words for free.

Here's the email in full, courtesy of NSFW Corp writer James Aylett...

Hi James Aylett!

Do you want to be a successful entertainment writer or film critic? Or, do you just love writing about movies and the technology surrounding them? Either way, we can help you get your articles and critiques out there.

We've recently met with Trigger Street Productions (co-owned by Dana Brunetti and Kevin Spacey) and we have launched a publishing site called ShowWatcher. If you're interested, joining the site as one of our authors would be a great way to get your name out there and be recognized as a talented entertainment writer.

Since many of the film and TV sites on the Internet are more industry related (they focus mainly on news and industry happenings), our site will appeal to the masses (think Bleacher Report for movies and TV shows). Each writer will receive a byline on all of their posts, and will be able to use their articles as clippings in their portfolios.

The site is be based entirely on user-generated content, of which we'd like to invite you to be amongst the first contributors. A few things we want to be upfront about:

There will not be financial compensation for posts. That said, TriggerStreet/Scripped will put on a party/event for contributors (Date TBD, but most likely summer of 2012).

Kevin and Dana's name will be attached to the site, so there should be excellent publicity and reach associated with all content generated (Kevin has over 2 million Twitter followers, and will occasionally tweet some of his "favorite" posts) None of the posts are research heavy, and all should be very short form/opinion based (sample topic: Top 10 movies of the 1980s)

Should you choose to partake in this project, we will provide an extensive list of topics, and you will be able to choose 5 to start with Additionally, we are currently working out the best way to allow users to suggest their own topics, so you will likely be able to write on any topic of your choosing

If you are interested, or if you would like some more details, email [email protected] or reply to this email Thanks for taking the time to look over this, and we hope you decide to participate!

XXXX It's hard to know where to start with an email like that. Actually, no, it's not: With an email like that, one starts with "Fuck you, Scripped." But after that?

One might point out that if you're going to write for free in the hope of some meager celebrity halo effect, one might as well write for the Huffington Post where there's at least an existing reader base. Unless of course one truly believes that one's half-assed unpaid review of "Prometheus" is one day going to be produced at the Old Vic.

One might dig a little into the language of the email: "We've recently met with Trigger Street Productions..." sounds like a pretty damn solid partnership. A "meeting"! Production companies don't have "meetings" with just everyone. Still, given this week's Karma debacle, it might be worth fact-checking that claim a little before signing on the line.

A more useful response, though, is the following:

I have absolutely no objection to a site providing a platform for would-be writers to hone their craft. If that site is tangentially associated with a star, then so much the better. Let people dream that Spacey will actually give a fuck. But when you start saying things like "Kevin and Dana's name will be attached to the site, so there should be excellent publicity and reach associated with all content generated," you cross over into Jessica Mitford "Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers" territory, exploiting gullible amateurs to make yourself rich. And it's at that point that you, Scripped, can go fuck yourselves.

If I sound particularly passionate about this issue, it's because I am. For the past few months, while setting up Not Safe For Work Corp, I've been wrestling with the problem of how to properly compensate writers in the Internet age. With so few proven revenue streams, and so few examples of a paid subscription publication supporting a healthy editorial budget, I'm acutely aware that every dime spent commissioning a writer is a dime I have to invent a revenue model to support.

And yet, I committed from the start to pay our writers respectfully. For the pilot issue we paid a minimum of $1 a word for editorial (in some cases much more than that). We're still some way short of what the biggest print magazine pay, but we're also a startup.

As we get ready to begin our regular publishing cycle, editorial remains by far our biggest expense. Rather than tweaking the hell out of word rates we've created a hybrid system where our writers get paid a fixed monthly rate just for showing up, plus a word rate plus a sliding royalty scale if they also contribute to our upcoming ebooks range. That royalty, by the way, starts with authors getting 90 percent -- ninety percent! -- of net receipts (sliding down to 80, 70, 60 and finally 50 percent once the book has been on the market for months).

The generosity of our system means it's possible for a writer to produce no words whatsoever and still take home a four figure monthly paycheck. But here's the rub: despite the fact that everything about NSFW Corp is designed to respect the time and talent of our writers, our compensation structure -- when combined with already confirmed revenues and the mid-six-figure funding we've raised -- still gives us more than one year's editorial runway before we even have to sell a single subscription.

It really isn't that hard, or expensive, not to screw over the talent. And without talent, you're nothing.

One other point that often gets lost in economic discussions around editorial: Unlike sex or airline peanuts, writing is better when you pay for it. I and every writer I know do their best work when we're getting paid for it. Maybe it's a love of paying rent, maybe it's some weird professional pride, or maybe there's something about being ass-fucked that makes it hard to concentrate. Or maybe you're Gay Talese...

The way I work requires a lot of time and money. You get on airplanes, stay in hotels, take people out to dinner. But we can’t get expense accounts anymore. We can’t get enough money to do stories properly, to follow our subjects, spend time with them, observe. It’s no longer economically possible. Because publishers and workers compensation lawyers at magazines want to save money by having reporters use tape recorders.
Or Hunter S. Thompson...
"If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up."
Whatever the reason, I know that, like all writers, NSFW Corp contributors do their best work when it's their job to write, rather than a favour or some stupid shot-at-the-moon to get their words in front of the guy from "American Beauty". And the better their work, the more happy our subscribers will be to pay to read it. Which means we can pay great editors to make the work even better still.

For all the talk of disruption and user generated content and the wisdom of the crowds -- talk that usually spews from the faces of venture capitalists who have never written, or read, more than a PowerPoint slide -- the fact remains that paying writers is the only proven path to consistent editorial excellence.

"That said, TriggerStreet/Scripped will put on a party/event for contributors (Date TBD, but most likely summer of 2012)."

Yeah. That sounds neat too.

Update: In response to this post, Scripped CEO, Sunil Rajaraman, emails to say that he now intends to give 100% of revenues made through Showwatcher back to the participating writers. Also, moments after his email we began receiving a flood of comments from Scripped users, spontaneously (and largely pseudonymously) declaring their love of the service. Make of that what you will.

Update 2: I just spotted this great takedown of ShowWatcher by Simon Dumenco over at Adage. He beat me to it by over a week. Kudos, Simon.