UPDATED ALREADY! See what happened below.
I was contacted by an editor at The Huffington Post this week about re-publishing the blog post I published after last week’s primary elections, “A revolution happened last night and no one noticed,” in which I commented on the ignoring or merely grudging acknowledgement of Hillary Clinton’s pathbreaking, historic achievements by journalists and commentators covering the 2016 election. No woman of either major American political party has ever led in the primary delegate race or been selected as its running mate, and she’s totally owning states that overwhelmingly voted for her opponent in 2008, Barack Obama. Considering the awesome weight of history against which Clinton is working, you’d think this would be the political story of the year–but no, it’s all Donald Drumpf, all the time, with his ground-baloney complexion and his Cheez-Wiz coiffure.
My regular readers probably don’t realize this, but that post brought this blog record traffic late last week and over the weekend, when someone posted it to some Facebook page somewhere. (It was surprisingly popular in Great Britain Saturday morning Mountain time, for some reason–my peak traffic was at 3 a.m.!) So far, it’s had nearly 38,000 page views, which is pretty huge for a blog that these days is lucky to get 1,000 clicks from 700-850 visitors a day. Saturday, March 18 was my highest-traffic day ever in eight years, with 17,603 page views and 16,465 unique visitors.
But other than the gratification that my bon mots are being read and (perhaps) appreciated by more people around the world, I don’t make a dime here. It doesn’t matter to me financially if three people read a blog post, or 300,000. I’m even paying to host this blog and own the domain Historiann.com. Yes, I pay for the privilege of doing all of this extra labor of maintaining a blog and writing several posts a week for it. For the wissenschaft, I guess: for knowledge; pro bono, for the greater good. For the privilege of sharing what I’ve learned with you all, who are all volunteer readers so far as I know. (Yes, my domain name is a .com, but that’s because it was and still is the most popular domain suffix in the U.S., not because I was ever inclined to try to monetize my blog.)
Yonder comes a for-profit media company to ask if they can republish a blog post. Wouldn’t that generate more interest in my blog, and perhaps my scholarship? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to raise her internet profile even higher? Here’s how I think of this as someone who is happy to give away her pearls of wisdom for free, but who also is concerned about the erosion of journalism as a career and good writing as a way to make a middle-class living. I’m someone who is in solidarity with other workers, so I asked what The Huffington Post would pay me for the privilege of republishing a blog post I self-published on an ad-free blog I own. Why should I provide free content when they’re generating ad revenue? Writing for free for a for-profit company is breaking solidarity with writers who don’t have day jobs.
I get offers to put ads on my website all of the time. I’ve always refused, because 1) I don’t want anything other than my sense of morality and professional propriety to dictate what I write about, and 2) ads gum and garbage up the time it takes for a page to load. Finally, 3) I teach at a public university. I already think of at least half of my labor there as volunteer, because I’m paid so poorly, but I still think that historians have an obligation to communicate with a wider public, and to share how historical thinking can be used productively in our lives as engaged citizens.
I haven’t heard back from the editor at Huffington Post yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. So, yeah: I’m a sucker. I’m a rube! And my publisher will kill me, but at this point in my life, I can afford to keep my highminded moral principles. Readers here will never have to wonder if I’m reviewing a book, or writing on a subject because an advertiser has asked me to, or because someone has given me something. (I get emails all the time from people asking me if I want to review their books; I just delete them because 1) they’re usually not in my field, 2) I decide which books I want to talk about, and 3) I’m already awash in unrequested books, so please stop sending them. Just stop! All of you. (*I* also decide what books I want to assign to my students on my own, so knock it off.)
Historiann.com: fearless since 2008.
UPDATE, three minutes after publication: I received an answer from the Huffington Post editor who asked to re-publish my blog post: “Thanks so much for reaching out, Ann. We don’t pay bloggers, but many of our contributors find value in our unique platform and reach. If this makes re-posting with us impossible, we completely understand.”
I’ve got the unique platform already. Here’s what I will write in reply: “As I suspected! But I can’t donate my labor to a for-profit company. It’s bad business for writers everywhere who unlike me don’t have day jobs.”
It’s a snow day here, friends; if you’re also getting walloped with a spring storm, hunker down and stay safe.