Column by Dylan Doyle, contributing writer
If you are anything like me, your Facebook feed is overflowing with articles contributed by your friends to The Odyssey Online, often peppered with comma splices, subject-verb disagreement and any number of other grammatical mistakes.
There is a time and a place for this Buzzfeed-esque guilty-pleasure-indulgent writing (I personally have read more open letters than I care to admit), but my intention was to sit down and write about all of the problems I have with Odyssey contributors and their English and journalism chops (or lack thereof.)
During my research, some things changed. Rest assured, I still want to address all of you regular Odyssey contributors and readers out there, but not to act as a snob declaring the merits of highbrow writing. Instead, I want to convince you to stop writing for and reading Odyssey articles for an even better reason: Odyssey is taking advantage of you.
That’s right. Odyssey is a scam, a sucker game packaged and distributed under the guise of social media platform democratization.
The ethical elephant in the room: Odyssey does not pay its writers a dime, unless that writer’s article got the most shares out of the local community that week, in which case Odyssey wires that writer 20 bucks.
A toxic culture pervades every area of art: the payday mayday. Ask your musician friends if they have ever been asked to play an unpaid gig for “exposure.” Ask your graphic artist friends for their “it will get your name out there in the industry” horror stories.
Odyssey writers: your art, the fruit of your creative labor, has value. Your stories have value, or advertisers would not pay for space next to them. A big corporation that asks you to work for no compensation is swindling you.
So what is the difference between unpaid contributions to The Murray State News, for example, and Odyssey’s business model? It all comes down to the money. The News makes very little on advertising compared to Odyssey, and it is a student-run endeavor. Odyssey, in a truly villainous twist of a PR campaign, brands itself likewise. One of their taglines is “The monopoly on minds is over,” which spells out their self-proclaimed attempt to democratize the publishing industry. Again, it is a scam.
Odyssey does not care about the online writing industry’s demographic problems, although the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of the industry certainly needs to be addressed. Peel back that fool’s gold wrapping paper and you will find a familiar beast: capitalism.
Let me bore you with a little simple math. Conservative estimates on the value of internet views sit at around $3 per thousand views. Odyssey rakes in upwards of 360 million article views per year, according to Business Insider. From an admittedly very small sample size of 20 articles from the Murray State sphere of Odyssey, I counted an average of 4.6 ads per article (longer articles often have five, shorter ones have four.) To give Odyssey the benefit of the doubt, we will round that value down to four.
This means Odyssey would be making a profit of around $1 million per year, if each article had only one ad. Assuming most articles have four, that comes out to around $4.3 million a year in profit, and that is just counting revenue for ad views – actual clicks on the ads generate even more money for Odyssey.
As free-market capitalists are always telling us, making money is not inherently unethical, but profiting from unpaid labor is always wrong.
This company is making millions of dollars in revenue per year by selling your content to advertisers, all without paying you a dime. Seems pretty unethical so far, right? It gets worse.
Remember that $20 Odyssey will send you if your article is the most shared that week? This is an integral part of Odyssey’s business model: they entice you to post your articles across your own social media feeds, hoping you will convince your friends and family to share your articles, getting you that much closer to that coveted 20 bucks. They are tricking you into doing their advertising for them, taking advantage of your social media accounts to get more views, which translates into more money for them.
If you regularly write or read Odyssey articles, I urge you to stop immediately. If you are someone who loves to blog, free platforms like WordPress and Blogger exist for you to craft your stories (and, should those stories go viral, to get a chunk of the advertising change.) If you just like reading topical posts about Murray State and its culture, support your friends’ blogs or The Murray State News itself.
As a rule of thumb, remember the words of Heath Ledger’s Joker: “if you’re good at something, never do it for free.”