The Sushi Analogy

I spoke yesterday to a prospective Wherewithal client who’s a CEO of a tech startup. He told me the rates his company had been paying writers for blog articles, etc. and worried whether they were paying too much. They weren’t paying an outrageous sum. He just wanted to know whether those rates were industry-standard.

[Quick backdrop: Ever since 2009, I’d say, when online media started to explode at the same time that the global economy was in shambles, assessing how much to pay a person to write has been a not-fun challenge. A few years earlier The Huffington Post had launched and proclaimed they wouldn’t be paying their contributors, because “exposure” on their site was payment enough. Writers and journalists balked but eventually went along with it, or at least a critical mass did, sufficient to change the negotiating terms for an entire sector of the U.S. economy. Resisting was hard, and possibly futile, so why not give this write-for-free-and-trust-in-???-to-make-it-ultimately-profitable notion a try? (Yes I’m simplifying here but stick with me.)

Well, it was a bad idea, horrible for most writers, and I’d argue, bad in the longterm for the companies that employ writers or contract with writers. Because everyone got confused about how to value good writing, and management pressure to minimize costs led to scores of forgettable company blogs that are indifferently attended to. But they’ll soon be authored by AI, anyway, so…we can stop paying writers altogether and pay engineers more? I don’t know.]

So I wasn’t sure what to tell this CEO.

Could he pay less than he was paying? Sure; someone would do the job cheaper.

Would that be wise? I told him probably not. Think of writing, or think of content, if you want to use that word, like sushi: Inexpensive sushi is nice, but you don’t want your sushi to be too cheap. And the reason it’s cheap…well, you may not want to know but as with all such things, it likely has to do with poor-quality inputs assembled under sub-optimal conditions.

He liked that answer. So I’m adding it here.