Meanjin: should writers be paid for their work?

Meanjin cover

Stop Press: I am glad to say that on Friday 1 June 2012 Sally Heath rang me to tell me that «Meanjin» magazine in Melbourne had reconsidered their earlier decision not to pay contributors to its forthcoming 400-page anthology, and will now offer all contributors a small fee: the sum of $50 for each author. It’s not a lot, but it signifies a respect for authors’ rights. I have agreed to let my little poem appear there.

Now for «Quadrant»…

I’m a little concerned about the way «Meanjin» magazine in Melbourne, Australia, is going about publishing a 400-page anthology of the best submissions to the journal since it was founded in December 1940, in Brisbane, by Clem Christesen. The current editor, journalist Sally Heath, says:

In November 2012 MUP will publish a «Meanjin» anthology of poetry, essays, fiction, memoir and interviews from the journal’s extensive archives. It is an endeavor supported by Melbourne University via a Cultural Community Grant. We aim to produce a collection that is of interest to general readers as well as tertiary creative writing and communication students. We hope it will give a snapshot of excellent writing in Australia since the 1940s. We also believe it will contribute to the current debate about placing contemporary Australian literature in context. We hope we can add increased awareness of individual contributors and «Meanjin» to this discussion.

Unfortunately, they don’t intend to pay any of the contributors, and that’s what worries me. They pay for the paper and the binding and the printer and the warehousing, they pay the editor’s salary, they pay the rent. I wonder why they cannot pay the people who make the whole thing possible, the contributors.

Let’s look at the proposed anthology: presumably it will cost around $30 per copy, and let’s assume they sell two thousand overall: if we assume royalties at ten per cent of recommended retail price, that’s a minimum of six thousand dollars in royalties that the contributors will not be receiving.

The magazine enjoys a special Cultural Community Grant (for this anthology), financial support from Melbourne University Publishing who took over the magazine in 2003, sponsorship from the Literature Board of the Australia Council, from Arts Victoria, from the University of Melbourne, from Palgrave Macmillan (which belongs to the huge German publishing company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck), the State Government of Victoria, the City of Melbourne, and grants from the Copyright Agency Limited.

And they can’t afford to pay the contributors.

At least they are asking permission to sell on the contributors’ work, which is more than they did when they flogged off every contribution to the magazine since 1940 to Informit, who are still profiting from that misappropriation of intellectual property.

They want one tiny little poem from me, for nothing. What do you think I should do?

Please see the Stop Press item at the head of this post.

3 Replies to “Meanjin: should writers be paid for their work?”

  1. This reminds me of how parasitic ‘Public Service’ media take it for granted that writers and artists are lens louses needing publicity to become known and refuse to pay them for participation in TV programs. If you ask for payment, you will not be asked again and your work disappears from the market. Embarrassing and perplexing! Writers should be paid for their work including contributions to anthologies, but in this case I think you should charge your PR account and acquiesce.
    —Anders Hallengren

  2. Acquiesce? I am sure quite a few contributors will gladly acquiesce, as their work needs the spotlight which they otherwise may fail to attract. But I am not sure it’s ethical to publish writers’ work — for money — without paying for it. I published a free Internet-only literary magazine, Jacket, for thirteen years, and didn’t pay anyone a fee. But I did the work for nothing, and charged nothing for the magazine. Meanjin pays its editor (and so they should) and charge for their magazine, and good luck to them. But to then ask for literary work and not pay for it… sounds ethically wrong to me.
    [John Tranter]

  3. I was happy to learn that the «Meanjin» magazine in Melbourne has reconsidered their earlier decision not to pay contributors to its forthcoming anthology so you did not have to swallow the bitter pill! A true victory for the legal rights of authors. Well done!
    In Scandinavia, poets and short story writers must be paid for contributions to anthologies, for which reason there are hardly any anthologies published anymore. Most anthologies are scholarly, and scholars don’t get paid. Authors, artists and composers are not paid when participating in TV and radio, so these ‘cultural’ programs are common and produced at no cost. An American colleague afterwards asked a writer who got the opportunity to talk about his new book on TV for half an hour how much he had to pay for that commercial.

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