Paying to be published

Don’t pay to be published

I’m not planning to use this space to rant often, I promise, but I’ve just seen this news story and it’s made my blood boil. Put simply, a newspaper group in South London appears to be charging students to have their work published online so they build up a portfolio. Here’s the link to the NUJ’s coverage:

Now, if it’s wrong or mistaken then I’ll take this post down willingly and I’ll be relieved. If it’s right, then the whole concept is wrong in more ways than I’d care to list.

Let’s start with the parallel in the commercial world. There are companies that will pay handsomely for a place in a sponsored supplement in national newspapers and magazines, and I’m certainly one of the journalists who will write for them. And yes I’ll take a payment. These are adults, though, looking for commercial advantage themselves and making decisions about how to deploy corporate budgets.

It’s a little different in the student world.


Students, in my day, had very little money. We felt very sorry for ourselves but with hindsight we were wrong. If we ended up with a debt at the end of college then it was because we hadn’t budgeted our money very well. There was no question of paying for our tuition fees. It is now radically different and young people end up leaving college with massive debts (here’s a report from Which?). And yes, they write them off 30 years after you’ve left, but to put this in perspective I turn 50 in a couple of months, I left college in 1986, so if we’d had the system in place then I’d still be in debt.

Even in the olden days, we’d have fought shy of paying for vanity projects. The reasons would be many. Affordability is the first.

The second, though, has to be quality control. What, you think the mags are going to be a stringent about quality when they’re obliged to publish something because someone is paying for it? If I’m honest I don’t see how they could be.

This leads to a second issue. You end up with a string of these pieces in your portfolio. An editor writes you a certificate saying you’ve been published. What next, then – you show them to another editor when you seek a job? OK, but she or he is going to identify these as paid-for pieces. Do you seriously think they’ll be taken as seriously as “proper” clippings? Once again, if an employer knows you’ve paid for them, I can only imagine there would be something of a downgrade in their eyes.

This is as nothing compared to my final two objections, though. The first is a simple moral point. If you want to sell newspapers and gain a profit, you pay the people who make it, not the other way around. I can’t make sense of any system in which the writer pays the publisher unless they believe there is no other way of getting into print.

The second objection is that this is, ever so slightly, 2015. I know that won’t last but there it is for the moment. People are already looking seriously at blogs as a means of publishing their own words. Guys, if you need your work published to show an editor, do what I did and sign up to a blogging service and put your words up there. It will cost nothing – or you might do what I’ve done and pay for a design that suits you, but you’ll know why you’re paying.

If any students are reading, please, please don’t let these people think they can charge for publishing your work. They can patronise you with a little certificate if they like; ultimately, though, they should be paying you, not the other way around. And anyway, I’ll let you publish something on here for only £119. That’s a quid saved, at least.

My thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Bustin for drawing this issue to my attention

UPDATE: I’ve now been told that this company has been laying off journalists – so it used to pay for copy and is now going to get people to pay it to publish. If this is a training course then it may be worth something, but let’s label it as such rather than guarantee people a sheaf of cuttings.

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