If you’re a writer, you know how much time it requires if you’re serious about it, and want to produce something of quality. Ray Bradbury said that his work schedule was to write a story on Monday, then write fresh drafts of it each day following until it was (hopefully) ready to mail out for consideration by a publisher on Friday. So, a week’s work—full-time—for a good short story. Are writers the only ones who know this?

I ask the rhetorical question because, when I search the short story market listings, I find an amazing number of magazines (some online, some print) that pay nothing for the stories they publish. Zero. Most will provide a contributor’s copy or two of the issue in which your story appears. That’s it.

Not a lot to show for a week’s work.

There are dozens of markets that pay $5 - $10 per story, others a maximum of one cent a word: $50 for a 5,000 word story.

Before publishers come down on my head, I know the many explanations: even the top professional SF and fantasy magazines have seen their subscription levels drop faster than Enron stock; many if not most, online magazines are free, and have only minimal income; lower and middle tier magazines may have volunteer staff and can’t afford to give contributors much. It’s not the publishers’ fault if people don’t read much anymore, and aren’t willing to pay for the privilege. And the fact of the matter is, offering no payment or token payment doesn’t prevent these magazines from getting lots of submissions, some of them very high quality. A lot of writers are doing good writing, and just giving it away.

Should we?

Maybe writing’s a hobby and you don’t need the money; you’re just eager to see your work in print (or online) no matter what; or you’re trying to build up publishing credits to interest agents and publishers in your full-length work.

But, like it or not, our society evaluates things according to the money that changes hands to buy them. If you can get something for next to nothing, that’s the worth you place on it, too. And every product like it is assessed with the same value.

I guess, in years to come, it will go one of three ways:

- it will never change.

- there will come a time when creative artists will have to pay to have the fruits of their labours displayed to an audience.

- there will come a time (maybe only once everything is made by machine) that people will begin to truly value that which is created by the mind and the hand.

Which one would you like to see?