How to Kill Off Writing

What’s the best way to hurt the local agriculture market in a country full of starving people? Indiscriminantly give away tons of free food. Relief organizations have learned the hard way that if they want to create a self-sustaining market of locally grown produce, they can’t always bring in truckloads of rice from other countries.

What’s the best way to kill off newspapers? Give away the news for free. Book publishers know this and have worked assiduously to avoid the same fate.

Tim Kreider


makes a plea in a recent New York Times Op Ed for writers to stop listening to the same smooth, silky pitch, “They won’t be paying you in money, man, because you’re getting paid in the far more valuable currency of exposure.” Yet if that exposure doesn’t actually lead to income, what’s the point?

“I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler,” writes Kreider, “to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.”

Why can people get away with this? Kreider tells us it is because some people are willing to do it.

If we think it is valuable (and it is) to nurture a society with a bounty of quality, thoughtful, artful writers, neither can information be free (see here) nor can writing always be free. In select cases, it can be shrewd to give away some writing or sell it at a discount. But to recklessly do so all the time is self defeating.

At IVP we pay our authors and writers. We want to encourage them to do more. We have set up our business model to make this possible. It’s a good thing for the author, for the reader, for the church and for society.

Hey, as part of my job here, they’re even paying me to write this blog!


Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

8 thoughts on “How to Kill Off Writing”

  1. This is a very important truth that Christian writers (especially) need to hear. We are so eager to share the hope within us… that we leap into any and all opportunities, regardless of fair compensation.

    It’s one thing for people with adequate incomes who approach writing as an avocation… quite another for those who feel called to writing as their life’s vocation.

  2. Right, James. Like I said, “IIn select cases, it can be shrewd to give away some writing or sell it at a discount.” Of course, IVP only gives away free e-books shrewdly. Never indiscriminantly. No, no, no.

  3. I agree, Rob. And I think it is especially important in countries where Christian publishing is in a fledgling state. If the country or language group is flooded with free material translated from other languages, then there is no incentive for developing indigenous writers and an infrastructure to support them. Ironically, such free literature can hurt the local church and retard its growth rather than help it.

  4. I lost the link to a fine response by an author who routinely is asked by developing (unpublished as yet) authors to read manuscripts, who says:

    Don’t ask me just to “look it over.” If you don’t offer to pay me for my time or ask what I’d charge to read your manuscript–instead working on my writing projects–don’t expect me to read it for free.

    Let’s keep on compensating authors. Thanks for the post, Andy.

  5. Thanks, Mike. Yes, it’s awkward, especially when dealing with friends. But it’s also fair.

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