I am often approached by young writers and reviewers. In many cases we offer them work, all part of ABR’s openness to new creative and critical talent. Two things often strike me during conversations with new contributors. First, they never raise the subject of money. Such is their reticence that I now make it clear at the outset that ABR pays for everything it publishes (print or online). My visitors’ surprise is palpable. Then I tell them about our rates. Happily, these have doubled in the past two years.
Second, younger aspirants tell me how rare it is to be paid at all. Too often, young critics are expected to write for nothing, with some hazy promise of payment down the track. Outstanding young critics have talked to me quite openly about having to give up reviewing, simply because they can’t afford to go on doing it.
What other industry holds that the most effective way to foster talent, to advance young careers, and to retain loyalty is by withholding payment for years? I think the present situation is shaming – and close to exploitation. So what’s to be done?
The time has come for all of us to become better literary citizens – more engaged, more informed, more giving. We’re all involved: publishers, consumers, and writers.
For its part, ABR has committed itself to doubling its base rate as soon as possible. We will do so incrementally. Bear in mind that we publish about 600,000 words each year. That’s big money for a small magazine without a bequest or a wealthy owner. But we have a will, and a responsibility.
The time has come for writers to be more assertive, less polite. It is time for publishers to address non- and low payments – and to rethink base rates that in some cases have not changed in recent decades – or have gone backwards. But it is also time for readers to support publications that help Australian writers; and, if possible, to support the philanthropic programs that enable them to broaden their programs and assist writers – as we do at ABR through our Patrons program, which has transformed this magazine since it was launched in 2010.
If we don’t do something to correct this neglect, we will alienate young writers and end up with a diminished literary culture. In the process, we will have endorsed that old philistine notion that literature is an indulgence and sophisticated criticism a hobby unworthy of decent remuneration.
For all these reasons, I hope you will join me in contributing to this important campaign.
Peter Rose, ABR Editor and Patron