Why devaluing the written word poses a serious threat to business

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

Yesterday, a tweet popped up on my timeline which broke my heart a little bit. Author, Hari Kunzru shared a link to a story on Amazon’s latest bright idea; to only pay writers for the number of pages read on Kindle books. It’s yet another determined step towards devaluing the written word and creating a world in which words on paper or screen have little significance.

I’ve written most of my life; from the colourful, ridiculous stories of my childhood to being a paid business and feature writer, and increasingly I’m being called on to justify charging actual money for words. This isn’t a new argument for writers but it’s one we’re now fighting against on an almost daily basis. This Twitter account pretty much sums up what it feels like being a writer in the current market:

Freelance writing jobs

 

The growing incredulity to the effort of chiselling a career out of writing is spreading slowly through the business world, where those in charge either can’t see the point of employing the services of a professional writer for web content, brochures and marketing literature, or even internal communications, or don’t believe it’s a skill which justifies more than pennies in payment. They’re wrong on both counts.

Being a strong writer isn’t something everyone is good at. We might joke about the fact that everyone’s a writer these days, but that’s a big old lie, it’s just the work being compared is voluminous and, for the most part, terrible. Working with words, understanding the nuances of language and going through the process of creation is far from painless, simple and easy. I agonise over what I write in the same way as a fashion designer creating a couture dress, yet my talent is worth barely a fraction of the designer’s.

In fact, a survey by the Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society revealed some pretty dire stats on the income of ‘all writers’ including professional authors. In 2013 it was just £4,000. And yet, the creative industries generate £8 million per hour.  Writing, as part of the creative industry, has been booted out of the cool gang and set upon by the hoards of fresh-faced content makers and 1p per word Elancers claiming our territory as their own.

If our own sector feels this way about writers, then it’s no wonder the business world holds us in such low regard.  And that’s bad news for businesses, because communicating effectively, internally and externally, is a major problem area for most companies. Usually, it’s down to sales and marketing to take on this mantle and rarely do those employees have any writing experience or background. The result is a corporate mishmash of sales talk and cliché spiel that says very little and is a bigger turn off than the thought of Boris’s sweaty cycling shorts.

Writers communicate in beautiful ways, driving emotion and projecting clarity onto wide ranging topics, but we’re rapidly losing the essence of why this ability is worthwhile. It’s being lost in mire of visual media, SEO-orientated content and cheap freelance sites. If this devaluation continues we’ll lose an essential part of the creative spectrum and, perhaps worst of all, start believing that because words have no worth, they have no power.