Arts for art's sake?

THIS summer, novelist Jim Crace wrote a letter to The Author -- the magazine of the Society of Authors -- revealing a new twist to publishers' efforts to get something for nothing.

Far from simply asking writers to sign away all their rights, it now appears that some -- including the Guardian -- have developed the habit of asking established writers to write in their arts pages for no fee at all. The idea, apparently, is that the author contributes a column about, say, a favourite or new book by another writer -- in return only for a passing mention of their own work.

Crace suggests that writers carry out this rather bizarre sort of commission because, among other reasons, they are anxious not to upset their own publicists or literary editors. He points out, however, the damaging effect on professional journalists of this penny-pinching practice.

Obviously, no NUJ member can support this practice. The difficulty is: how to put a stop to it? One way would be by closer co-operation with other writers' organisations, making the point that newspapers simply shouldn't get away with this. And of course, any of our own members who are asked to write for nothing should emulate Nancy Reagan and just say no. Any other ideas?

Jan/Feb 1999
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