It is an interesting tactic. If nothing else, Tice elicited emotion--she drove lots of comments by posting on LinkedIn, and the topic also sparked a separate discussion over at Freelancer Writerville II (free registration required) when I posted the link there. A while back, I posted a video of Harlan Ellison ranting about people who work for free, screwing up things for everyone else, so, yeah, I am empathic to the concept that people should stand up for their right to be paid a fair wage.
While I wish her the best of luck, I see a couple of challenges in formalizing such a cause:
- Although there is a Freelancers Union, we're inherently un-unionizable in any significant way. I cherish my independence, and I believe that the vast majority of freelancers feel similarly. I'm skeptical that a petition will carry much weight in the marketplace, and I'm confident enough in my own abilities to know that I'm my own best advocate.
- At the risk of retreating into a sports metaphor, writing is analogous to professional baseball--some are superstars and some barely make it to the big leagues, but the vast majority toil away in AAA, AA, or A for smaller bucks...and a lot of others play just for fun. A player with marginal talent who wants to make a six-figure income ain't gonna get it. One with scads of talent who is underpaid needs to do a better job of negotiating.
- I simply don't view this as a moral issue. As much as I disdain the content mills out there, I don't believe they're doing anything but meeting a need for low-cost, low-quality content. Nobody is forced to work for them, so using the word "sweatshop" is a bit precious. They're purchasing the editorial equivalent of cheesy clipart. Good luck with that.
Update: A great pricing anecdote via photographer Tim Gruber, Picasso and Pricing Your Work:
Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.
“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”