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David Arthur Walters

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On Open Publishing via by David Arthur Walters

6/22/2009 6:48:00 AM

by David Arthur Walters

OPNION: Not much has changed since the demise of





Themestream seeks writers of all kinds and experience levels to publish their writing on the Web, reach thousands of interested readers, and get paid in cash for their work. Visit or email: employment . to become a Themestream author.



The Writers Wanted advertisement in my daily newspaper seemed to be the answer to my dreams. I responded and thus began my career as an Internet writer. I was paid a dime per click on my articles to begin with. Themestream Founder and Chairman Bill Turpin figured the incentive would motivate writers to become the company’s vast promotional force attracting general and email-subscribing readers to the sorts of content the public was passionate or enthusiastic about, stuff they would naturally want to buy and would buy if given this wonderful opportunity to do so. The quality of writing was not expected to be an issue because a simple rating and commentary system, offered to readers at the bottom of each article, would somehow push the best material to the top of the enormous pile.


Themestream was funded by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and Redpoint Ventures. Themestream reportedly ran through $25 million before going broke, all the while describing itself as a "central source for articles, information, and gear related to consumers' personal interests…. Themestream enables experts, publishers, enthusiasts, and first-time authors alike to contribute to the site and help eliminate other people's need to endlessly surf the Internet for useful information and products related to their interests."


I posted the essay below in Themestream’s writing contest category. The contest gatekeepers had selected the topic, ‘Open Publishing,’ as the subject of the contest. Themestream censors deleted the article, claiming that it violated the particular term of its adhesion contract prohibiting the posting of any material that might have, in its sole opinion, a negative impact on its business. I was warned that if I reposted it, my account would be terminated forthwith and I would not be paid any sums previously due to me.


Themestream, citing financial restraints, had at that time already reduced its payments from a dime to two-cents per click, and had limited the total amount paid per article to $350. Its technical platform was floundering and the engineers were fighting desperately to restore stability as contributors, angered by the new payment schedule, and censorship policies, including the deletion of the entire Women Issues category, fled in droves. Some writers had already made many thousands of dollars each by copy-pasting content from other sites onto the Themestream site and setting up automatic “hit rings” to click on the plagiarized posts. Complaints about this conduct were largely ignored to begin with, leading to suggestions of internal corruption. Short-lived Themestream went belly up in 2001.




By David Arthur Walters

Honolulu, Hawaii

December 2000


Almost everyone in the civilized world writes. The invention of the printing press and mandatory education has turned nearly everyone into a writer of sorts. But when writers seek fame and fortune in the literary world, they are frustrated by editors. Everyone cannot get rich at once: without those gatekeepers, the literary ship to fame and fortune would soon collapse under the weight of everyone trying to get on board. Until the advent of open publishing on the Internet, this screening process left a multitude of aspiring writers without a means to satisfy their need for public expression, a need greatly aggravated by the diminution of their subjective sense of self in our objectivist age.


The vanity press provided a means to express the depressed and suppressed subject, a way for frustrated authors to publish their own works at their own expense. The fees charged by vanity publishers prohibited the multitude of would-be writers from climbing aboard. Instead of sending the author an unsigned rejection slip, the vanity press endorsed the author's check and signed a contract for its services, a ticket to possible success. On rare occasions, the book enjoyed some success. Regardless of whether or not the book was profitable itself, the well-heeled author felt successful because he had a book to show off to friends, acquaintances, and prospective customers. But the waitress who worked many extra shifts to save enough money to pay off the vanity press to publish her novel was severely disappointed. Indeed, it is believed that the failure of vanity press books has been one of the leading causes of suicide among poor scribblers. At least the cost of producing vanity books fell, thanks to advancing technology, but the vanity press remained beyond the means of many frustrated writers until most recently.


Enter the Internet, the solution to all our problems! Everyone can publish anything, dirt cheap if not for nothing. But who is going to organize the profusion of chaos so everyone can make a killing? Just exchanging email or posting messages on bulletin boards will not provide the publicity frustrated writers need. Along comes, an open publisher with a crazy scheme to make it easy for anyone to publish everything everybody is enthusiastic about; that is, except criticism of the site itself. And here's the clincher: scribblers will be paid for their contributions! How much? Well, it started out at a dime for every hit an author received on his article.


All the writer had to do was unload his works in the frame provided at the website. If he wanted to make serious money, he would to learn how to make hyperlinks and how get high rankings with search engines. He might learn how to induce hundreds of members of social networks to click on his articles, and could set up automatic “hit rings” to run up his totals while he sleeps – if he could sleep knowing he is a fraud. Why bother to write anything when a computer nerd can just copy-paste something off the Internet and get more and more hits every day in the struggle for survival in a vain world where the content is frequently a never-ending stream of superficial trash? Of course the ambitious nerd who enjoys writing might become a technical writer, for technical writing is where the money is today – he might write a success book on how to make a fortune getting traffic to come your way.


To old timers concerned with something more substantial than sheer vanity, something seemed financially unsound with the rosy picture most writers perceived open publishing to be. They believed that open publishing is just another commercial conspiracy. Let those with great expectations micturate in the Global Ocean for nothing, but the serious writer who wants an income rather than a vain exercise knows that there is no free lunch, and that the open publishing enterprise is an advertising scheme, a way to capture an audience and build their enthusiasm for buying things they are interested in. The open publishing scheme is just a way to create a buzz, to generate a mountain of content that will convince people that something great is happening. People can post articles about things they like, and enjoy relating to each other by going around commenting and rating each other’s productions in the little boxes provided for that purpose at the end of the articles.


Vanity is not always a bad thing. We could use more of it now that authority has its subjects literally buried alive in the technical details of a humiliating objective life. Open publishing makes casual writers feel good and even writerly, and nothing is wrong with that given their actual positions in real life, but the free punchbowl is bound to be taken away if the venture is unprofitable. People are going to have pay for their vanity some day, either with their time or with their money, for whatever they get out of the community and its universe of discourse. That may be well worth it in terms of new-found friends. Still there is a negative side to social networking on the Net, especially when its participants can use fictitious identities or “handles” to stir up the awful downward spiral of mutual abuse and “flaming” that sucks so many otherwise friendly people into a bonfire of injury, anger, and vengeance.


As for the quality of writing, one does not have to be a literary critic to see what is really going on at and other open publishing sites. We find a preponderance of mediocrity. We also notice a rapidly growing population of neurotics pouring forth verbiage, people who might but may not buy advertised goods to pacify their anxieties. The commotion or buzz might be profitable for those who want to make purchases or to contribute material to attract those who do, but that remains to be seen as one site after another flops financially. Of course open publishing sites can be wonderful forums for exchanging views and perhaps making a few friends. And much can be learned from mutual abuse providing one can eventually wind up abstaining from it. However, it might be better for professional writers to refrain from posting even their rejected works on open publishing sites lest they tarnish their reputations and lose first rights to boot. Indeed, how many reputable authors do we see posting their works on open publishing sites?


After all, what editor in his right mind would not laugh at the writer who submitted clips from an open publishing site as his credentials? How absurd! On the other hand, we might wonder why editors require clips at all, regardless of their origin, as the proof of anything at all except that some other editor may or may not have had good taste: What goes on in editorial orifices anyway, some sort of imbecilic daisy chain? Thank Athena for the occasional expert who writes a completely absurd article couched in scientific jargon and gets it accepted by a prestigious journal, much to the later embarrassment of its amply credentialed editorial committee. But let us stay on topic and return to open publishing, ala, where editors are supposedly obsolete; where quality, on the whole, has been rendered irrelevant; where justice and money will be more fairly distributed to the writing community, which is almost the world at large nowadays.


As for all the money to be made from hits regardless of the quality of content, it is obvious that, given the rising demand for vanity publishers, the fee paid to anyone who contributes content to open publishing will eventually be reduced to nothing once a site becomes well enough established to attract hordes of contributors and consumers hence sufficient business from advertisers. And if money gets tight, it might even make good business sense to actually charge contributors a monthly minimum rate, if not merely for the exercise of vanity, then for socializing, word processing, and storage.


Again, vanity or a little pride can be its own reward – humility is not as virtuous as it is made out to be. The money paid for hits is a loss-leader to get contributors hooked. And that is just fine for the community who enjoys it. The serious writer does not plead sour grapes here; he simply takes the rhetoric with a grain of salt and exercises discretion instead of pouring out his heart for next to nothing. After all, once a secret is out, it is worthless. So he might simply post a few tantalizing works on the open publishing sites as free advertising. He might as well give it a whirl for nothing, but not stake his life on it. Yes, a few writers will be discovered on the open sites: several have already been contacted.


Other than that, as an advertising means for the relatively unknown writer, open publishing is no place for a professional unless he is writing copy for the ads. But such are the attractions of the vanity that Biblical authors ranted about, quite a few would-be professionals have hastened to post everything they could think of. After all, this is the Information Age where the New Economics makes the fulfillment of dreams possible! If only two cents per hit or even less is maintained, the idea is that, with millions of hits per day, the rate won't matter, everyone will get rich whether they are amateurs or professionals. That is how the Internet works, you know. Or at least we knew that before one or more dot-com companies started failing every day and we saw the alarming results in our hot-fund statements.


Nevertheless, as long as the party lasts and someone else is paying for it, why not give open publishing a few hits? Let the roosters who can sell their articles for umpteen dollars each be very professional while the rest of the flock scratches and scrapes for the pennies as long as they last. But do try to exercise some discretion!


Never Stop Writing


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Good-Bye Tchaikovsky by Michael Thal

A twelve-year-old violin virtuoso, David Rothman, is plunged into a deaf world, necessitating him to adapt to a new culture and language in order to survive. ..  
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