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December 1, 2018

Elephant Journal is Hypocritical & Wrong to not pay All Writers.

Ed’s note: Elephant is all about transparency. We make $2 million a year and we spend 101% of our profits on our staff and team and writer payouts. See the full dialogue in the comments below from Waylon and team. 

Elephant Journal counts on free writing submissions (like this one) to make money, but only pays the top 15 writers a month.

That is morally wrong, hypocritical, and unethical from a business standpoint.

“Each month we pay our consistent, most-read 15 writers. Elephant was one of the first major sites to pay some writers, and one of the first sites to come up with a “paygate”—a metered subscription for readers (we did this before the NY Times launched their groundbreaking one),” according to Elephant Journal’s “How to Write for Elephant & Get Paid” page.

Do you feel like this is okay? I don’t—especially for a brand built on inclusiveness and mindfulness. It feels like “mindful” hucksterism. If you think it is greedy that I think writers should get paid for contributions, then I would say, how is it not greedy that Elephant Journal profits off of writers but doesn’t pay them?

Elephant Journal monetizes user created content through several means, including the metered paywall. Readers get two articles for free a day and then have to pay a subscription if they want to read anymore.

Medium has a partner program and it works the same way. But Medium shares the membership fee proportionally to all of the articles that are read each month, based on engagement.

Elephant Journal is making money off of all writers, not just the top 15 they pay. Elephant Journal has a moral obligation to pay all writers proportionally for what they contribute. They use their “Ecosystem” model to figure out how to pay the top 15 writers. This system should be extended to all writers.

Elephant creates an opportunity for writers, which adds value. But they also make their profit off of those writers. So if Elephant really wants to “Walk the Talk” (the name of Elephant Journal founder, Waylon Lewis’s YouTube show), they should share their profits with their currently unpaid (read: exploited) workforce of writers and content creators.

I personally believe that half of whatever amount of money a given post generates should go to its creator. The rest should go to Elephant for adding the value of an established platform.

Elephant Journal even sells a product called “Elephant Academy with Waylon Lewis.” It claims it will teach you how to “Make a living doing what you love…Write your heart out.” Not for them, though. Not unless you are in the top 15. Is the irony lost on anyone?

“What is Elephant Academy? We’ve done it for 10 years. It’s been well-loved and powerful—it teaches folks to empower your right livelihood (to do what you love, make money doing so, to be of benefit),” from a recent email sent by Waylon. How can he write that with a straight face? It seems like this is more about Waylon’s livelihood and benefit than anyone else’s. He sells a product that claims it will teach people how to make money writing, but he doesn’t pay writers.

Let me reiterate, Waylon makes money telling people they can be paid to write, but he doesn’t pay the vast majority of his own writers.

Elephant Journal has published (and profited by) many articles about exploitation, but continues to exploit its unpaid writers.

If you are wondering why I am so bitter about this, it is because there has been a an ongoing conversation about websites like Elephant Journal exploiting writers. It is hard to believe that Waylon, as a publisher, has not heard about this conversation about writers being exploited. He made a conscious decision to profit off of all writers through the paywall but only pay 15.

I am personally willing to write for free if it is something I am passionate about and I don’t feel exploited. On the page where I am about to publish this piece, it says: “Please reread all posts for grammar, honesty, authentic voice, and respect for all beings.” I hope I am being honest, authentic, and respecting all beings. I just don’t feel like Elephant Journal is.

It would be one thing if Elephant didn’t have the paywall and other means of monetizing unpaid writer’s content, but they do have a paywall and they do monetize the content of unpaid writers. And Elephant Journal only pays the top 15 writers a month. That is hypocritical and morally wrong.

Elephant Journal should pay all writers proportionally for what they contribute to the site.

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