Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I know a woman named Sharon who's a karmavore. In fact, I coined the word just for her. She devours the good intentions, good wishes, and kindness of other people, leaving them dry as bone. She grabs hold of any objects that wander within the reach of her gravity and sucks them clean of all good feelings. She's a black hole for niceness. She converts altruism into money that goes straight into her designer handbag.

Her business is designed around this model, so it doesn't require employees. She uses interns to do all the grunt work, and she finds unemployed professionals to do the rest. "Right now we're just trying things out," she tells them. "We're testing to see if this could be a profitable venture. We're trying you out in the job. Once everything gets going, we'll put you on the payroll."

Naturally, it never "gets going." It continues blithely along until the unpaid professional wises up and quits in disgust, and then she finds another one. It's not hard. There's no shortage of unemployed professionals who'll give it a try, fingers crossed.

Making Sharon look like an amateur, however, is Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine. A friend told me about a feature they run monthly where they reward the best travel story with a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I wrote up a quick little blurb, reinforced it with a photo, and sent it in. A month or so later, I got an email saying they were using it. They just wanted a little clarification. A little edit. A tweak.

Excitedly I complied, and yesterday I got an advance copy of the magazine in the mail. My story was prominently featured. With extra-large print and my photograph it took up the top-third of a page.

I scanned the note from Thomas Berger, the "Copy Chief." It said, basically, "Thanks!"

I emailed him, thinking I was confused. To his credit he telephoned me back, and he confirmed that I was confused. The "True Stories" column solicits stories from its readers, and prints the best. Only one is rewarded. I get nothing but the satisfaction of seeing my story in print.

He insisted that the system worked fine and that I was the only contributor who'd ever felt disgruntled. He hung up acting like the matter was resolved, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd gotten the shaft.

See, here's how essay contests work. You pick out the winner, you reward them, and you can use their entry as you want. The losers? Well, if you didn't reward them, you can't use their work. It wouldn't be right for newspapers to fill their pages with unpaid editorial. Especially in a bigger font, leading off, and taking twice the space of the "winner," I think.

That's when it hit me: Budget Travel magazine is a karmavore. Free writing! Donated prizes! And an endless supply of rubes. It's the holy grail for a struggling magazine with absolutely no scruples.

Still, the future is clear, and I'm on board. The karmavores are coming. Gone are the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth and people were paid for the work they did. Now I'm actually rooting for this scrappy, ethics-be-damned little rag. In fact, I'm going to write Mr. Berger back and suggest they solicit entire travel articles from their readers. They can print the best, filling the magazine from front to back, and just give one of the writers, like, a gold-plated trophy or something.

And I think I'll forward a note to his boss, too. I know a few writers who'd love to "try out" for that Copy Chief job, and with a bit of hope still left in me I can probably be hoodwinked as well.



2 comments:

Yet Another Steve said...

... and are they also saying that they now own the copyright for this uncompensated story, so you can't publish it anywhere else?

RomanHans said...

Actually I'm thinking they're going to sue me for including the other stories here. You know, like I'm file-sharing Wolverine.

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