I’m not sure how much debate really exists about this. I have seen one or two blogs arguing on this topic, and the issue surrounding the pros and cons of online versus offline freelance writing nowadays would surely have to favour the online argument in terms of your chances of earning regular money, if not big money.
But what is debateable is whether online writing can ever be as prestigious as that which appears offline. Logically, it shouldn’t be. Is the person who lets off a $10 firework in their back yard achieving the same as the person who gets their rocket designs accepted by NASA? Is the person who bolts a spoiler to their car and buys some cheap alloys the same as the person behind the wheel of a Formula 1 racing car?
It is not about financial remuneration for the individual per se. As a writer, you could be paid $500 for a series of online magazine articles, and the same $500 as an advance from a publisher for a novel (which you may not earn out on thus that’s all you’ll receive). Your bank account looks no different either way. The difference is in the total financial commitment the companies are prepared to make to push your talent forward.
An online magazine may be one person running a simple website, and once they have paid for your articles their outlay is at an end (apart from paying their own wages and the minimal ongoing costs of running the site). For the publisher, on the other hand, their outlay has only just begun. Printing a novel is not a cheap affair. Publishers have big overheads that include upkeep of premises, paying their in-house staff, employing freelance copyeditors, proof readers, plus typesetting and printing costs, and subsequent publicity. If a publisher takes you on, they are taking a big financial risk, thus your achievement would appear far greater.
There’s also the question of whether freelance writers can ever claim to have been published online. I suspect not. Publishers publish; websites post. Even publishers with an online presence that accept your work for an online-only readership do not publish your writing; they post your work to their sites.
Having said all that, I think online writing wins the day. I believe the prestige of being published offline is, for most people, not worth the hassle – certainly not financially, and probably not emotionally. I think your chances of achieving a regular income are massively higher with online freelance writing, precisely because whoever pays for your work is not risking that much. Plus, writing online is a great platform from which to launch on offline assault thanks to its global reach.
I further don’t believe it’s fair to say offline writing equates to quality, and online writing means substandard. There is a good mix of both in both. That being the case, the whole notion of the prestige of the published writer has to be questioned. If mistakes are made, and bad writing gets published when good writing doesn’t, then we need to really scrutinise the quality of the published work to decide if it genuinely deserves its prestige status.
Yes, the NASA rocket designer would seem to have more kudos, but that’s a hell of a lot of pressure they’ve taken on, and in the end their creation may be fatally flawed and may literally crash and burn.
As for the $10 rocket, who hasn’t smiled watching one of those things explode colourfully against the night sky?