Love it or hate it, the pay-per-click compensation model is here to stay.

Slant, a new platform-based publisher, launched in June with a basic, if still unproven model for paying its early base of 100 contributors: Writers get 70 percent of the ad revenue generated by their stories, and Slant keeps the rest.

With the likes of LinkedIn and Medium opening up their platforms to people willing to trade free content for brand cachet, there’s no shortage of places for people to publish their writing. What’s more rare, however, are platforms that actually pay writers for contributions. Slant does pay, and it hopes this difference alone will attract more interest to its platform.

“Plenty of  sites capitalize on people’s desires to create, but they’re the ones that get all the revenue,” said Slant editorial director Amanda Gutterman. “The idea here is to make sure that people who are creating are getting a fair cut of the value they’re creating.”

Slant’s contributors have been busy so far. Since its June launch, the site has published an average of 300 stories a week on topics such as sports, pop culture(“6 Unintentionally Hilarious Facts About Batman Begins“), sports (“7 Must-See Moments From The Premier League’s First Week“) and politics (“22 Times Ruth Bader Ginsburg Proved How Perfect She Is“).

The idea of paying writers based on how much traffic they draw is nothing new, but it’s still a fraught proposition for publishers, particularly those that cover hard news. The likes of Gawker, Complex and Bleacher Report have all created variations on traffic-based compensation for staff writers and outside contributors over the years. Forbes has taken the pay-per-click model further than most by opening up its platform to hundreds of contributors, whom it pays based on how many people their articles bring in.

But the danger inherent in paying writers based on traffic is that the system incentivizes writers to pander to readers with the content most likely to get the most clicks. This is especially true for open platforms, where editorial oversight is minimal and where quality often takes the backseat.

“The obvious risk here for the publisher is that they turn everything into a clickbait incentive for the writers,” said Gabriel Kahn, professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg. “It can often devolve into a Wild West situation.”

Gutterman says that while Slant isn’t opposed to writers publishing lighter entertainment stories, those kinds of stories are still a “small percentage” of what it publishes and features on its homepage, which is populated mostly by more serious fare.

Ultimately Slant hopes to offer contributors more than a paycheck. Each story submitted to the site gets edited by Slant’s four full-time editors, who fact check and package the stories so that they travel well on social networks. The goal, Gutterman said, is to help make its contributors better writers.

“Many contributors won’t make much money if their pieces don’t do very well, so we also want to create a community that respects emerging voices. It’s about both the extrinsic and intrinsic motivators,” she said.

Photo: Scott Cresswell

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