I'm a member of the Editors' Association of Canada, and have recently been part of discussions on our e-mail list and at last night's B.C. branch meeting about how much of our currently internal material (newsletters, lists of recommended reference books, etc.) should be available freely online to anyone who's interested.
You can probably predict my position on the matter from how much stuff you can read on this site without paying for it. In January, I'll be giving a presentation at the EAC B.C. branch meeting, focusing on how freelance editors can make their Web sites more effective, and one of my themes will be that giving stuff away helps bring in more business.
What should be free?
True, not everything should be free (it would be pretty hard to make a living as a writer and editor then), but I think our instinct is to make less free than we should. Whether for a profit-aiming company or a non-profit organization, it might be a bad business model to give stuff away, but that would depend on what you were actually selling. When talking about whether the EAC should put its newsletter, Active Voice, online freely, I wrote:
I would like to see Active Voice on the Web site and available to all.
Twelve years on the Internet (and a total of nearly twenty years online) has convinced me that making the newsletter widely and quickly available will be far more useful than restricting it in any way. My reasons are:
- In my mind, the primary benefits of EAC membership are in networking, job postings, and the professionalism membership implies (certification [currently being developed] will be a big part of that too).
- Active Voice is an excellent resource, but I don't think we would do ourselves any favours by keeping it under wraps. Those non-members who might read it are the very people we'd like to attract as members sooner or later. If they want to read it online, great.
- As an extra benefit, Google will index the PDF files, so when people search for topics covered in Active Voice, they might end up at the EAC site. The best sites have regularly updated, useful content rather than just promotional material, and posting Active Voice on the EAC site would be an easy way for us to accomplish that.
I'd also be inclined to make our recently-compiled list of recommended reference works (dictionaries, style guides, etc.) public, although I would restrict contributions and online comments to EAC members only. We are a professional organization, and membership only gains value when we demonstrate publicly that we know what we're talking about. The EAC is not in the business of selling Web content -- we are in the business of advocating for editors, and of making those who are members more worth hiring, both in reality and in perception.
Transparency, or Google can't find what's hidden
If people want to find a list of good editing resource books, what could be better for the Editors' Association than if they typed in "list of good style guides" into Google and ended up on the EAC Web site? I think it would bring more potential members from Canada to the site, and would also enhance the EAC's reputation among people (Canadian or not) who might hire our members.
Even as far as some internal EAC business goes, I believe transparency does no harm, which is the same reason I write about some of my personal life here on my site. Admitting, for example, that the EAC needs to change the way we are organized is no worse than an author admitting that recasting a sentence would make it clearer. Making that admission public is simply honest, and shows that we as an organization are not only willing to change to meet the times, but also willing to show how it's done. It's the same reason I admire Wired News for posting detailed information about its recent site redesign: they're talking about what was wrong before, and how they went about fixing it.
Maybe I advocate for this sort of position because I come into the EAC as both an editor and a long-time Internet guy. I've seen the benefits of the open nature of Internet technology and the "information wants to be free" (in the free speech, not necessarily free beer, sense) ethos.
As a personal example, I do a lot of writing and editing for free (on my Web site, for quality free online publications, etc.), and I find that free work brings me a lot of paid work from people who are impressed by what they can read for free, and from people who find me because they've searched for something I've written about online -- Google brings them to me.
Keeping some things private
In the EAC or any organization (or personal life), there are things that should remain internal -- lists of slow-paying clients, for instance, or debates about how much it's appropriate for someone to charge for their work. Being able to find those things easily would give clients too much of an advantage. On the other hand, general, edited information about how much clients should expect to pay wouldn't be much use without being public.
Discussions reflect one of the greatest benefits of membership in any organization: the sense of community and like-mindedness that is so hard to find for the many people in fields like editing who work alone. That's worth most of my membership fee right there, and I'd pay more for that alone. Sure, job postings, networking get-togethers, local branch meetings, seminars, courses, and book discounts are worth paying for too. However, things we can post freely on the Web that enhance our reputations, directly or indirectly, are probably worth much more when given away.