Hearst has quietly shuttered The Mix, a submission program that allowed young and/or inexperienced, mostly non-professional writers to make very little money to write about their deepest personal tragedies, secrets, and insecurities. A note on The Mix’s homepage says the program is “no longer accepting submissions,” and a tipster tell us the contributors learned The Mix was gone when 200-some submissions were rejected all at once.
The concept behind The Mix, as we detailed last summer, was curious but executed in an increasingly commonplace fashion: Hearst would send out a list of headlines every day to an email list of contributors, and ask people to write stories based on those headlines.
The prompts were virtually always personal essay ideas or opinion pieces, and frequently controversial ones, with the potential to go viral on a wave of Internet scorn and/or outrage, a la xoJane (“I Have an Embarrassing Condition,” “No, My Husband Is Not My Best Friend,” “I Refuse To Feel Bad For Hiring A Nanny.”) Submissions ran on a variety of Hearst online outlets, including Elle.com and Cosmopolitan.com, meaning that people with little experience writing publicly could potentially face an audience of millions, for good and bad.
“You can submit stories on as many assignments as you’d like, and if we publish your work, you’ll get paid!” Hearst promised at the time, which is not how professional writing typically works (“kill fees” for commissioned pieces are standard in a professional setting; some publications will take pieces “on spec,” meaning they’ll ask to see a draft first before promising payment from a writer an editor has never worked with before or who is green). “This is an amazing opportunity to have your work published on some of the world’s best websites.” Digiday praised the platform system as a way to allow publishers to “scale up fast,” which means publishing lots of shit without having to pay anyone hardly anything.
But Women’s Wear Daily reported today that Hearst was “tightening budgets” across all their publications, though whether that means layoffs to come is not yet clear. A note on The Mix’s homepage promises everyone will be paid soon:
We are no longer accepting submissions. If we published one or more of your stories, you will be paid based on the rates detailed in your contract. At the end of each month, we run traffic reports and send the data to our finance team to process payments. You will be paid for all of your published stories in that month, as well as any traffic bonuses earned in that month. There is no need to invoice. Payments are processed 4-6 weeks after the end of the month. If you are only receiving bonus payments in a given month, please note that we have a $20 minimum for payments. A payment will be sent to you once you exceed that threshold. For any additional questions regarding payment, please contact: HSC_Vendor_Maintenance@hearstsc.com.
The program’s former editor Mike Barish has taken The Mix off his Twitter bio. He confirms to us that he is no longer with the company:
A contributor who asked to remain anonymous tells us she would’ve appreciated hearing about the program’s demise in an email. Instead, she says, contributors learned when pending submissions were declined en masse on Thursday.
We’d previously heard that The Mix paid $100 per article, but the tipster said that dropped down to $50: “When it was time to renew my contract, I and others were only offered $50 an essay. I took it feeling like a chump but never published anything at that rate.”
The writer we spoke to was slightly more cautious about what she submitted than many potential Mix contributors, and avoided topics she regarded as landmines:
I don’t regret any of the essays I wrote because I avoided the very exploitative topics. I mocked those prompts. Some of The Mix writers did a good job of taking tacky topics and turning them into something meaningful though. The network had SO MUCH talent available to them.
“Traffic bonuses” were theoretically possible, but didn’t happen in her experience, she adds:
I published several essays with them in the last year. None of my pieces were every promoted by Hearst publication so I never had a chance at any traffic bonuses. One essay of mine that The Mix rejected went semi-viral after I sold it to a site that promotes its writers. Another essay they rejected was shared over 10K times after it published on another platform. Also want to say the female editor they hired last year to work directly with writers was lovely,smart, and professional — in my opinion, it was a Hearst management issue.
We’ve contacted that editor she referenced for comment, as well as Hearst’s corporate HQ, and will update should we hear back.
Screenshot via The Mix, may it RIP