Do Reading Fees Exploit Writers?


In recent years, many reputable publications have taken to charging reading fees and earlier this year, Nick Mamatas set off an Internet kerfuffle over The Offing‘s reading fee policies. The ethical quandary surrounding reading fees persist—not only are reading fees obstacles to diversity in writing, but the system is structured to ensure the continued success of successful writers rather than discovering and fostering emerging voices. Joy Lanzendorfer, writing at the Atlantic, explains why reading fees are essentially exploitation of novice writers:

And yet journals don’t publish that much from the slush anyway; some estimates say it accounts for only 1 to 2 percent of published submissions. Instead, editors solicit work from writers they know, or writers who have name recognition. If a journal does pay its writers, it pays solicited people first. This produces an ethical problem: When a journal takes reading fees from the slush pile and then pays the writers they solicited, they’ve created an exploitative system where the unknown writers are funding the well-known ones.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →