In a prior post, I wrote about the growing commercial value of high-quality content — and why content-based marketing offers long-term opportunities to new copywriters.

Now — Nicholas Carr (who remains a favorite online read) — points out why you don’t want to be somebody else’s free content generator (a point also made by Brian Clark in in this perceptive Copyblogger post).

Carr said:

Bebo founders Michael and Xochi Birch are the latest Web 2.0 entrepreneurs to cash in on user-generated content. A little over a week ago, the Birches sold Bebo, the third largest social network, to AOL for $850 million, about $600 million of which will reportedly go into the pockets of their jeans.

As for the millions of members who have happily served as sharecroppers on the Birches’ plantation, they’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that all the labor they donated to their "community" did indeed create something of tangible value.

Carr’s point is simple; the people whose content "built" Bebo received marginal (if any) value for their efforts while the site owners pocketed a cool $600 million.

InBebo’s case, musicians largely built the site by posting music (mostly in the vain hope of a big break). The real "value" they received? Not much, for the most part.

It’s a good illustration that "user-generated" has fast become a corporate code phrase for "free."

Given that copywriters are increasingly being asked to write for nothing more than the "exposure," you need to look hard at your non-paid writing efforts.

I’ve done articles for free in the past — and I’ll certainly do it again — but I always ask myself this: Am I significantly furthering my career, or investing my time building value for someone else?