The other night, Louis Chapman, who is one of the main pros at the MMA gym where I practise grappling, was entered in an eight man tournament with, wait for it, a £15000 prize. I and everyone else in Hull saw how much effort he put into training for it, and I can only guess that all the other fighters did the same. Louis is an exceptional fighter. Then last night... as well as he fought, Louis didn't win, losing to BJJ black belt Stephen Martin in his first match. Martin didn't win either, losing to the eventual winner Andre Winner in the semi-finals. Indeed, because of the format of the tournament, seven of the eight people involved received no pay day for their weeks (and months, and years) of effort. Presumably, the tournament organisers' pay wasn't conditional on anything other than selling tickets.
I'm bringing this up because I'm sure most of the writers out there can see the fundamental problem with this, but a lot of them would still be happy to enter a writing contest. One freelancing site I know of even seems to be using contests as a major component of its approach. Here's the thing though: if you're only paying your "prize" to the winner, that means that the majority of writers there end up doing unpaid work, no matter how good that work is.
The traditional counter to this is that they choose to and that no one is making them. Yet we can only choose from the options that are available. If we live in a world where it is considered normal to run contests to get content, then who is going to pay a writer fairly for his or her time? Eventually, we end up with a world where the only option available to choose is the life of an amateur writer who occasionally wins contests, and who doesn't have the time to devote to it full time. Even an unpaid anthology or token payment is more honest than this, because it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. So the next time you have an anthology to fill, please, don't run a contest.