There’s a really thoughtful post over on Mercy Not Sacrifice exploring the difficulties that are arising for creators in the Information Age. Morgan Guyton talks about the current trend in consumption where people are becoming more and more demanding for free creative material. The status quo is that consumers can get plenty of entertainment from free sources these days, especially in relation to creative fields with low overhead costs (*cough*writing*cough*).
Just about anyone can be a producer, which is great from a diversity standpoint; I’m able to scan over my blog feeds and see cartoonists, scholars, regular schmucks (like myself), and all kinds of other folks whose interests overlap with my own to some degree, and we’re able to share our ideas and creations openly and freely. It’s fantastic.
Even people who aren’t interested in being creative producers still contribute to the information stream constantly through social media; I’m certainly guilty of checking my Facebook feed regularly to see what my friends and family are up to (and what they’ve found online). Most of them are not trying to produce anything for the internet in the same way that I am with my blog, and that’s okay. They still contribute by curating and sharing their own online experiences.
Morgan points out that the downside of this flood of free content is that people who are seriously trying to make a living by means of their creative outlets are in a tight spot. Akin to the Millenials’ problem of having to do ‘unpaid internships’ in order to pad their resume for a real job, creators are now in a position where they have to produce a tremendous amount of content and distribute it without hope of monetary compensation because that’s the model we’ve built on the internet (one caveat to this comparison is that the Millenial problem is unfair and includes a false promise of guaranteed future success; living off of art has never carried with it a guarantee of steady livelihood). I think the logic goes that because Sturgeon’s Law is in effect at all times, it’s not fair to consumers to ask them to plunk down money for content that is not necessarily of the same professional quality that is available through premium channels.
I get that. I’m on a tight budget, and the internet is my primary source of entertainment, so if I’m going to stick to primarily indie outlets, I don’t want to have to pay the same premiums that I would expect to put down for the types of entertainment I can’t include in my budget. Of course, then we start to develop into a feedback loop, because if I were someone who was trying to monetize my creations, I’d be contributing to the same trend that leaves me without a source of income, which leaves me in the poor house, which means I still can’t afford to pay other creators for access to their creations.
It’s almost like the solution would be to have everyone agree that they were going to pay some indie content so that we could reverse the trend by stimulating the internet economy. Or something. Solutions like that are always weird cries out into the online void for someone to do something without a clear plan as to what that something should be. Perhaps in this case it’s a cry for an increased minimum wage movement on the internet.
Nonetheless, these are idle musings on my part, because I have the luxury of having a secure job with a good paycheck. I can afford to contribute my writing freely because I’m paying my bills through other means, and I get a sense of satisfaction from knowing that some people are reading me. Would I like to actually make money off my writing? Yes. I don’t think anyone who’s taken the time to develop writing as a skill beyond what’s required for whatever mental grunt work your job demands has ever not dreamt of earning money that way. I’m especially fond of the daydream of selling my fiction, although I know enough about the industry to understand even authors who have “made it” and can rely on consistently selling their work to a wide audience don’t make a whole lot of money that way.
Still, it’d be nice.
As for the problem that Morgan brings up in his post, I don’t really have any solutions or interesting thoughts to offer up in response. It’s a dismal situation for creators who want to make a living with their work. I sympathize.
Maybe we all should just agree to pay someone five dollars every month for their work, whether we think it’s worth that much or not.