And now a word from one of our founders:
This October, Tim Kreider published a creative call to arms in the New York Times opinion section (read it here). Tired of being asked to write for free by any and everyone from Internet publishers to Universities, he stuck his flag in the sand and said “No more.”
Sure, he’s fighting a seemingly overwhelming tide. He’s a writer, and the market value of a piece of creative writing in English has fallen to practically nothing. It’s just a matter of economic fact. Why should an internet publisher pay an American over-educated hipster $100 to write witty commentary in English when, with a little finesse and a hardworking teen from Romania, he can get perfectly legible content for $5.
‘The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct.’ - Tim Kreider, NYT, 2013
The wide electrical mouth of the interweb has vaporized any and all leverage for creatives to argue that they are special, valuable, or most importantly, worthy of pay. And in response to this, Mr. Kreider is taking a stand. He publically pre-emptively turns down any future solicitations for free work and asks his younger peers to join him.
‘I beseech you, don’t give it away. As a matter of principle, do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say “no” they might, eventually, take the hint.’ - Tim Kreider, NYT, 2013
I empathize utterly with Mr. Kreider. My bone marrow itself cries out in understanding. For the first part of my life, I made less than a living as a professional actor, and while I, admittedly, always had my family to fall back on, getting paid peanuts to work, especially if it’s work your parents went into debt to train you to do, makes you feel like a peanut. The concept of ‘A days pay for a days work’ is so distorted for performing artists that we are often gathering in support groups (not kidding) to remind each other of our value.
But where I believe Mr. Kreider is getting it wrong is in his answer to this economic ‘new normal’. While it’s true that the Internet has made it easier for publishers, distributors, destination sites, etc, to find creative content for next to nothing, it has also delivered the tools of monetization to creatives themselves. Mr. Kreider is asking his fellow artists to say ‘No’ to the man. I propose that creatives become their own man…. or greedy woman…. or gender neutral capitalist swine.
Take the Amazon Affiliate program, for example. With half a day of study and a week of trail and error, a good writer with even a small audience can essentially set up their own publishing house and extract income from their readership. Google Ad words is another good example of this kind of income generating tool. Sure, it’s fractions of pennies per reader but it’s something. And further, a determined writer can grow their audience with that other massive gift to creatives that the Internet has bestowed, their very own distribution empire. Tumblr, WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Flipboard, and now, (yes, I’m going to make a shameless plug for the startup that my partners and I have founded), nTangle. These and other tools are turning the publishing system on its head and giving individuals the means to instantly access a global audience.
Mr. Kreider’s strategy is a sort of non-participation ploy which hopes to drain the Internet of creative input and re-instate a scarcity. He theorizes that if not a single talented writer agrees to work for free “they” will notice and start paying for good writing again.
Firstly, this would take an uncharacteristic amount of organized restraint on the part of writers, who are generally known for their fierce and antagonistic independence. And, secondly, “they” don’t have any money. Publishing as an industry is struggling as desperately as the individual writers to stay alive. The same technologies that have rendered creative writers so powerless have pulled the rug out from under all the old media houses. Studios, magazines, broadcasters, all of them are drowning in the information age flood. So, waiting for them to pay is like waiting for the Sahara to turn back into a jungle. It might take awhile.
I started nTangle because I believe that the future of making a living as an artist is to take control of the means of distribution and monetization for oneself. Who needs that sluggish bloated movie studio to green light your movie when you can reach three quarters of a billion people with a YouTube video. Who needs that publisher to buy your novel and do a marketing campaign when you can reach 500 million people with a single tweet.
It’s a shift in attitude, sure, and I’m not proposing that it is easy by any means but getting and keeping your audience’s attention has always been the game. This is not new. It’s just 20 years ago there were gatekeepers for audiences. There were curators, editors, distributors, and publishers but now, well now, there’s really nothing between you and your audience but a couple key strokes.
So, I wish Mr. Kreider and his acolytes all the luck in the world. I want them to get paid because I do believe in the value of art. But I will be taking a different route than them. Rather than waiting for some other entity to pay artists. I will be busy, along with my business partners and any of you video creator/ film maker/ and multimediasts who want to join us, building a platform that lets artists pay themselves.
- Pierre-Marc Diennet, November 4th, 2013