Who Gets Paid, Who Doesn't
And what can I do about it? Well, put some posts behind a paywall to start.
|Aram Zucker-Scharff||Apr 20, 2019|
There are a lot of platforms that work by taking content and refusing compensation. The attitude tends to be ‘but shouldn’t people want to participate to get exposure’? That thinking is pretty shitty, but also here I am writing you a newsletter for free. So now what?
This is a free newsletter. I will continue to write free newsletters. However, some of them will be paid members only. This is why.
In the world of social platforms everyone is, to some degree or another, uncompensated labor. We criticize Fiverr for devaluing the work of others. We criticize assholes who are upset when they don’t get art for $0 + Exposure. We are right to do so. Just like we’re right to support folks whose work is undervalued and who decide to unionize. These things are all correct. You shouldn’t work for free. You shouldn’t work for exposure. A big reason is because people who do labor should be fairly compensated. Part of the reason you shouldn’t do those things is because to do so means that—to some degree—you are devaluing the labor of others.
Sure, a single person writing for free doesn’t hurt all those who write, but when it becomes a system that doesn’t just push people to write for free, but profits off it without returning any of that profit then it becomes a serious ethical issue.
It’s notable however that when people do serious journalism for free there is a tendency to see it differently and to applaud their work. I don’t think that is always wrong. Good journalism, informative work, is often a thing we really need and often the people who need it most really need it for free. So the people who do the good work, for free, are doing it for good; even if their motivations and its potential consequences are the same.
This is something I really struggle with. I believe that news should be, for the most part, free to access. So should news-like educational content, when it addresses something outside the normal lanes or speaks in a voice we don’t usually hear. This is why advertising is an important part of the journalism business. At the same time, I do know publishers need to make money to pay their employees and subscriptions are an important part of the overall mix of revenue. There also needs to be a push. People don’t pay for access, but a lack of it often pushes them to do so.
But! I think people don’t really subscribe to things for access, generally individual humans tend to subscribe to things for other reasons, perhaps: to be seen reading the publication (or carrying its bag); because they believe there is a need for journalism the publication does; or because they want to support the effort being made.
I don’t think I’m doing world-changing work here or even ‘reporting on who Trump fired today’ work. But I do think that I talk about stuff that is somewhat important and not many people talk about. I think it is important that stuff is out there. Even if you don’t agree, at the very least it is important to me. But also, here I am, being part of the problem: to some degree by giving out this newsletter for free I’m helping to support this platform that could be sharing a degree of its profits with me but I am creating no incentive for people to pay, or even giving real notice that you could pay. I’m giving away work for free and I have to acknowledge that—by my own ethical code, which I expect no one else to hold to but myself—I am doing something bad.
So I’m going to create an incentive for you to pay me. There will be paid subscriber-only posts. They will not be about the media, publishing, business, ad tech or any of the things I feel strongly should be part of the public conversation. They’ll be about the things I feel strongly about, personal to me. Some of them will be about politics, or being Jewish, or my day. Who knows. They will be at least once a month and your access to them will—in my mind at least—be a thing with very little value, except to me. I’m not saying, pay me because I require it, or because my voice is locked out of the normal discourse. If you are considering paying for content and you only have given yourself a limited budget I’ll attempt to find folks to note for your consideration. Here is the short beginning of a long list of people you should consider giving your money to before you give it to me, an argumentative white dude with a full-time job:
Issa Rae, who will use it to produce and distribute work by people of color.
Lindsay Ellis, who produces excellent intelligent video essays and compensates her staff well.
Hbomb, who does excellent videos and is doing video game development.
Contrapoints, who deprograms the alt-right
However, if you appreciate my Twitter threads, or the last newsletter or the future newsletters and perhaps have already given to some of the diverse voices out there, here’s an opportunity to compensate my labor (you might be surprised at this, but I actually think a lot before I go off on ranty Twitter threads and they do take time to create! According to the time-stamps just on my most popular Twitter thread, it took 1.5 hours to write!) and get something in return.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about how to apply my ethics to my behavior on other platforms..
So let’s talk about Facebook:
I spent a lot of time posting to Facebook. Not original news, but linking in new and old stories in an attempt to better understand the algorithm and exploit it for good. Part of the reason was to understand Facebook as a set of levers to manipulate instead of the angry arbitrary god many publishers seem to treat it as. This also involved a lot of labor. I looked at it as good initially, it sparked a lot of feedback, people seemed to interact with it and comment, and metrics I ran seemed to show reach was good. As an individual publishing articles to their profile, a lot of the problems caused by the news pullback didn’t really hit my efforts.
Lately however, interactions are down, click-throughs are down, and the conversations I valued in the comments are nonexistent as some sort of dark pattern has started to encourage people to comment less on Facebook (at least in my experience). I could try and figure out what hacks get around this, but it seems like the best ones are to just run a news site page. I built a system that duplicates my style of pull quotes in posts and have it running two such pages automatically. Sometimes it picks better pull quotes than I do! So I think the time has come to shut down my long running efforts.
It has become increasingly clear that if the question is “How does Facebook work?” the answer is: badly and without real interest in conversations or news. At this point I’m starting to suspect that my labor has nearly zeroed out in value for me and maximized in value for Facebook. Continuing to put effort into it is doing nothing to break into feeds or present opposing opinions the way I was successfully able to do before.
So… I’m shutting down my personal efforts. I’ve been doing this dance with Facebook for over 4 years and I’ve gotten a lot out of it, including significant technical knowledge, but I don’t seem to be seeing anything in it personally anymore and more than that, Facebook’s user-facing tech has fundamentally stagnated as it settles into being a monopoly on social media. Examining it doesn’t teach me anything anymore. For those of you who are interested in continuing to follow what I read in the context of Facebook, here are the two pages which I will attempt to keep running
If you are interested in a page that is looped in with my more personal group of friends: https://www.facebook.com/chronotopezs/
If you enjoy arguing with strangers: https://www.facebook.com/selectnewzs/
At the end of the day, since I no longer consider Facebook to be an ethical operation it’s hard to argue that I can continue to support it with my work if I am not deforming the platform in some way through my use. So I won’t.
Some others on this topic:
Currently listening to:
Interested in talking more about this newsletter? Join the Keybase.io team to chat about it: https://keybase.io/team/gneist.newsletter