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A Culture Addicted to FREE—How FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives

Image used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb.

Image “Not for Sale” used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb who’s an activist in stopping Human Trafficking but authorized this image for use outside.

It’s funny, at various junctures I’ve felt propelled to tackle certain topics, even when that made me very unpopular. My biggest leviathan to date has been this notion of artists being expected to work for free, and I believe the reason that this topic is weighing so heavily on me is that, for the first time in years I’m no longer enthusiastic about our future.

In fact, I’m downright frightened, because of THIS.

I Feel Sick

Yesterday morning on my Facebook, a friend shared this open letter to Oprah Winfrey from a local performer in the Bay Area, Revolva, whose act caught the attention of mega-icon Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah was holding The Life You Want conference and the producers contacted Revolva to see if she would like to perform as part of a conference featuring mega-stars like Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert.

At first, Revolva was over the moon.

OMG! OPRAH! Sure! How much does it pay?

Well, we don’t pay. The artists get exposure.

Revolva in an act of unbelievable bravery…said no.

She could not work for free when she, herself, was struggling just to make ends meet—especially at an event that was charging $600-$1000 a ticket in an arena that could accommodate 18,000 people.

The producer’s response to her asking to be paid? So sorry. All the slots have filled. We’ll contact you at a later date when we hold a conference with a bigger budget.

Seriously?

Free Cancer

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.34.15 AM

Original image courtesy of NIH Image Gallery vis Flickr creative commons (added in text)

Businesses are always seeking ways to innovate and I applaud them, but with the explosion of the internet and our global society becoming more integrated in the web, the soma of free non-stop entertainment has blinded us to a cancer that’s metastasizing.

The cancer of FREE.

Artists always have struggled to have people value their work monetarily, but this is different. Very different. And yes, branding and social media are all necessary and vital, but unless we all want to die from being worked to death?

We need to pay attention to the symptoms of sickness and DO SOMETHING.

Global Culture Climate Change

The accepted norm in Western civilization for centuries was that the artist owned his or her work (copyright) and thus could choose what way to monetize it. That’s all vanished and we’re facing a monster unlike anything we’ve seen. The reason?

Consumers are blind to culture climate change that is creating an environment where disease thrives.

Stop Whining. It’s ALL In Your Head!

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Creatives are struggling to survive, but what makes it worse is we’re facing a life-ending “cancer” but far too many around us believe we are whining or being a hypochondriac. When my blog Pay the Writer took off, I was amazed at the wonderful support. But what amazed me even more was the vitriolic attitude toward me and writers wanting to be paid.

Create something people want to pay for or get another job was something I heard more than I liked.

I agree! But this performer Revolva illustrates what’s vexing many artists. She created an act that caught the attention of Oprah’s producers. Seemingly her content had some value since the tickets were $1000 a piece. She did create something of value for consumers, but not of value for the venue hosting her act (and profiting from it).

Our culture cheers that Oprah is worth almost $2.9 billion dollars and are happy to pay her because, “Well, she creates a product of value.” But that product of value rests largely (at least in the instance I’m referring to) off the voluntary assistance of unpaid professionals—who are told in regular life, “You want to be paid? Offer something of value or get another job!”.

Am I the only one seeing the paradox?

And I don’t know if folks like Oprah are meaning to treat artists unjustly. I think, like my grandmother offering me a whole dollar do all her yard work, many people have not caught up mentally to this new reality and then changed their ways of dealing with artists.

***A New Format

That’s what we are going to look at but today I am trying something new. This post is too short to make a book but too long for a “blog” (just over 3,000 words). The problem is that the concepts, broken apart, lose integrity and I feel we cannot see the big picture which is why I am hesitant to break this into multiple posts published separately.

As a solution, I’m trying a different structure and this is my only post this week. I’m breaking this into three acts like a play, since it actually IS our story. It just happens to be a Choose Our Own Ending kind of story.

Read all at once or one act at a time. I hope the editing makes it easier to absorb because this is an issue that is seriously impacting ALL of us.

ACT ONE—We Never Saw It Coming

#FUTUREREADERS

#FUTUREREADERS

At the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, average people generally were not on a computer outside of work. How we found and consumed entertainment was vastly different.

If we wanted music? We bought a CD. Wanted a book? We bought one. Wanted a movie? We had to buy a ticket or a VHS/DVD. Even in secondary sources (libraries, radio, television, rental establishments) artists received some kind of compensation.

But then our culture began shifting on-line.

The BlackHoleBerry 

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Today’s user-based web is an unplanned consequence of the implosion of the dot.coms meeting with a strange confluence of other events.

Why was BlackBerry a big deal? Blackberry changed everything because it finally tipped technology from the early adopter into the mainstream. BlackBerry successfully bridged our transition from paper to handheld computer to digital and set the stage for the rise of the smartphone.

In 2006-2007, BlackBerrys took off and forever altered our world. For the first time, regular people were using their phones in never before imagined ways (I.e. as a camera).

Web 1.0 was the firm domain of the professional contributors because devices were cost prohibitive and one needed an advanced skill set (I.e. HTML) to contribute. But Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 was meant to be ruled by regular people.

The Social Media Singularity

Devices like BlackBerry made it increasingly easy for people to share content (which is a huge part of socializing). Soon people were addicted to consuming and sharing music, videos, pictures, blogs, etc. Social media appeared to accommodate this shift in behavior.

MySpace launched in 2003 but hit it big in 2005. YouTube was launched in 2005 and was one of the fastest growing sites in 2006 when it was purchased by Google. Facebook opened up to the general public at the end of 2006. So in this three-year span everything shifted.

The web we know today didn’t start getting momentum until I’d say around 2005 and after 2007? It was unstoppable. MySpace was king. Facebook was now public. Music had gone digital. MP3 players and iPods took the place of CD players. Most people owned digital cameras which would lead to Kodak claiming bankruptcy by 2013.

These massive changes set the stage for infection.

ACT TWO—The Exposure Infection Goes Systemic

panelvan

The world change and the environment was altered forever. New parasitic organisms began populating.

Blogs had been around for quite some time, but Ariana Huffington co-founded the Huffington Post in 2005, and while initially it attracted A-List contributors, it soon opened it’s doors to bloggers willing to trade “exposure” for content.

Big sites like Huffington marked a major shift in how regular people consumed news and gathered information. Before, free stuff generally had a far lower quality, so we were willing to PAY. But now that the free stuff was almost as good, as good or better than the paid stuff?

Come on. A no-brainer. Instead of paying for a newspaper or magazine, we went on-line.

“Real” journalists were paid and this was a genuine constraint for news outlets and magazines competing with Huffington and a legion of “volunteers” offering excellent content.

Huffington, like a regular print source still made money on ads, but unlike the competition (print sources) they didn’t have to worry about paying salaries, benefits or health insurance to most of their workforce.

That was a dangerous precedent. A once a homeostatic environment where artists could thrive suddenly became toxic and vulnerable to disease.

The Creative Code Blue

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

First, with file-sharing, downloads and sites with free streaming music, consumers got in a habit of getting what they wanted for free. In 2012, Emily White published a blog on NPR I Never Owned Any Music to Begin With and revealed how she had a personal collection of over 11,000 songs and yet had only ever bought 15 CDs and how she was profoundly conflicted with the new reality of our world.

Self-published authors flocked to Amazon and people like John Locke pioneered the idea of the .99 cent book and giving books for free. A tsunami of amateurs then rushed to publish unedited, often unreadable books. Countless “authors” flooded the market with content that used to be left to die in a slush pile.

Yes, I love self-publishing and some of the best books of our time are coming out of it (Wool & The Martian) but the rush of amateurs who vastly outnumber professionals has had terrible consequences for consumers and artists.

Amazon is now having to enact warnings on e-books regarding quality issues (to flag readers for spelling problems, poor editing, bad formatting) because too many amateurs were (are) offering up content that’s not ready for consumption. If uncooked chicken can make you sick, a book that’s not “done” can too.

The Casualties of Free 

Image via Alisha Vargas courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Alisha Vargas courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I understand that businesses are rushing to give content to consumers, but in rushing to give what affect is that having? Everywhere we look on the Internet, content is FREE. Of course it isn’t really “free.”

Those who sell hardware (tools) and access to the artists? They’re doing very, very well.

Internet connection, devices, service, data streaming and conference tickets all cost consumers money. But what’s happening is those businesses and entities who deliver content (Amazon, iTunes, iBooks, AT&T, Spotify etc.) are making record profits while artists are withering on the vine.

The Future is Streaming—Poison or Potion?

I feel the future of everything entertainment will be a streaming model. We already have streaming television, news, music, and movies. I predict books naturally will follow suit.

Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant. I think it’s coming.

Barnes & Noble is dying and physical point of sale locations for new books are getting rarer. This means even big legacy publishers potentially will be muscled into cooperating with a streaming model if they want to survive.

If consumers are getting their books off a streaming model and not buying copies? Will anyone have a choice?

Courtesy of Imagens Evangelicas vis Flickr Creative Commons

Courtesy of Imagens Evangelicas vis Flickr Creative Commons

If writers don’t want to part of the streaming model? Amazon, iBooks (or whoever is offering streaming books) won’t be greatly affected. The distributors of today don’t have skin in the game.

In the old days, bookstores and publishers DIED if writers didn’t succeed. Record stores and producers DIED if musicians didn’t succeed. They couldn’t fall back on the billions they made selling gadgets, connectivity, services and camping equipment to stay solvent.

Companies are offering streaming to help artists get in front of overwhelmed consumers. It’s been designed (in part) to combat the discoverability problem, but the streaming model currently is NOT structured beneficially for artists. One musician’s song was played over a million times on Pandora, yet he was paid less than $17 (less than selling a t-shirt).

Oh, but how can you refuse? Streaming PAYS and you get exposure, you ungrateful hack. Create something people want and stop whining!

And yes, it’s scary and frustrating, but us not wanting this tech evolution to happen won’t change it coming. Tower Records, Kodak, BlackBerry, and Blockbuster are all good examples of what happens when denial is the action plan.

ACT THREE—We CAN CHANGE!

Image courtesy of Spirit-Fire via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Spirit-Fire via Flickr Creative Commons.

Now that I’ve shown you how our world has changed and painted a rather bleak picture, I want to revisit the story I began with.

Oprah a billionaire hosting a conference about reaching your dreams…using largely unpaid performers. Huffington selling for $300 million and growing increasingly valuable using unpaid work.

Can it change? I think so, but it is largely up to those we idolize to help change attitudes and educate the public.

Taylor Swift is an excellent example.

Earlier this past year (2015) iTunes went to launch its new streaming music program, and the plan had been to offer three months for free for users trying the program. At first this seems awesome! Especially for me (Average Consumer).

But then Taylor Swift stepped in and wrote a beautiful letter politely shaming Apple and put her money where her mouth was. She refused to allow her latest and hottest album to be used in Apple’s plan.

What’s interesting is that a company worth over $650 billion didn’t truly think about the consequences to artists by expecting musicians to work for free for three months until Taylor Swift pointed it out.

Did they overlook this because they are psychopathic jerks who stay up all night thinking of ways to crush artists? Or, has this notion of exposure made businesses (possibly unintentionally) predatory?

Doesn’t hurt to give the benefit of the doubt.

That was the point of me offering up that history lesson. In the 1990s, a used bookstore greatly benefited writers because exposure actually did translate into PAID work. The same for doing spec work for Huffington or performing for free alongside Oprah. I know I’ve even offered my comparably microscopic platform to help unknowns gain exposure because exposure is still extraordinarily important.

The problem however is that we need to make the next shift in the digital evolution. The biggest companies and names need to make it. Consumers need to make it.

Exposure used to be the treatment/cure, but the world has evolved to be exposure-resistent. Exposure is like tossing regular penicillin at flesh-eating MRSA and expecting it to work.

What we did to prime Web 2.0 cannot sustain it.

What happens when everyone views exposure as just as good as cold hard cash (which WAS the case but is no longer the case) is that then all content contributors are working for free.

When everyone is exposed then no one is.

When everyone is paid with exposure then no one is paid.

When conferences and corporations create space in the budget to pay everyone but those providing the content? That’s worrisome. It’s especially worrisome when exposure in these places is no longer leading to paid work. Why? Because it is only leading to people wanting to pay content producers with even more exposure.

The Trochordist said it best and I strongly recommend reading this post.  But the hard truth is that:

The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist…Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists’ work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. 

What I would add to this is that they can do this with the consent and support of the public who’s not understanding how their updated habits combined with outdated attitudes are killing the artists they love.

I think why all this is bothering me so much is I feel like we’ve created a system where to survive, content contributors are literally the problem. We’ve become a cannibalistic organism.

We Need to Work Together

Image of Killer T-Cells Attacking Cancer from NIH courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons (added in the obviously silly stuff)

Image of Killer T-Cells Attacking Cancer from NIH courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons (added in the obviously silly stuff)

We cannot fix a problem until we admit there is a problem. We need to all recognize that FREE has gone way beyond getting out of hand. It’s now metastatic…

…but it can be cured.

If FREE is a cancer, then WE are the T-Cells. All of us.

Apple proves things can change. After Taylor Swift’s letter, the company deeply apologized and made it right. They paid the musicians and you know what? Everyone made MORE. Consumers felt better about signing up for Apple’s streaming because it was caring for artists and the artists were paid. Artists were happy, Apple was happy and consumers were happy.

What if more BIG names were as protective as Taylor Swift?

What if more SMALL names were is brave as Revolva?

What if more ICONS were as fearless as Wil Wheaton?

What if more CORPORATIONS changed their treatment of artists like Apple?

What if consumers changed buying habits (refer to my post Fair Trade Fiction)?

What if more conferences became active and creative to find ways to support the contributors? Perhaps a commission off ads sold, ticket sales, digital tip jars or even corporate sponsorships?

What if more artists joined with the ranks of Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyonce and others and stood up for an ethical and sustainable internet (as these artists did with Spotify)?

What if BIG name writers supported new writers like these mega-artists are doing in music? Just like Phillip Pullman who resigned as an Oxford literary patron over lack of pay for authors?

What if more on-line magazines worked WITH bloggers like BuzzFeed who pays contributors based on click rate?

For instance, instead of ALL my best content being on my blog, magazines can recruit us as talent. I’m happy WD Magazine gave me an award, now let me help YOU! Figure out a way we can both win.

Old Guard + New Guard = NEW AND WAY BETTER GUARD! We are not alone!

All of us in one way or another need to set an example and lead the way to the next evolution of the web. Web 3.0—A Better Place to Play, Live and Work.

Image a gift to Flickr Commons from professional photographer Brett Jordan.

Image a gift to Flickr Commons from professional photographer Brett Jordan.

Revolva had a fantastic idea, that I hadn’t seen in action. She had a TIP jar on her site and I left her a tip for using her story (Note to Self: Add Tip Jar to New Website). I know Flickr allows me to donate for the commons images, but I would LOVE a tip feature so I can support the actual photographers and image creators. 

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that we have to work together to help consumers and businesses update their thinking regarding commerce.

What are some ways we can change the world? What are some companies, conferences, businesses or artists that you’ve seen doing great things? How are they solving this problem? What are ways you think we might be able to work together instead of fracturing into a million pieces of Every Man Out For Himself? 

Have you been frustrated with this increasing expectation that you need to not only give for free, but it has to be as high of quality as paid work…and people just seem to want more and more and MORE? What are your thoughts? Experiences? Opinions? Concerns? Ideas?

I love hearing from you. You guys are some of the most brilliant people I know and if anyone can fix this? WRITERS CAN. We have changed the world time and time and time again. Let’s roll!

Author Call to Arms!

After posting this, I talked with Revolva and even though her blog got over a million views? Oprah’s people never issued a statement, wrote a letter or even offered apology. There is no indication of any policy change.

The BIG players CAN and WILL LISTEN. APPLE DID!

ARTIST EXPLOITATION IS RAMPANT IN ALL THE ARTS. MUSICIANS, ACTORS, CRAFTERS, WRITERS AND ON AND ON.

IT HAS TO STOP AND I THINK IT WILL TAKE WRITERS TO DO IT.

I am asking you guys to activate YOUR platforms. ALL OF US BLOG ON THIS. REPOST THIS BLOG OR EVEN REPOST REVOLVA’S.

WRITE YOUR OWN THOUGHTS ON THIS AND LINK TO THIS POST.

I AM BUILDING A NEW WEBSITE AND I WILL INCLUDE A PLACE TO LINK TO ALL YOUR BLOGS ON THIS TOPIC PERMANENTLY. 

It’s one thing to step on a performer, but REVOLVA doesn’t have a legion of  TICKED OFF WRITERS on hand, whereas I DO. YOU can help me make a difference for ALL the arts!

WE ARE NOT ALONE!

***A special note of thanks to all the photos generously shared for free use. I donated money on your behalf.

I don’t yet have a tip jar (redoing my web site), but if you like my work, please pick up a copy of Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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    • Janet B on February 9, 2016 at 3:40 pm
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    I believe Oprah is worth around $3 billion dollars. Not quite as much as you listed. And I believe the top speakers do get compensated. Just not the smaller speakers. Such as The HP, that have people that are willing to do free blogging for the exposure, the conference will look for those speakers, that are willing to do it for free. Unfortunately, it’s the way society is currently. They feel they are doing you an honor.

    1. Oops, the decimal point got deleted. I was going between 2.9 and 3.0 and accidentally edited it weird and inaccurately. Fixed it and thanks for the heads UP!

  1. Your post highlights an interesting dilemma that I’ve facing. An overseas blog has expressed an interest in my work. They would like me to submit an article, but can’t pay me. Their entire site is based on user generated content. I’m a new writer and building a brand for myself. Exposure is what I need and this is an unpaid opportunity. So, based on your article, you would recommend turning it down???? I’m honestly not sure I can afford to do that.

    1. I can blog on this in the future. Some FREE is good for new writers starting out. The problem is what used to be in the real of the new (“Intern”) is now the same deal being handed to the seasoned professional. So the honest answer is I don’t know.

      1. Thank you for your response, Kristen. I would really appreciate a post for new writers on what you think is “good” free content and “bad” free content. This overseas blog wants me to write a series of articles for them, but for free. I’m reluctant to do this for no pay, especially after reading your post. Your thoughts on this subject would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

        1. Off the cuff, I would say no. Make them pay you something even if it’s buying a couple items off an Amazon Wish List. A gift card. SOMETHING. People value what they pay for. Never underestimate the respect you can gain by simply charging $20. When I say monetize, it doesn’t have to be exorbitant. But SOME transaction, making them give SOMETHING is very valuable and it weeds out the time wasters.

          1. Hi Kristen, I completely agree with your statement that people value what they pay for. I think I will just submit one article to this site, but ask for compensation if they want a series of articles. Thank you for giving me the confidence! BTW, I purchased your book and have been applying your social media advice. It works. I published an article on Scary Mommy that was shared over 131,000 times on Facebook, largely because I followed your guidelines. People came to bat for me. So, a big thank you!!!

          2. Typo!!! Kristen!!! Why can’t I edit my reply???

          3. What typo? 😉

          4. So I can use you as a testimony right? 😀 What I would GIVE for this as a book review. Le sigh. Soooo, if you haven’t written one yet *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

          5. Grinning….. No problem. Happy to oblige. Perhaps even without any typos this time. 😉

          6. Just posted my review for you on Amazon. It was “fairly” positive. 😉

  2. I’ve been publishing (both trad and self) for about eight years. I can’t make a living off it. I doubt I ever will. And yes, my titles show up on pirate sites regularly, where I lose money off those free downloads. You mentioned the avalanche of poorly written/edited work showing up on Amazon (and other venues); that makes it hard for the good stuff to find its audience. I admit I’ve become discouraged about the business in the last year or so. Maybe it was stars-in-the-eyes to think I’d be earning enough to quit the day job by now (and I wouldn’t need much–just a few thousand in royalties a year). I’ve recently decided to continue writing and publishing, but for pleasure, not money. Otherwise, I stress too much over what I perceive to be a failure–a failure to connect with my audience, a failure to sell, a failure to get my name out there.

    You’re absolutely correct. Everyone wants everything for free, and while many purchase the things they want, so many more refuse, knowing if they search the ‘net, they’ll find it for nothing. This is not a healthy environment for creative people. We currently live in an age where art of all kind has been devalued… unless you have a “name.” The people at the top continue to make money. The rest of us struggle.

    1. I don’t think it’s impossible and I DO think things are changing. The big names in music are starting to stand up so obviously this is a problem bigger people than me are noticing. We can do this, but we are going to have to work together.

  3. Wow. As a journalist who is ‘lucky’ to still receive pay for my articles, this is excellent and thought-provoking.

    1. Well I am SO SORRY to be contributing to this problem of GOOD JOURNALISM FOR FREE! But I hope it’s in the right direction ((HUGS)).

      1. Haha – yes, a worthwhile investment of your time I’m sure.

  4. Excellent article! Know how to do the tip jar? Thanks for bringing this out into the light.

  5. Totally agree. I do use repurposed material as a reader magnet (I.e. Freebie), but I would never allow Huff Po or any other publication to use my work without paying me. If I choose to repurpose a small portion of my work for marketing purposes that’s my choice and comes out of my marketing budget. Many writers I know use the “product sampling” at the supermarket analogy to justify giving away their work and that’s fine – it does work. But here’s the catch: most artists don’t approach their work the way a more conventional business does. They don’t track how much they give away, whether product sampling is actually working for them or not, and they don’t set a budget of how much they can give away and not lose their shirts. In short, they have no marketing plan other than giving away free stuff and hoping it works and have never written a (gulp) business plan. Artist friends, we’re in a business. In order to be successful, we must treat it as such. Incidentally, I’m actually very optimistic about this “free” trend. Why? Simply because it’s unsustainable. May take a while though.

    1. There’s a big difference in YOU making the CHOICE of giving away your own work as a sample to a person already interested in you, specifically, and an entity like HuffPo using your work to generate REAL MONEY(TM) in the form of advertising space and pageviews, in exchange for the IMAGINARY MONEY of “Exposure” to, not your audience, but theirs.

      Your own choice to give away content you’ve created can be very sound, and often for us little folk, the difference between being in “the basement” at Amazon, and being down where we bunk with the Balrog at Amazon.

      Especially if you’re giving it away in exchange for some commitment in kind from the receiver (ie, a reader magnet in exchange for subscribing to your mailing list – there’s no coin money in that, but there’s an exchange of value–your work for their attention at a later date). Giving to your own audience is Customer Care. Giving to HuffPo’s audience is not. The free stuff ends up WAAY devalued because only a fraction of their audience will turn out to be your audience.

      Now, it is hard to say if Revolva would have seen an Oprah-attributed bump in her sales or notoriety. I would have negotiated space, time, and opportunity to set up my own merch table and keep everything I made off it (which again isn’t direct money, but it would have been “exposure” in the sense that Revolva was both exposed to Oprah’s audience AND permitted/unspokenly endorsed to offer to them. That may have been an opportunity of value, depending on how big the audience was, and how much of Revolva’s “people” they were expected to be or align with.

      I do think your point about tracking the effectivity of your freebies is important. Most of us consider the fact that we wrote it, and it wasn’t selling anyway, so at least the giveaway is an opportunity to reach people and invite them into our ecosystem for other opportunities. But tracking “conversion rates” is probably a good idea to get into.

      1. But what is bothering me is that I bet you Deepak Chopra was paid. So the artists who need the money the most are not paid when the ones worth tens of millions are given speaking fees. If a conference like that is charging $1000 a ticket, there is NO reason they cannot budget a base pay for the new artists. The problem is that these folks budget for janitors and caterers and even parking attendants. If they can budget for those folks, why not artists? Folks like Oprah are the thought-leaders and I am not angry or attacking her, only challenging folks like her that exposure no longer works like it used to. THESE people set the example. And holding a conference about “Getting the Life You Want” and then not even offering gas money? That can’t continue.

        I am not against FREE. I think it can be valuable, but it is being exploited and that needs to stop.

        1. I used to speak for free or base, base cost especially at libraries. Then I had a library ask me to come and be part of their conference. It was almost 100 miles away and this was back when gas was $4.50 a gallon and I have an SUV. So $85 to fill a tank and it would take a good amount of gas to get to this place. They offered me $50 per class and three classes and told me I could sell my books.

          Okay, I had another (more lucrative) offer, but I wanted to support libraries so I turned it down and mobilized my following for this event.

          A week before the event, I am told that they can only pay for two classes.

          Ok, no problem, I can sell books and offset my costs of gas, food, time, etc. And was still $100.

          TWO DAYS before the conference. “We found another author we want to speak so we only want you for one class.”

          Oh-KAY. At this point I am committed and have recruited a lot of people to attend.

          I show up and go to bring in books and they tell me I can’t do that. I am not allowed to sell books. I work ALL day, paid for $85 in gas and almost $20 for lunch. On the way home, there is an accident on I-35 so I had to take the LONG way (150 miles) and it took FOUR HOURS to just drive home.

          Only for them to stiff me for the $50 they owed me.

          NEVER. AGAIN.

  6. Outstanding post, and go Revolva.

  7. This is nothing new. Several years ago, when I published my first fiction book I was awarded a two star review with the specific reason that being an indie writer who had just published my first book, I was obligated to sell it for $0.99 or make it free. A few months later the original reviewer returned to lower it to one star because I had ignored his pronouncement that all indies should make their work available for free or almost no cost.

    This is the entitlement thinking that the buyer believes the content should be free. They don’t care that it took months of hard work and tons of cold hard cash out of pocket for things like editing and cover design. In his person’s mind, indies were not professionals and therefore should not profit from their work.

    Despite those comments, I have never lowered the price to $0.99 and never done a free giveaway. I just don’t believe that’s the proper business model for me. I set my prices at a reasonable level and let the chips fall where they may, but at least I have not set the trend for free or almost free, and no the economics does not work out. Lowering the price of a full length fantasy novel that has been professionally edited does not generate enough sales to cover the cost price difference. In fact lowering the price seems to reduce sales right along with margins.

  8. You’ve really tackled a challenging and multifaceted dilemma here with both wit and depth. Thank you! When I recently decided to start a publication on Medium, I decided that I wanted to compensate the authors whom I invited to contribute, if only minimally. I am by no means rich but I feel strongly about the need to compensate people for their time, craft and engagement. I told my author friends to imagine me inviting them out for dinner and drinks, that’s what I try to pay. I don’t know how long I will be able to afford paying authors at that rate but I’ll keep trying for as long as possible. Good work should be acknowledged and compensated and one way to do that it is to also practice it in our own small scale operations. This is another means to change the culture.

    • prudencemacleod on February 9, 2016 at 4:27 pm
    • Reply

    As I have said many times before, I don’t put my work up for free anymore. I learned early that I ended up paying in both money and time lost to give my work away for free. I also try to make sure I pay the artist. Many sites have a “Buy me a coffee” button and I use it.
    This post is timely and I will share the link. Thanks again, WANA Mamma, for leading the way.

  9. I regularly have people, when they hear my sister does my hair, say “Oh, so you get it done cheap, just pay for the product.” No, I explain that I want to pay her for her time also, and actually I go above and beyond in tipping because I support her. Also, I still schedule at the salon, because she is kept as an employee based on if she meets her client ratio that month, so I want to support her in actually getting to keep her job.

    I think it’s important that artists share their own need for appropriate payment, but also speak out and support others to spread the word. People respond positively when I explain why I pay my sister. And I think that’s more acceptable than just saying “pay me” so if we all say “pay others” together, it helps us all….So on that note, thank you for supporting all those wonderful people you mentioned in this article, not just with exposure but also by putting your money where your exposure is 🙂

    • Tiffee Jasso on February 9, 2016 at 4:30 pm
    • Reply

    I chose to go with Kobo for my ebooks for that very reason I have control over my book prices. I will market my print books myself. Despite what everyone believes, Amazon gets paid one way or the other for their services and for those supposedly, free books. It is the authors that get nothing for their work, but we have to keep in mind that is the route those authors have freely chosen. @firstbluelucy

  10. The biggest problem, as I see it, is the vast imbalance of supply versus demand. I used to make a living as a graphic designer, creating logos and printed promotion pieces (business cards, brochures and the like) which then evolved into some web design. The problem was/is: everyone thinks they are creative/artistic and can do it themselves. The few that don’t can find someone in Indonesia, Pakistan — or even here in the States — to do everything they want for pennies, or even free. Free doesn’t put food on the table or a roof over your head.

    Being a glutton for punishment, I turned to writing. The same conundrum exists now, as you ably illustrated in your post. Even worse — I have to pay to advertise stuff I’m giving away for free! Years ago, we would have considered that mind set lunacy for a business. Now, it’s the norm.

    Big Publishing doesn’t really care if a few Indies are making bank with their books. They look at their slush piles and say, “Meh, there’s a thousand more where that came from.” A similar attitude exists with readers now. If I don’t give away the first book in a series, many readers will pass on by to someone who will. “Because, hey, everyone can write. It’s not that hard. I’ve got ideas. I could write a book if I wanted to take the time.”

    How do we compete with that kind of attitude?

    1. Well said, Alan. Yep, how do we compete with that? 🙁

    2. You compete with that by growing your audience more slowly, and using free samples, discounts and sales, or low introductory prices, and even Amazon exclusivity in Kindle Unlimited as simply a single *tool* in a much larger *box of tools.*

      The only constant in this business is that there IS no constant (except Haters Gonna Hate – that’s a given everywhere). So you try something, switch to something else, then switch to something else. Don’t do perma-free if it makes you sweat goat cheese. Do a time-limited free run, then jack the price back up. Put some books into KU for a single run, then jerk ’em back out again and go wide. Offer up free stories to people only in exchange for subscribing to your mailing list (and thereby giving you permission to engage with them).

      It’s not so much training the masses (where sometimes the m is silent) to not go for free stuff. It’s about training *your* audience in the value of your work. Free, sale, and discount are all words to capture the attention of passers-by. If they aren’t interested, then the free-est free in the world isn’t going to entice them to look twice. If they are, free/sale/discount *removes a barrier* to trying. Once they’ve tried, if they like, they may choose to sit on their hands until another sale comes along. If their desire for more of your stuff outweighs their desire to wait for a sale, they’ll buy you at full price. If not, they weren’t your audience anyway and you let them go. All the bait in the world won’t get your hook a tug if you’re fishing with the wrong bait. It means you let the casual reader go because they’re not willing to buy your title at full price (or at least, not yet). Your readership will grow more slowly. You may never hit a list because of a slew of impulse-purchases or a limited-time special. But you may end up making a living. It’ll just take longer. The name of the game has always been persistence.

      1. I COMPLETELY agree and I will do a blog about using FREE effectively. My concern though is that if we don’t make some noise about the ABUSE of free we are training people to not value what we do. Just in the eight years I have been doing this I have watched free be abused more and more and more and it IS having an impact.

        When BIG NAMES like Beyonce and Taylor Swift are stepping in and going, “Whoa. Enough. Uncool.” I think it is fair to say that there is a big trend even big folks are noticing. I am and will always be a fan of hustling, working hard and being good at business. I DO believe though that we need to create a sustainable internet. Yes, starter fluid was great to get the fire burning and the web launched into everyday life, but if we are doing this for the long-haul we cannot run on short term fuel.

  11. When politicians offer free stuff for votes is it any wonder society believes free is the only way? I fear your words will likely fall on deaf ears (and blind eyes). It will only be relevant when creativity takes a permanent vacation. Perhaps then millennials will understand there is no “free lunch”. Much like Americans paying for that free college education and free health care it may be a while before society realizes free isn’t worth the cost.

    • H. on February 9, 2016 at 4:40 pm
    • Reply

    About ten years ago, I published a zine and put some of the articles online to give subscribers a taste of what was in the mag. A large media company known for making kids’ movies — usually taking books and turning them into movies — asked to reprint an article in a teacher guide that would be used in classrooms. I asked for $50. They wanted it for free. I told them the printers of the teacher guide were getting paid, the graphic artists of the guide were getting paid, and I should be paid too. There was no deal. I mean, come on! The head of the company is regularly listed among Forbes’ richest Americans. I’m pretty sure $50 was in the budget.

  12. This is such a huge issue and his filtered all the way down through our society. Photographers are solicited on sites like Craigslist to shoot weddings for free so they can “gain exposure.” (Ignore the photography pun.) I’ve seen posts from established writers being asked to speak/teach for free at conferences for exposure, and that’s AFTER they pay their own way to get there and subsidize their room and meals.

    Being at the bottom of the food chain sucks, and we’re not going to get out of this without help from those at the top (like Taylor Swift and others). Seems there’s plenty of money going around, just far too little of it landing in the hands of the people who actually produce the content.

  13. Well put together piece(s). Thank you for speaking up for artist, writers and such. I have found that in the service industry it is the same. I love free and a bargain as much as the next guy, especially since I do not have a large income. However, I understand the need to make money in this world. We all have bills to pay and groceries to put on the table. We need to honor each other, and all the gifts that we bring. We need to STOP giving it away for free. That is the only way to change things. I gift and pro-rate my services very often. However, in light of your article I am going to stop offering anything for free! And I am going to honor others in some way.
    Just a side note, I often sweat equity my way into events; I work for part of a festival as a volunteer to enjoy part of a festival without having to buy a ticket. I think that is a fair way to trade. However, that is not always a good route to offer to our clients/customers.

    • Wing Dunham on February 9, 2016 at 4:53 pm
    • Reply

    Subscriptions!

    1. Yep! 😀

  14. I have to admit I’m actually one of those people encouraging others to self-publish their work. After all, it’s free and it doesn’t cost the artist anything. Meanwhile, while I am aware that people are writing novels that are not good quality, it is a good training ground for people who wants to make it big to keep on writing.

    My point is that since the advent of free, there are no longer gatekeepers of quality. Traditional publishing houses makes sure that the book they print out is high quality. They are the gatekeepers of quality. Since Amazon lets people self-publish their work, nobody could guarantee quality anymore. It’s a perfect place for new artists to try their hands on writing and publishing their work so that they could get more practice.

    On the other hand, a tip jar would be awesome. That’s what companies like RocketJump had used Go Fund Me for.

  15. What a fab post, Kristen, and I’ll bet it gets as much buzz (and flak) as “Pay the Writer.” I read Revolva’s letter, and I completely agree. How ridiculous is it to be asked to work for free (and spend money on traveling expenses, as she would have had to do) at an Oprah money-making juggernaut with a theme of “The Life You Want”? Seriously? What struggling artist imagines the life he/she wants as working for EXPOSURE? As Revolva pointed out, you can’t pay your rent with “exposure.” A big-time icon like Oprah can afford to pay her performers (and not just the big names like Deepak Chopra). She should put her money where her mouth is.

    Context is important in artists’ decisions about what to do for free. For example, I’ve given talks on fiction writing to elementary school students for free on many occasions. (Except for the mocha latte and blueberry muffin one kind teacher bought in for me on a long day, God bless her). In talking to school kids, I’m giving back and sharing what I love, with the hope that it will inspire some of them to start writing those stories they can’t get out of their heads. I’m sure many artists share their talents to help a cause of some kind. Look at how much you give US for free. *wink*

    I know that’s totally different from what you’re talking about here; I just wanted to point it out. I’m so glad you posted this, especially giving the context of how it came to be. Exposure has become the new currency, and both consumers and artists need to be educated about how that just doesn’t work.

  16. Another thought provoking post. I’m reposting this on my facebook page. Thanks!

  17. Although I love what I do, this post for the most part was so depressing. I am so glad when you put a few suggestions for changes at the end of the blog post. I was about ready to shoot myself! I like the tip jar idea.

    I personally stopped trying to give away content for free. I think people are starting to get wise to the idea that perhaps free isn’t all its cracked up to be. I hope so, anyway. As far as what we can do about it. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that for a while.

    1. Trust me. I felt the same way when I saw that post from Revolva regarding Oprah. But now you see why I put all the posts together. I sent twelve hours just RESEARCHING that there were answeres! Keep up the fight. We are not alone you know ?

      1. Thank You Kristen!

  18. I am working (erm in my head that is) on a similar post at the moment. The free or low cost culture touches too many people.
    Thanks for this great article, I will definitely give you a shoutout!

    1. DO IT! ALL OF US SHOULD! You have my support!

  19. Great post with lots to think about.

    That being said, I would like to add a couple of thoughts on the topic.

    The “freebie” culture goes deeper than just the artist being expected to work for nothing. When I retired in 2014 from teaching high school, I had been teaching creative writing, essay writing, and research paper writing. I stood in front of the creative writing class my last year with a stack of poems in my hand. I was ready to pass them back. “Longfellow? Henry Longfellow?” I asked.

    One of my AP students looked at me. “There’s no Longfellow in this class. He’s dead?”

    “Well, I thought so, but now I’m not sure because here is a hand written copy of one of his poems.”

    Giggles and then silence followed. Many students do not understand that taking even a sentence, a stanza, or a paragraph off the internet with highlight-copy-paste is considered plagiarism and harmful to the person who wrote it.

    Second, not only do poorly written pieces get published for free (or money) on the internet, the writers of said material have a completely inflated ego and believe that, since people read it or pay for it, there is no reason why it should be in need of revision or editing.

    Finally, on a bright note at least for writers, research is beginning to discover that reading material on electronic media is detrimental to the reader’s comprehension and reading pace. This, hopefully will indicate that the printed word on paper is still valuable.

    1. Brilliant move on the plagiarism front!

    • annaerishkigal on February 9, 2016 at 5:24 pm
    • Reply

    Ugh! Your post so eloquently stated exactly what I’ve been feeling lately. First it was one book we were expected to give away for free, then a free book plus a second one free as a reader magnet, and then other free books or novellas free ‘for exposure’ in anthologies or box sets, and then we’re expected to write and email our readers and/or post on our blog links to additional free short stories. Add to that mix a toxic cocktail of Kindle Unlimited where all books ‘look’ free except the authors who aren’t in it, and I’m feeling so discouraged it’s been hard to get motivated to write. I pulled back on all the freebies except for the single perma-free, but from now on I expect to get paid. I mean, I’ve got 8 books out now, all of them highly rated, so when am I going to start earning a living with my writing?

    1. Now should be the time to start charging. People would pay for quality and since you seem to have an established fan base, they’ll pay for your books.

        • annaerishkigal on February 9, 2016 at 6:19 pm
        • Reply

        Right now, the only book that earns money is Book 3 of my flagship series. It’s difficult getting readers to try out a new series by the same author, especially if it’s a slightly different genre (i.e., paranormal fantasy instead of high fantasy). Readers come with their hands out, expecting you to give away the series starter for EACH series for free now, not just one book. Kristen is right. I’m sick of freebie snarfers. 😛

        1. I notice that too. I started selling my crochet designs online a month ago at 99 cents. So far, I have created 4 designs but no takers. I understand that I’m a fledgling designer so I’m not worried. Eventually, I’ll build my credibility but I’m still learning my craft.

          1. But (and I will address this in another post for OBVIOUS reasons). Free IS good. The ABUSE has just become so rampant. I am still ALL for authors having a blog. Blogs are free. People get to know us, sample our voice and style. In turn we can grow as writers, gain a following and it is HIGHLY mutually beneficial.

            I am not even against offering a give-away “freebie” book to promote other PAID sales or giving away the first in a series.

            The problem has become that FREE used to be for newbies cutting teeth (like an internship). But now people want the product, talent and expertise of long-time pros for intern pay. Free used to be the PROMOTION, not the PRICE.

            That has GOT to STOP or it won’t matter for any of the new people. The environment will be clear-cut and you won’t thrive. That is what I am trying to stop because I believe in you guys!

            • annaerishkigal on February 9, 2016 at 10:57 pm

            Hear, hear… [*singing … to choir*]

            With 8 books out (7 of them full-length doorstoppers), I don’t consider myself a newbie anymore. I just thought, by now, I’d be earning a living wage? I don’t mind giving away one free ebook to introduce people to my writing, but this all-free, all-the-time stuff has to stop. Or there won’t -be- any pro’s anymore.

            • KellyNJ on February 12, 2016 at 2:50 am

            Website? Author page link? (Always looking for new to me authors! I also know too many writers to ever want free content. I purchase copies even when I get an ARC or do beta reading – because to me the value is in the work, so I want to be counted as a purchaser)

  20. So true! At this point I just want my writing to break even. I don’t do “free” promotions anymore – I would get a bunch of downloads but no sustained increase in sales, just not worth it.

    • patriciaawoods2013 on February 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm
    • Reply

    Bless you for this post. It is insane to work for free. You cannot get food, shelter, clothing, or anything else for free. Why are intellectual properties expected to be free? People have become so selfish and uncaring that they obsess about getting all their needs met for free. It is a sad reflection upon our culture and moral values. Taylor Swift is right and we need to step up and be counted in the fight for integrity. Otherwise we get exactly what we deserve..nothing. Thank you!

  21. There is a sea-change coming … verrrrrry slowly, like your Taylor Swift etc example.

    Indie authors need to be ahead of the curve though, to succeed. Someone in the coments above mentioned the subscription model as just one way of looking at the issue, and tip jars, and placing notices in the FRONT of books that say something along the lines of , ‘if you didn’t pay for this book then please consider heading over to my blog/website, and leave a tip/donate/paetron etc’.

    I think the ‘free everything’ issue is part of the birth of the interwebz. Everything is still sorting itself out, humans included.

    1. I agree ergo the trip through history. I think we are feeling birthing pains. Hopefully birthing Web 3.0 ?

    2. That change can’t come fast enough 😉 Young people, especially, need to be educated and shown why it’s not good to take whatever they want from the Internet. I had a conversation a couple of years ago with my older daughter about pirating video games.

      “Did you enjoy the game?” I asked.

      “Yeah,” she said, not understanding where I was going.

      “Then you should pay for it, because those people can’t make cool stuff like that if you just take it. That’s stealing. How would you feel if someone took something you created without asking or paying for it?”

      It seems so basic to us, but with the Internet being “free” young people (and many older folks too) make the leap that everything on the net is free as well.

    3. I agree and that’s why I liken it to contractions or birthing pains. I have no problem that we did so much for free. If we all hadn’t the Internet would have died and that isn’t good either. But starter fluid AIN’T long-term FUEL. STOP IT!

      I think indies have always led the way and we can do this too!

    • psybok on February 9, 2016 at 5:51 pm
    • Reply

    As an actor, trying to get away from doing background work (which pays, but not a lot) who has obtained an agent, (not getting sent out a lot, but I’m also pushing 60) I understand. There’s a lot of casting calls in the DFW area that want quality actors, but can’t pay. IMDB credit and food won’t pay my bills.

    Acting is my day job, (I’m on disability from an accident, so at least I’ve got the basics covered, but just barely.)

    That said, there are a few directors I’ll work with on a spec basis. But a lot of people expect an Academy Award performance for credit, and pizza…

    So artists across genres are affected by the cancer of free…

  22. Great post, Kristen! I started out as a traditionally published writer in the 90’s and only got into self-publishing in 2014 to keep 2 books in print when the publisher went belly up. I buy other indie writers’ books (prefer print–even have a print copy of your fabulous RISE OF THE MACHINES which has been VERY helpful) and thankfully most of them have been edited (I have been burned by a few stinkers, though). I learned years ago that people do not value what they are given for free, but for some reason I didn’t apply that to giving away my books (yep, thought “exposure” was the key). THANK YOU for encouraging writers to start building a dam together to hopefully stop the mindless flood!

  23. I appreciate all of the time and effort you’ve put into this post, Kristen. There’s a lot in here for one to mull over so now it’s time to share with others.

    • Mark Hennon on February 9, 2016 at 6:13 pm
    • Reply

    Great post, Kristen! Well-thought, well-written = Outstanding.

  24. Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
    Add a tip jar to your site!

  25. I am on the other side of this topic because I believe that giving things away is one way to market your product as an artist. It lets them have a taste of your work at no cost to them.

    Other people seemed to have “solved” this problem by selling other tangible objects. Crunchyroll, my favorite anime site, had free option (which is full of commercials, poor video quality) and paid options (no commercials, better quality, and a ton of other cool stuff). Then, they’re also selling some merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, mangas, and action figures. They’re basically offering the videos for free but they’re getting paid one way or another.

    I still believe that giving away things for free is a good way to expose yourself. However, there will come a point where you have to make a leap from free to paid once you’ve established yourself as an artist. Another way to do this is to offer your work for free free for a certain period of time and then start charging after that grace period has passed. Basically, if you miss the grace period, you’ll have to pay for the product.

    1. But I don’t have issue with some things being free. The problem is free is becoming the standard and artists are being stripmined. Its good to cut trees down. Keeps forests healthy but clearcutting because if greed destroys everything and hurts all.

      1. I stand corrected.

  26. Reblogged this on Ed Hoornaert (Mr. Valentine) and commented:
    I almost never reblog, but this post resonates so very deeply with me.

  27. Spot on, Kristen. Reblogged on . When you find … er, pay for … code for a tip jar, let us know!

  28. You’re on the right track, Kirsten! I’m hoping things change for the better. I’m putting my thinking cap on. 🙂

  29. I didn’t mean to read the whole thing all at once, but once I got started I couldn’t stop. I devoured it like a can of Pringles! Artists (of any medium) should be paid. I don’t understand how Oprah, who is worth billions, expects artists to play for free. I know that’s probably part of how she came to be a billionaire, but now that’s unnecessary. Another aspect is piracy. The internet has made that an all too common avenue.

    1. I’m glad you read it all at once. I hoped for that but I broke it down to also make it easier so I hope that helped. I don’t get it either. It made me ill. When I saw that story it was the first time in years I doubted my decision to become a writer. But then I read all the other stuff that big artists are doing and that gives me hope 😀 .

      1. What if we all behaved as the “big artists” behave? What if no one expects to work for free? I’ve always wanted to become a published author, but I keep hearing horror stories of how little publishers pay authors. Like writing 70,000+ is a piece of cake! Nothing’s sacred any more.

        1. I am all for that with certain things. Free does have a place. For instance, author blogs are extremely useful for writers for honing skills, building an audience and connecting with fans. I also recommend blogging because then we can build that existing content and repurpose IT as any freebie promotion so we are not giving our polished, highly-edited ART away.

          I love to speak and teach but I no longer do it for free at venues. I’m not cost-prohibitive at ALL but I had too many venues expect me to drive hours on my dime and work all day (only then to not even let me sell books to offset my costs) and all for “exposure.” NO MAS.

          But this blog? Y’all are a labor of love 😀 .

          1. I’m seriously hooked on this blogging thing. The writing, the challenges, the community, albeit, I write for free here. Ironic, eh? I suppose “exposure” could be advantageous to a point. But it’s difficult (impossible?) to know if the exposure you’ll receive at a venue/event will be profitable later. It’s risky.

  30. This is without a doubt one of your best posts. I have personally stop my free book promotions, I will lower my price during a promotion, but I have discovered that people don’t necessarily value a free book as much as one they have paid for. I do have one disclaimer and that is perma-free books that are the first in a series. This tactic has proven very effective and profitable for many writers. Take for example Elizabeth Hunter whose books are now in the public library systems and who ranks as one of Amazon top selling indie authors, and the first book in her first series is permanently free on Amazon.

  31. Thank you!

  32. I know this is a bit different than writing, but this trend is also seen in the world of handmade. Rather than people getting content/things for free they can buy cheap knockoffs made overseas. If you are aware of Etsy it began as trying to help struggling artist/handmakers but then turned its back on them. While on one hand the internet was a boon to artists, they could now reach people all over the world and sell their creations, it then became a bane because people outside of the country were able to see what was selling/hot and could start up their manufacturing to cheaply make and underprice those people who made each of their creations by hand. Potential customers basically said why should I buy yours, even though you spent hours creating an original work of art or piece of jewelry, when I can buy a “stolen” copy at 10% of what you are asking from this overseas source that is using slave labor. Creatives from all walks probably need to get together and brainstorm ways to turn this damaging tide.

    1. Oh WOW! I didn’t know this. It has actually gotten so bad even the PORN industry is suffering.

      1. porn industry?

        1. Well in porn one might use “artist” and “performer” more liberally but yeah, the major publications like Playboy can no longer compete and I find that interesting because if ANY industry is guaranteed to thrive it has generally been the adult industry. But the big players are being run out by all the FREE. So if they are hurting? That’s bad juju for the rest of us.

          1. Thanks for the explanation. I don’t pay attention to that industry but, yes, if they are hurting then the path we are all heading down needs to change direction. It not only starts with us figuring out a way to make the change, but to also not partake of all of the freebies.

          2. LOL. I don’t pay attention either. I was railing about what writers were going through to a guy friend of mine and he told me and I was all SERIOUSLY? That IS bad!

          3. LOL. Does WP have to display comments in this way?

          4. I guess it’s not about paying attention, but it just reaches you. Me, like you, heard without looking, but because of not paying attention I wasn’t sure. For example I see people on Twitter (can’t give names) who promote sexy pics and they hardly get any re-tweets or likes. They’re just so many, they don’t call attention anymore, I guess.
            I do take a bit of pleasure in the sex/y-entertainment-industry’s suffering, to be honest, because that industry made life unfair for us normal people. Financially, I mean. It’s not like my husband doesn’t get cake at hime hehe.

        • annaerishkigal on February 9, 2016 at 11:02 pm
        • Reply

        [*…plot bunny, starts hopping around…*]
        hop…
        hop…
        hop…

      2. Hahhahahaaa, really? You heard that too? Me too, but I thought they were just kidding.

  33. There’s the old saw “You get what you pay for” and Dr. Phil’s “You teach people how to treat you.” When I’m tempted to put a 100K word count of a book that took $1000 to edit and $300 for covers (both are bargains, by the way), for anything but $3.99, I remember the first sentence. I’m easy, not cheap.

    • Celia on February 9, 2016 at 8:12 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you for this. As usual, your points are clear and explain something that has been bothering me, but that I have been unable to articulate. I sometimes feel people participate in online piracy and devaluing of work without any awareness of it or the consequences to the artists. Thanks again!

  34. Wil Wheaton was always a hero to me, now he’s even MORE of one!! Likewise, Phillip Pullman!!

  35. I bought your book Rise of the Machines and am reading it now. Can you tell me where to find your novels? I could not find anything but that one book on Amazon, and you have mentioned you write novels as well.

    1. The first novel is with a publisher. Don’t have a release date yet. Other novels are in editing. I sidelined my fiction when social media got big. Everyone was preaching to authors 101 Ways to Become a Spam Bot and I couldn’t sit by, so I shelved the fiction. Figured people would want murder in a couple years. This was more time sensitive. But thank you for your support 😀 .

      If you are simply curious to READ my fiction, you can read my short story “Dandelion” HERE. Warning, it’s pretty dark and gritty.

  36. Sadly, this mentality is not a new thing. Years ago, toward the end of my career as a practicing psychotherapist, I started receiving invitations to present at conferences. At first I was flattered, and some paid a reasonable honorarium that made it worth my while to close my office for a few days (i.e., not make money by seeing clients) and travel to the conference to share my expertise with other therapists. But other conferences paid little or nothing. I was told more than once that people usually presented for the “prestige.” My response: “Prestige does not pay my mortgage.”

    It is indeed like a cancer. The more people get stuff for free, the more they expect it and think we are “greedy” for expecting to get paid for our talent and effort. Ask them to go to work for a week and not get paid and see what response they give!!

    1. This goes on in academia, too. “Publish or perish” makes for a lot of academic material going for free or all-but-free.

      1. Yes, Athena, that’s what I finally realized. They were getting that model from academia. There were enough university professors willing to present for free that the conference planners didn’t need to pay the rest of us. But the professors were getting paid time off and expenses paid by their institutions. Those of us in private practice lost money!

        Often in their pitch to get me to present they would say that they needed more presenters on the practical side of things, those who were applying the theories in their practices. They never got it that they were top heavy with academic theorists because they didn’t pay. *sigh*

  37. This blog post didn’t seem long at all, Kristen. I think this is one of your best posts ever. I have to admit I, too, felt pretty down while reading it, but your ideas to change things give us hope, so thank you. I like the idea of a tip jar. We’ll have to ask Jay Donovan at Techsurgeons how we can do that. (Yep, I’m sneaking in a plug for Jay. He rocks!)

    I’m not sure how the subscription concept works (mentioned in a previous comment).

    I’m so glad you gave a warning about your short story “Dandelion” because I was going to click on it, but I’m not sure I can handle it. Is it horror? Murder or psychos? Dystopian? I can handle (and love) dystopian. The title sounds so inviting!

    1. Its SciFi meets dystopia about a mother plotting revenge for a murdered child. Tough but lovely I think.

      1. I’m a big SciFi fan, too, so now I have to read it! Cool!

      2. I’m so glad you shared the link to “Dandelion,” Kristen. Yes, it’s dark and gritty, and also compelling and lovely and heart breaking. Excellent! Looking forward to you novel.

        1. I wrote it three years ago and STILL cannot read it without bawling. I wrote it after what happened at Sandy Hook. I was so angry. And Dandelion was born.

          1. It’s every parent’s nightmare. I can see why you can’t read it without crying. So many emotions. Even more powerful knowing Sandy Hook is what compelled you to write it. 🙁

  38. Reblogged this on Let the Ink Run Free and commented:
    This is all so very true. I’ve felt this way for a while, and yet I’m also part of the problem. I admit that. I look for the free or bargain prices. I know money is an issue, it certainly is with me, but like she points out we all benefit by ending the “cancer”.

  39. I agree. ‘Free’ is a problem in the arts generally, and the idea of ‘free exposure in lieu of payment’ doesn’t work. I decline all such offers. Couple that with the concept of ‘all books must be free’ and the result is zero income for time. The issue is definitely cultural, facilitated by the way social media and ‘Web 2’ has emerged. The only people making money from it are those hosting the services. The Amazon model of not paying until each ‘market’ has hit $100, coupled with the fact that few books actually reach that threshold, coupled with the scale of people doing it, means that Amazon get to hold on to vast sums – technically, a liability, but in practise they will never have to pay it, and they know that. Nor do they care: what counts, for them, is the business model that enables that cash to be accumulated. They are playing on the dreams people have of being authors – and the cost of this and similar systems will, I think, be the end for professional authors. I’m going to post my own take on this soon. The word needs to be spread.

    1. Regarding Amazon, if they are holding on and not paying until $100, why am I every month getting payments for my book for far less than that? Where does the $100 come in?

      1. You are in the United States. It’s different for those outside it.

        1. I see. Thanks for the info.

        2. Seriously, Matthew, they’re still holding your royalties ransom until you reach $100? That is so wrong!

          1. $100 threshold in any one of the twelve individual markets, so I could end up with $99 sitting individually in each market – owed $1188 – and still not be paid. It’s because I am not resident in the US, but I think a lot of Amazon’s authors are in that position.

          2. Totally, totally wrong!! Not that Amazon listens to me.

  40. Where can I tip you?
    I’m a writer, editing my first book again after a very nice rejection letter. I keep getting told that I should self publish and sell for .99c. This book represents 3 years of research and writing. It represents days I spent away from my kids. It was a huge investment on my part.
    Everyone seems to be telling me that I can only make money with a more, More, MORE strategy of putting out a lot of content quickly and for very little money.
    I don’t have it in me. I value my time. I value my integrity. I value the craft. On principle I don’t buy .99c books. I pay for my music -&still buy CDs. I even still buy TV shows on DVD. I hope that when my book finally does come out, a cultural shift will be well under way. I can’t feed my children exposure and it does a crap job of keeping the rain out too.

    1. I don’t have a button but my PayPal is authorkristen.lamb at gmail dot com. Thank you! And go through the archives to see if there’s anything I have that can help your rejection reasons.

  41. Great post, Kristen. Thank you for this. I have to say, the tip jar idea on an artist’s website is brilliant. A throwback to my old days as a bartender.

  42. It’s kind of funny that I’m reading this tonight. The guys over at Author Earnings just released their latest report and it offers a slightly rosier view of the future. “As of mid-January 2016, Amazon’s US ebook sales were running at a rate of 1,064,000 paid downloads a day.”

    I get what you’re saying but I think you’re oversimplifying what happened in music and journalism and missing some major differences in fiction writing.

    Record companies used to exploit consumers to help pay the artists they were also exploiting. We had to buy whole CDs just for track 3. File sharing and iTunes blew that model up. But unlike what amazon has done for writers, iTunes stars don’t really exist. You still need a label to back you so you can get radio play. That’s how most people find music they might buy.

    Journalism is a little different. Their demise has more to do with supply and demand. What uniquely qualified Roger Ebert to review movies? Nothing. He didn’t keep the job because he wrote mind blowing prose, the paper had a guy who could write in complete sentences about the movies he saw. Newspapers and magazines didn’t have to go looking for the next big star the way book publishers do. They just had to keep a competent staff. They only needed enough people to keep the pages full.

    When the internet came around, all those millions of people who had something to say suddenly had a spot on the page. You have all these voices but the demand for those voices hasn’t changed much. The consumer has more choice but no one needs to read 40 articles on the same news item. Usually one is enough. Or if you want a different slant, maybe two or three.

    Should online magazines pay their writers? Absolutely. But you’re never going to get enough writers to stop writing to force their hand. Public shaming, loud public shaming, is the only thing that will change it. And then, you’ll be back to the old print model where only a few people appear because that’s all they need to fill the page.

    Fiction is a different beast. Writers don’t need exposure through radio play. The stamina to write a novel is rare, the ability to write it well more rare still. Yes, a lot of people are producing what can only be called garbage and, for the most part, the market is doing it’s job and keeping them well out of site where they can’t hurt anyone.

    Another thing in that Author Earning report is that 40% of the books sold are in the 2.99-5.99 range. 400,000 books a day sold for 2.99-5.99. I think authors who give away their work for free or for .99 are making a huge mistake. They are trying to jump to the front of the best seller list by telling everyone their work had little or no value. If you don’t value your work, neither will I. And while I may be pickier than 60% of readers, I’m still in the 40% who would rather not have their free time wasted on crap the author doesn’t even believe in. I may have missed some good works with this thinking but I’m ok with that.

    Losing the gatekeepers in fiction writing hasn’t cost writers much. Royalties are gone but so much more has been gained. Someone who self publishes today never has to have their book out of print. Readers can see your entire backlist at the click of a button. You can pocket 70% of your sale price, which you get to set yourself.

    I apologize for the length but there are some really big differences in how different arts have been changed by the internet. Fiction writing is in a pretty good place and should be for a long time even with so many crap books being given away or sold “don’t read me” cheap.

    1. Ranting Monkey:

      You make some really compelling points, but I differ with you from the POV of a voracious and fellow picky reader’s standpoint. I don’t personally believe the pricing of a book, in all times and places, is a clear determiner of the value or quality of a given book. I think the vast majority of people choose what to read based on distinctive personal taste. Speaking of which, I haven’t yet heard anyone here talk about the concept of niche marketing. There have been for many years now employed in mainstream publishing the concept of genres of fiction for marketing purposes, such as romance, mystery, urban fantasy, etc., as well as subgenres of those genres of fiction, e.g. romantic suspense, romantic comedy, historical romance. I believe that, just as in their consumption of music, TV shows and film, fans of fiction are very much niche oriented. I myself, as just one example, vastly prefer an extremely small niche of fiction, young adult comedy, to any other (probably because that’s what I write). I secondarily prefer new adult and adult romantic comedy. Comedy, sadly, represents a very small niche of fiction today and for some time now, with a relatively tiny percentage of titles published in that niche. (It’s also a wide-open area to carve out a career in fiction writing.) There is an option to temporarily offer one’s book at a type of sale price on Amazon as a special promotion, which allows potential readers to check out writers they might not otherwise try, within preferred niches of fiction, or within fiction niches they don’t normally read. In this regard, services such as BookBub and Freebooksy are a great way to promote those attention-grabbing sales. IMHO, for fiction writers, the two biggest things that sell their books in an overloaded marketplace, anywhere they are marketed, but especially through services like BookBub, are the cover and the tagline. It is *essential* to get across instantly to the overwhelmed-with-options, potential reader into what niche a book fits, and the cover and tagline should make that utterly obvious. Next, after a book grabs the reader’s attention and snags a coveted “click through,” the author has, at best, three pages of “Look Inside the Book” on Amazon to prove they are competent writers. Few people will read farther than that to make up their mind about a potential buy. If an author can’t write a highly polished opening to his/her book, it’s obvious the rest of the book can only go downhill from there. (As a related marketing aside, on NetGalley, in pursuit of much needed reviews, the author, indie publisher or mainstream publisher only has the cover and a short, selling synopsis to win over the interest of potential reviewers.)

      1. As I said, I may have missed some good books that are free or .99. For me, it’s not worth the chance to find out. I’d rather pay a little more for an author who doesn’t think their writing is only worth a buck.

        1. I think readers (and Amazon) are finding that out. I am actually not concerned with .99. What bugs me is all the ancillary work we are expected to do for free JUST to get that .99. As you mention in a comment earlier. Huffington was great exposure…six years ago. Now? It barely makes a dent, so we have to blog more days and do more videos and give more stuff and juggle FIRE! It’s getting stupid.

    2. Actually Frank, you and I agree on almost all of his. My concern is not really with inexpensive books. In fact, the price protection of NY has irritated me and I think it is hurting their writers. I worked with NYTBSA James Rollins a couple years back on his platform and he was SLAYED with one-star reviews from pissed off fans that the e-book cost the same as the hardback. NY has since been less cray-cray but I am disappointed we have not seen lower prices on e-books or even bundling (buy the hard copy and get the discounted e-book with it). I think e-books for fiction should never be higher than around that 5.99 level for most works. In fact, they could continue to say price the e-book at 9.99 but if the customer bought the paper version for $14.99, then instead, they could get the e-book for $3.99 instead of $9.99. A lot of readers like having paper and often switch between ways they read.

      So low prices are not my real concern. It’s why I have always been able to maintain my enthusiasm for our future. I have always been a fan of doing SOME things for free and even having loss leaders (I.e. Giving away a first book in a series to hook readers into a series or pricing it at .99). MY fear is coming from the streaming model. And yes, writing is a good place to be…NOW. What my expertise is (and I have yet to be wrong in ANY prediction) is projecting the FUTURE of industries.

      Streaming is attractive and thus far it has really harmed musicians…until they stepped up and called FOUL. Spotify, Pandora and Apple ALL took advantage of musicians until publicly shamed. Unless we stand up and expect fair compensation trust me, the model of choice will not be the one that makes US money.

      And yes, a lot of books are being sold, but with the discoverability issue, I would be curious to see the breakdown. “As of mid-January 2016, Amazon’s US ebook sales were running at a rate of 1,064,000 paid downloads a day.” Yes, this is a good number, but spread between HOW many authors? With WHAT portion to whom?

      Thing is, this is a BUSINESS. It is tough to get writers thinking like BUSINESSES because many of us are just so happy someone is reading our work. Actors used to be the worst-paid position in Hollywood until they noticed that people weren’t necessarily going to the movies to see the story, but THEM. Then they banded together, held Hollywood accountable (ok, hostage) and now they are the HIGHEST paid. What my goal here is to get artists to understand that these businesses are NOT our friend. They aren’t out to get us, but they will by default choose what benefits them and their shareholders FIRST (I.e. Apple’s first plan of screwing musicians). We are going to need to be prepared.

      1. Streaming may not be the monster you think it is. At least, not the technology. The people exploiting it are another story… But here’s where content form matters–people listen to the radio all day long for free. Rarely do they buy every song they hear (and sometimes hear over and over). There’s a system in place that does compensate the artist (or the recording company) for plays (and was exploited back in its day, too–anyone here old enough to remember Payola? 😀 ). Netflix’s streaming has chomped into a lot of cable TV, yes, but it’s also spawned a whole new way to consume TV shows and is opening options for creators who are now making really awesome TV.

        “Streaming” books currently lies somewhere between the two. There’s always been a thriving after-market of book buying and selling that offers the artist no compensation and we put up with it because it did, sort of, offer a soft compensation in the form of notoriety, and because the majority of us created our content without being compensated–the compensation came later, if we were lucky enough to get The Call. Right now, the streaming/leasing/buffet o’ Books is still in its infancy. Amazon is losing money on it, Oyster went Tango Upsilon, and Scribd had to cut off the romance readers long before Last Call because they were drinking up the whole bar.

        No one yet has figured out a way to use the streaming/subscription model to advantage for both producer and consumer. Consumers will ALWAYS want as much as possible for as little as possible, and producers will ALWAYS want as much as possible to produce as little as possible (in abstract terms, here). The happy medium is something both parties can live with, which means both parties will work a little harder to get what they can live with.

        Streaming is still mutating. Into what, no one yet knows. In business, you take risks. You minimize them, but you still take them, knowing that some of them will lose you money, but the alternative is *not* trying the one that finally worked. That means sometimes taking a chance that is a short-term payoff, and getting out of it before the “crash” comes. Sometimes it means sacrificing an asset in an experiment. For us, it means knowing what we can and cannot personally afford to lose.

        If a writer is feeding her family on her writing, I’m not faulting her for using whatever she can to pay the grocery bill this week, because she needs hamburgers today far more than she needs principles next Tuesday. I’m also all for her being made aware that next Tuesday, her strategy may not pay her hamburger money. If she needs today’s hamburger to make it to next Tuesday’s principles, then she does what she’s gotta do.

        1. Well that’s why I am after awareness. I think the streaming model could be great for all of us. But the Trichordist had posts on HOW to do that. I feel there are three components to all businesses—Consumers, Producers, Distributors. Notice we are in the middle and we need to be involved not just handed what each side wants. The key is negotiating and maintaining that middle ground and that will ALWAYS be dynamic and ever in flux. A good plan today can crap the bed tomorrow. But we do have a right to make consumers and distributors behave and work out an equitable deal.

          1. This would be a good place for a Union. 🙂

      2. We are dealing with so many different animals here that I’m having trouble saying what I want to say without writing a book, if it comes out jumbled, I apologize.

        The danger I see for authors is in devaluing their own work. .99 might be a good way to bring in some quick sales but there are so many people doing it, any benefit from being cheap is lost. Authors are shooting themselves in the foot, especially considering the pay rate at the lower price.

        You see a similar issue with non-fiction writing and sites like the Huffington Post. People are willing to forgo monetary compensation for the promise of exposure. But the market is so saturated with writers who can bang out 1000 or 1500 words that any exposure is meaningless. What writers are putting up with from Huffington Post has nothing to do with streaming.

        Radio has been giving consumers free music for almost 100 years. Streaming, from a consumer perspective, isn’t all that different. It offers more choice and less, or no, advertising. It eliminates the need to download a song individually and build a playlist of only songs you bought. The music industry’s business model is what makes people want free music, they’ve always given it away to the consumer, advertisers had to pay.

        Streaming a book is meaningless. Books are already really quick to download. And even at 5.99 they are cheap. No one is gonna jump on a book streaming site so they can read chapter 4 of their favorite book while they’re cleaning the house.

        I really appreciate how you look out for authors, and I hope you do a new post on pricing your work soon so we can have it out on what a bad idea .99 books are. But in this case, I think you’re putting way too much focus on what happened in other industries and it’s not the same issue with writing books.

        1. We disagree. There is already a streaming model for books. It’s called Kindle Unlimited. $9.99 a month for all the books you can read. You don’t make a purchase and the author gets paid when people read. So people gobble up downloading books they never get to and the author, instead of being paid for an actual PURCHASE on that download, now is paid only a fraction. This is a great model if people read, but if they simply walk around with a bunch of unread titles on their Kindle, the one making money is the folks doing the streaming.

          And say even if authors DID get paid a fair wage for a download of a book, if all books go over to the streaming model, we are right back to the same problem with exposure. A small fraction of authors making the biggest incomes and a million other authors splitting one piece of the pie.

          And I disagree about too much focus on other industries. What has happened in other industries has ALWAYS been a harbinger for us. I have been doing branding and social media since 2006. Industries like music. Blockbuster, Kodak, etc, were ALWAYS indications where publishing was heading.

          Though I know there isn’t a direct correlation, consumers don’t live in a vacuum. Showing other industries is an indication of consumer buying patters. And no people really never listened to the radio for free. They had to endure ads. Musicians were paid every time the song played. For books, the only time we ever had a “Free” book we wanted (not some random thing found at Goodwill) was if we waited for it at the library and if it was the hottest new release and we didn’t get on a list early? That could be months (so we just went and bought it). There really has never been a precedent for all the books WE WANTED for free or damn close to it. Giving a book addict full access to as many books as she can endure for 9.99 is good for the reader. It’s a kid in a candy store. Could you imagine it being 1986 and B. Dalton said for TEN buck a month, come in and take home as many titles as you want.

          So for readers? This is OMG! I know. I subscribe to KU. What I am working for is that the streaming model be ALSO fair to writers.

          1. I’d sincerely love to sit across a table from you in person and just argue for hours. We disagree but I enjoy the back and forth.

            Ok, an author loses nothing if their book is downloaded and never read. If it is read, they get paid. I don’t see an issue with this. It’s not like the author paid for printing the book and while some may have paid for formating, editing, and art work, it’s hard to argue they lost anything if the book wouldn’t have sold otherwise.

            Yeah, you can wake up and download every single book the moment it is available. But if you don’t read it, why should the author make any money from it?

            Paying authors simply by the download is a bad bad idea. And not just because it encourages more shoddy writing. What you’re worried about is that people are running around with pictures of book covers and the authors not getting paid for it.

          2. But authors are paid all the time with books I buy in a store that I never crack. 😛

          3. And there is a physical good you now own. Whether you read it or use it to level a wobbly table, you have something tangible.

            Hypothetical. If a friend is visiting and they happen to have a book they bought, one you will never read, and you take a picture of that friend and the book can be seen, should you have to pay the author for the picture you took of the book you’ll never read?

            Again, please understand, I cannot tell you how wonderful I find you for your concern for authors. You’re just wrong this time. 😛

  43. Oh, YES! YES! YES! Someone had to say it. Kristen, I’m addicted to your blog, I’ve recommended it everywhere, I’m ecstatic. Got your Book Rise of the Machines and now I’m up for more grabs by the same author. The Force is with you! 🙂

  44. Same as me being a musician who self produces instrumental music which I don’t perform live so gain no exposure I will not give my music away for free even on soundcloud (I have 5 downloads only from over 200 tracks) as it is a passionate hobby. But my job is a designer/maker and it crosses over to these physical things in that the perceived value of goods has plummeted for the vast majority of us out there as society has turned through recession for a large part (at least where i live) into a pound store mentality, assuming you can drive people even to see your goods in an overcrowded marketplace. Even the truly unique is perceived as not worth the asking price. Sad but true for me anyway.

  45. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  46. Great post! Everything you say is true. I’m doing my bit. I took my perma-free book off free. I raised the prices of my $.99 novellas. I’m no longer giving away books on Fb parties. The madness has to stop somewhere and if every writer pulled back on free, it would stop. Thank you for shining a beacon on this growing problem. You’re so right. It won’t get any better unless we do something about it.

    • Lyn Fairchild Hawks on February 10, 2016 at 7:23 am
    • Reply

    Thank you, thank you for your thoughts and hopeful, forward-looking view.

  47. I keep getting told the best way to get new readers is to make at least one of my titles perma-free on Amazon, yet whenever I’ve made books available for free on Smashwords as part of their promotions, I’ve had hundreds of downloads of the free titles…but no upswing in sales of the paid titles, and no reviews either. I’ve got a feeling that people don’t actually read things they get for free – why would they? There’s no incentive to read something you didn’t invest in. Sure, maybe making a title free for a short period might be good, but forever? Sorry. I’ve been told a free book acts like a sample of your writing but there’s nothing stopping buyers downloading a sample from Amazon, just like they used to stand and read the first chapter in a bookstore.

    1. It’s why I like blogs. People get a sample of an author’s voice and ability and it is active and draws new fans. Get enough blogs? Repurpose THAT into your freebie and since it’s repurposed work? You are not giving away your art. I know that you guys are not seeing my fiction here, but you DO know and like my voice and I am fairly sure that alone would entice you to check out my fiction (as in at least reading sample pages to see if you like that too). I don’t need to give it away.

      And yes, I think FREE used to have more value because it was rarer. It’s like when I was a kid, I recall getting a t-shirt from school. Getting a t-shirt from ANY event was HUGE. And you wore it everywhere even if the color was sucky. Then by the 90s? EVERYONE gave t-shirts. I started just donating them when someone gave me one because they were so common I didn’t have the same excitement and I was buried in free t-shirts.

  48. Revolva’s story is a stopper. Could. Not. Believe. It. And I tipped her. I was also buried in student loans at one point.

    1. Even though her post went viral with a million views nothing changed and Oprah’s people made no statement let alone an apology. I am hoping that since MY PLATFORM consists of you guys? We can make a bigger impact. We are ALL WRITERS. We ALL write about this? People will start listening. We can saturate the web with this. Even if you guys simply repost her blog on yours.

  49. Reblogged this on West Coast Review.

  50. Reblogged this on Stacy J. Garrett and commented:
    Reblogging this because it is SO very important! As a still new author–new as in I don’t have a huge fanbase, or “bestseller” tacked to my name–I am often faced with the conflict of being offered jobs for exposure. I get it as a photographer, too. It leaves me in a terrible place because my heart says “you deserve pay!” but my brain says “you should do it to get more fans who WILL pay!” This should NOT be a thing. It should not be acceptable to use and abuse artists in any field. Quid-pro-quo, barter system, and anything else where what is gotten is what is given are great! If a company that literally cannot afford me offers me exposure instead, and I like them, sure I might help. But if you’re in the position to pay: BLOODY PAY. Revolva gets all my respect for standing up to Oprah’s cruddy management.

  51. Reblogged this on mrssusanmacdonald and commented:
    I had planned to have my next blog brag about my most recent Inquistr articles (Sam Riley and Gay marriage). I considered discussing the New Hampshire primaries, and how John Kasich moved ahead of Ted Cruz. Then I read this article, and I knew I HAD to share it. It’s important.

  52. Another fantastic post that lets the cat out of the bag!

    • Rachel Thompson on February 10, 2016 at 11:05 am
    • Reply

    Oprah’s answer is expected. She is just another sociopath taking advantage of people that rather believe than know. She uses a form of religious charlatanism. Her corporation, like all others, only has one motive, one god, one concern and that’s money. Corporate charters never list human beings as a primary consideration other than how to use humanity to part people with their money and ‘earn’ profits.
    The monster isn’t people it’s corporations that have more rights than people. Psychopath organizations bent on profit at any human cost don’t care. We have a war economy, not a peace economy fir a reason. The war on terror, like almost all wars, it’s a ruse, it’s a racket– for example.
    I’ve long noted that art is dead. Why? The masses are socialized by PR, AKA, Propaganda to accept corporate influence over art, they decide what is art and they make it that which is not art–it’s selling. We the Sheep don’t care about the arts, that’s for the elites. We are all consumers now and not real people. Social construction has reduced us to useless eaters or buyers. Yet creative people want to share what we make and if there is no other way, we’ll give it free–art for art’s sake is what the corporations and those influence to think like one don’t get. We consumers are what they indoctrinated us to be, but we artists are more than that. We think. Some of us reject the system ( witness Amazon) which may be one reason artists are pushed to the margins. Corporations with all their influence and tools don’t want freethinkers and artist of every kind are often that. Thus real art is pushed aside. Artists are commonalities today, not people, cogs used to produce products and later thrown away by moneyed interests once the well dries. Under Western modernity, humanity has been forced out of art.
    How do we beat this game? We play by our own rules.

  53. I shared this on Facebook and recommended it on my own blog (“Creativity, Ethics, and Fair Play in the Internet Age”). A very well-written article with some excellent points.

  54. Blogged, with link back, here: http://b10track.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/slaves-to-creativity-why-we-need-to.html

  55. Not sure if this point has been brought up yet, but recently when trying to decide on upcoming writing conferences I had been asked to consider hosting a workshop about my military background/experience as both active duty and spouse. I was excited until I was told that this workshop that I would need to put time and energy into preparing for was not going to pay me anything. I was okay with this at first because I thought, “That’s okay, what about offering me free entry to the conference?” The answer to that question was a resounding NO. So, not only was I supposed to pay for the conference that they wanted me to speak at, but I would not be paid to share my experience and expertise? *scratches head or hangs head* (My frustration level was high here because I feel like they thought I should feel flattered to even be considered since I’m not very well known or even published yet.)

    We are doing it to ourselves too.

    Kristen, would love to help in anyway I can. This thought of our future scares me and I hope that we can find a good solution.

    1. I feel for you, Nicole, from both directions on this one. Having served on a conference board in the planning capacity, I know there are a lot of smaller conferences that barely break even, so paying for more than one or two keynote speakers is beyond the budget. We did try to comp all our presenters with something, though – sometimes it was conference entry fees, dinner, or priority placement in agent/editor appointment slots or book sale tables (this was in an RWA capacity, where presenting for free could get you some valuable non-monetary quid pro quo in exchange for your time).

      On the other hand, I’ve been hearing some horror stories about conference organizers losing their sense of goodwill towards the people making their conferences worth attending, and it’s making my hair curl.

      Sometimes, a conference ends up being a valuable networking tool to reach out to fellow authors or readers. Sometimes, it’s a waste of time, money, and effort. I’m glad you said no, rather than went through with something that would have left a bitter taste and wasted your time.

    • Sarah_Madison on February 10, 2016 at 1:07 pm
    • Reply

    Your post today is very timely indeed. My friends and I discuss this topic frequently. Most of us are frustrated by how often our work is stolen and shared on torrent and pirate sites. Someone out there routinely uploads a bundle of my novels to torrent sites–as soon I shut one site down, the illegal file sharing pops up somewhere else.

    At the same time, I often hear readers complain of paying $4-6 dollars for a book. They talk about page length and ‘value for their money’ and yet would think nothing of plunking down the same amount of money for a coffee and danish at Starbucks. I know the coffee analogy gets used often but seriously, for many people, that morning coffee is a daily expense. And yet the idea of paying an author or artist for months of their time and creativity is almost met with a sneer.

    I refuse to participate in Kindle Unlimited. I think it is a terrible deal for authors, and it simply reinforces what you’re saying here: the culture of something for nothing (or at least in the case of KU, less than four cents a page)

    I’ve often said that I don’t rely on my royalty payments for income because they are too unpredictable. But that revenue is nothing to be sneezed at. It’s not something I can willingly forgo because the ‘exposure’ on torrent sites will theoretically tempt some reader in buying my work through legitimate channels. Sometimes, it pays the mortgage. Having that income makes the difference between waiting another year to replace the ridiculously expensive glasses (lenses alone at $400) or if I take a vacation sometime in the next five years.

    This past quarter I had two new releases, so my royalty check was quite healthy. Which was a good thing because my dog needed emergency surgery. I am deeply grateful to each and every person who purchased my stories through legitimate channels, or suggested them to other readers. Because of those fans willing to pay for my stories, my dog is wearing The Cone of Shame and recovering nicely now.

    I’ll be posting about this on my website tonight, and linking back here. Thank you for having the brass to say this out loud!

  56. Oh, man, I could seriously rant about this! FREE is way out of control. Really, does anyone want to work for free?!

  57. Reblogged this on kristin nador writes anywhere and commented:
    Can you as a creative make a living in the ‘publicity economy’, working strictly for exposure, hoping somehow working for free will get you your ‘big break’? Should you have to give away your work? Author Kristen Lamb makes the case for artists, musicians, and authors saying no to working for free and instead creating a new paradigm shift. Important reading…

  58. Reblogged this on K. J. Farnham.

  59. Kristin-
    I agree with your post and went to Amazon to support you and faced a dilemma: I don’t believe ebooks should be priced more than 1/3 the price of a print book (although I’m willing to have my opinion changed with good evidence). Here’s my reasoning:

    1. Cost to produce. Yes, you’ve done the work of writing the book, but the cost to actually produce it is lower than a print book. Cover, editing, and maybe formatting, but no actual print costs. I haven’t done the math yet to figure the exact difference. If my headache passes, I may take a stab at it. Math is rarely my friend.

    2. Cost to distribute. You have no cost to distribute the book. You can send it from your computer if you want. No one has to ship anything. There is a shipping cost associated with the print book that someone ends up eating.

    3. Quality of the read. I realize there are plenty of people who read easily on digital devices, but there are plenty of us who don’t. If I’m going to strain my eyes reading the digital format rather than the paperback, I’d like to pay a little bit less for the hassle.

    As I said, I’m open to having my opinion changed or swayed; this is just my take on it. At this time, I’ve saved the book to my wishlist to purchase when I’ve saved up enough for another book.

    Thank you for your article.

    Chelo Biggerstaff
    Author/ Owner of Indimagination Books

  60. Thank you for this post. I consider myself a seasoned author, having been published since 2007 (You may not recall but I met you years ago at the Romantic Times Convention in LA and I’ve been following your blog ever since :)). I went from earning a nice part time income from writing in 2012 to this year making barely enough to attend the convention I already committed to in April. I’ve been publishing regularly, building a social media platform, a mailing list etc., doing everything I thought I was supposed to do to build my brand, but still with more books available my income has dropped drastically. I ranted-er, I mean blogged, about my concerns and my experiences last year if you’re interested http://www.samilee.com/wordpress/?p=1396

    You are right when you say free is now expected from professionals, not just new writers hoping to find an audience. I have short novella up for free, the first in a trilogy, because I already did make some money off it as part of a box set and so I thought why not try and drum up interest in books 2 and 3? The freebie has been downloaded a lot (especially in the beginning when I advertised, i.e. paid to tell people the book was FREE, definitely operating at a loss on that one), but it hasn’t really translated to sales of other books in the series, at least not much. I think a review I received on Amazon sums up the problem. To paraphrase, the reader said she enjoyed the freebie and might check out the other books in the series IF they go on sale.

    It’s never enough. $2.99 is too expensive when compared to .99c, then 99c looks expensive when you can get your choice of FREE books. Soon we’ll be paying people to read our stuff. You know, for exposure.

    No more. I’m done. I’m now writing as a hobby, because I can’t make it a business in this environment, not right now. Doing that as a temporary fix, for the sake of my sanity and my family’s. I hope things will change in future, I really do. At the moment all seems lost but I think you’re right; we need to band together. We have to try and fight for our rights as creative people, but too often because we tend to love what we do we devalue it ourselves. We expect to be paid for doing things we hate, but when we love it? We should be so lucky. It makes it so much easier for others to make us believe what we do has little value. I think it’s time to stand up and say my insights, my time, my effort, my writing is WORTH SOMETHING *stamps foot*

    I’ll likely post about this again in the near future and will let you know when I do. I’m feeling very ranty these days :). Will tweet this link now. Cheers.

  61. Reblogged this on C.L. Mannarino and commented:
    Once upon a time (as in, the 90s) exposure for ANY artist used to be the cure for eventually getting paid. But when everyone is paid with exposure then no one is paid. The demand for artists to work “for exposure,” and where consumers demand that they get everything for free, has got to change. Artists should be paid for their work, instead of being expected to provide hard-made content for nothing.

  62. One of the best articles I’ve read in a long time!
    Lila L Pinord
    Author of four fiction novels

  63. I am completely on board with you Kristen! Here’s a link to an article I wrote in support: https://lonestarinspirations.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/give-writers-and-artisans-their-due/

  64. As the Good Book says, a worker deserves his pay. It also says that pay unfairly withheld will stand as evidence against the rich, and their ill-gotten gains will eat away at their flesh like fire, but that’s harder to fit on a protest sign 🙂

  65. Reblogged this on .

  66. Great post, Kristen. It had real value, and I mean that. Abbie Hoffman wrote “Steal This Book” in 1970. Over a quarter of a million copies were sold. There’s no way to know how many copies were ultimately stolen, but it’s apparent that many wound up in the hands of children who grew up to become talent bookers, publishers, and a variety of other exploiters. And, oh yes, executives at Google. I read another timely piece by Roxana Robinson in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. “How Google Stole the Work of Millions of Authors.” Writers are getting screwed like never before. I’m glad that you, Kristen, are motivating some of us to take action.

  67. Reblogged this on Hilarity is and commented:
    Great article on how exposure was good, but has become indecent.

  68. Reblogged this on Author M. J. Flournoy and commented:
    This is something that has caused me many sleepless nights. I don’t know the answer, but giving away our work free isn’t it.

  69. Reblogged this on Alison Todd-Mann and commented:
    A great article, and well worth the read for everyone, regardless of whether they read or not.

    • Adelia Barham on February 10, 2016 at 11:12 pm
    • Reply

    I have read your blog and a very few posts as a member of the consumer mass. I agree with your position in the main, but would like to point out some ‘facts’ from the consumer’s point of view.

    A very large percentage of the population struggles to afford the basics necessary for survival. Technology is becoming a necessity to that survival and technology is expensive. Internet accessibility is not just necessary to apply for jobs, it is becoming necessary to apply for or respond to government for social security benefits, unemployment benefits, etc. Can you imagine a person’s predicament when they have no money but they call government offices and get a recording that they need to call back a less busy day or better yet, go to their website to get answers? I am basing this on things I’ve encountered when people have asked me for help and I’ve looked into it for them. It reminds me of many instances when there was a problem with my internet connection and I’ve called and gotten a recording to go to their website for help. Talk about a Catch 22.

    I am not saying the problem with this financial issue should be borne by content providers. I’m saying that the billions in profits (not gross revenues but profits) indicates to me that the hardware, software, website owners may be pricing their services at a premium when they should and could price at a level more affordable to the masses who would then be able to afford some reasonable content expenses.

    I have always had access to local paid newspaper subscriptions. In the early days of the internet, I lived in a very small, poor, rural area. I had an old computer at work and a newer computer at home. I was one of the first people in that community to sign up for the internet (which we did not even have at work and I worked at a major employer for the area and access was all dial up). For some reason, I knew the internet was going to be important.

    After learning how it worked, which took time and as the content expanded, so did my usage, I started doing research on employers and communities when I started employment searches. I could look at communities to determine whether or not I wanted to live there and the employer so that I could more effectively interview for the job. Having access to free newspaper sites was important. I didn’t live in those communities and could not afford to subscribe to newspapers in all of the communities that I was considering. You can’t do that now because just about every newspaper site requires a subscription to access articles now. Most people trying to do a job search can not afford the current subscription rates required, at least not in multiple areas or for an extended period of searching.

    Yes, you are right that content providers usually deserve to be paid for their content. But the consumer needs to be able to afford all of the components involved in accessing the content without it affecting their ability to pay for healthcare, at least minimum contributions to an emergency fund and some kind of savings for retirement because those are necessities and necessities that not many can afford now.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment 🙂 .I have no idea about the other side of things. I know costs are coming down as more people use them and as culture changes. When I started in sales I paid $200 a month for a cell phone that only had 500 minutes and that was all it did. Make and take calls. It was the biggest plan one could buy because phones were rare and a luxury item. Me with a nine-state territory I drove? was a necessity. Now? I pay $100 a month for unlimited talk, text, data, etc. and essentially a handheld computer I tote around. Costs on that end have seriously come down. What used to be at least a $500 output (for a phone) now can be bought for $25 at Walmart.

      As far as new sources and content on-line, there are ways to stagger a free version then a paid one. For instance Pandora has a free version but you are forced to listen to commercials OR you can upgrade if you don’t want to listen to blathering idiots selling grills. The thing is a lot of this content IS affordable. Pandora streaming radio is free. Artists are supposed to be paid a royalty per time the song is played. An artist whose song is played a MILLION times, should not be making a $17 royalty. In music a .99 download is not cost-prohibitive. But the artist needs to be paid the fair royalty. We are seeing all this stuff going for free or nearly free and the distributors are worth billions but the people who made them those billions are on food stamps. I’m, not for redistribution of wealth but pay people what they earned. And since many writers are older and not well off, this is a HUGE deal. This is the difference between continuing to live in poverty versus earning a respectable wage.

  70. Reblogged this on Greetings From The Polebarn and commented:
    Great blog post! I’m with you. Please read and share!

  71. Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

    • mitziflyte on February 11, 2016 at 7:50 am
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Mitzi Flyte and commented:
    This is an important debate for those of us who believe that what we create (jewelry, songs, painting, photos, stories, etc…) deserves payment. Kristen, once again, has expressed her thoughts well and I agree. I say that with the admission that I recently posted a “free” short story on my blogsite, hoping that it would bring me “exposure.” I boosted it through Facebook. Did I get “exposure”? Maybe…maybe not.
    What is wrong is that I PAID for that increased exposure, so that’s even worse.
    As Kristen expertly points out, we are in a different world, us creative types.
    We would like to hope that living our passion (whatever it is) could also support us. And we would do almost anything to get to that goal. Even giving away something that took hours, days, weeks, months to develop.
    It’s time we stop doing that.
    As for me, no more FREE stories on my blog. After reading Kristen’s post, I’ve been thinking about developing that story into a novella and self-publishing it.
    And to those who’ve said: Get a real job. Well, I had a “real” job for almost 45 years as an RN and during most of that time I wrote. I even got paid for some of those pieces.

    Kristen, as usual, you have our collective back, proving once again that “We are not alone.”

    Thank you,
    Mitzi

    1. I love you guys and I really want you all to have your dreams. There is a place for free, but it belongs as our servant not our master.

    • Carla Krae on February 11, 2016 at 10:28 am
    • Reply

    For a big conference especially to not at least pay performers scale is practically criminal.

    Don’t get me started on the rest. The world these days makes me very grumpy.

  72. Your blog today really nails it.

    For many of us it’s a passion and we’re all trying hard to figure out how to make it work to live doing what we love and follow our dreams.

    I’ve listened to enough podcasts, webinars, and read enough books by big names in the industry to feel we’re all being brainwashed to think FREE leads us to sales and building platforms that will lead us to guaranteed sales. On Amazon, when new books are released they are given for free because the more downloads a book has will boost the book higher ranking for Amazon to recommend it to shoppers. And without a certain number of review you can’t do have your book offered up in Book Bub, who also promotes free and .99 books.

    We’re told to give away a free book to gain email subscribers and “hook” readers into series, but it’s like giving a kid candy every time they do something good. Once you offer your work for free, then the world now thinks everything is free. And you said yourself, there’s enough free content out there that a consumer can go around and never have to buy a book or music ever.

    You’re idea of a tip jar is great. I’ve seen a few other authors who put this on their website. Even through they have books in places that can be downloaded for free, they have a place for a tip on their website allowing those who read their free content to tip them. I have no problem giving away a book for free, especially when that reader absolutely can’t afford to buy it.

    For Web 3.0 I’d like to see more top artist like Taylor Swift saying no and starting a ripple effect to washing out the current mindset and revitalizing the market. If actors have the right to protest awards, and teachers can go on strike, then as authors and artist, don’t we have the right to ask for change? And we owe it to ourselves and those who read to put our best work out there and rise above the slush piles trying to bog us down.

  73. Everything you said is what I’ve been feeling and dealing with the last few years. You’re spot on. However, I just have no idea what to do next. You’re right, it’s a ban together situation. But how do we overcome all the flooded options readers have, and not get mixed in with the less-than-stellar books? How do we compete with free?
    Your posts always mean a lot to me, make me feel so “not alone” in this fight. I agree with a comment from above. It’s very discouraging right now when you get royalty deposits that aren’t large enough to buy groceries with!