Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Memo from NYC

In the history of art -- music, literature, painting, sculpture, film, etc. -- blogging is a very new arrival. In fact, it's so new that many people might not think of it as Art at all. How much skill, you might wonder, does it take to sit down at a computer, pound out a few words on the key board, link to a few sites, upload a few pictures, and hit "Publish"? Not much, you might presume. However, making an interesting blog takes a certain amount of thought, talent, and attention, therefore blogging is more of an skilled "art" than you might think.

In this era of the Internet, art of all kinds is widely disseminated online. How artists get paid for work available at the click of a mouse is an endless, almost maddening point of contention between artists and consumers. This is not a subject that I will belabor here because it is, quite frankly, a hopeless and unsolvable bore. But I do want to make one point: companies expecting artists to give them free work is a goddamn outrage! 

Remember Wil Wheaton?

If you're a child of the 1980s, like moi, you certainly do. He was in the 1986 movie Stand By Me and then the late 1980s/early 1990s TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Kind of a big deal back in the day. As a grown up, Mr. Wheaton continued to act but he also worked in tech. He also is a blogger and, apparently, he recently posted something on his blog that was so interesting that the Huffington Post asked if they could re-post it on their site. He asked, quite reasonably, how much they would pay him for it. Their answer? Nothing! Oh no, they told him, the compensation is that we give you a ... "platform" ... which will give you ... "exposure" ... so that somehow ... somewhere ... someone down the line will pay you for ... something ... But, in the meantime, a big wealthy company gets free content.

Mr Wheaton was livid. They wanted to post his work and not pay him for it. He was pissed -- and rightly so.

This happened to me very recently. I thought about blogging about it earlier but didn't because I assumed no one would care. But the fact that this happened to Wesley Crusher's doppelganger shows how over matched us humble artists are against the corporate behemoths that would exploit us like 19th century plantation owners.

This is my story.

Several months ago I got a message from Uber.

Yes, that Uber -- the corporate giant that wants to take over the taxi industry in every city around the world. They wanted me to blog about how great Uber was. I had never actually used Uber but, hey, if they wanted to pay me for a writing gig, I was willing to listen. Give me a free Uber coupon or something, give me some dough, and I'll write something. I'm happy to be a sellout -- for the right price. So I told them this (well, I left out the "sellout" part but said that I could write something) and asked how much money I would get.

Their answer? Oh, we can't pay you a dime but we'll link to your blog on our site and won't the "exposure" for you be great?

I didn't bother to answer Uber and deleted all their messages. Expletive them.

The noive.

Uber is currently valued at $51 billion dollars. The Huffington Post is valued at $1 billion. And yet, somehow, these BILLION DOLLAR companies can't afford to pay bloggers a few bucks to post their content? As De Niro exclaimed in Goodfellas: "What the matter with you? What's the f@#$@#@#ing matter with you?"

I get that we now live in a so-called "disruptive sharing" economy (whether we like it or not), but when big companies like the Huffington Post and Uber ask writers for free content, that ain't sharing -- that's theft. Plain and friggin' simple. Links that provide "exposure" on "platforms" is not compensation -- at most, it's a favor. Not compensation. Get the difference?

This blog is written by moi as a labor or love and its content is free. This is my choice. And what (very) little money that this blog generates goes directly into my pockets -- cause I created this blog and all its damn content. That's my business.  But if I write something for a big for-profit company like Uber that exists to enhance their business and not mine, then that is not a labor of love -- that's just good old-fashioned capital-L Labor. And, for most of the last couple of centuries, people have expected to be paid for their Labor. Civil wars have been fought and revolutions started over just this very point of contention. But now these big tech and Internet companies think they're so special that they should be the exceptions to this rule that undergirds most of civilization.

Some might think that people like Wil Wheaton and yours truly are just big greedy complainers. But no, this is not greed. This is about respect and proper compensation for "services rendered." Capitalism is about the exchange of goods and services. Asking people to give you free stuff ain't capitalism. It's not an exchange. It's not fair compensation. It's just nasty, mean-spirited theft and exploitation. And nothing more.

If getting people to work for free is part of the "new economy", then count me out. Call me old-fashioned, call me a troglodyte, but I think people should be paid for their work. I think big wealthy companies exploiting people is wrong. I've never sat at the cool kids table so if my attitude on this subject is "uncool" then so be it. The uncool never bothered me anyway. 

As a person I onced worked with said, "I may be a whore, but I will thank you that I'm not a cheap one."

Or, in this case, a free one.