Get rich or die vlogging --
December 14, 2015 12:38 PM   Subscribe

 
I only just started supporting JBU via Patreon; looks like I'll need to step that up a bit.
posted by eamondaly at 12:40 PM on December 14, 2015


Ran across this post just after watching WeHo gal-about-town Ali Spagnola talk about her experience going viral without the benefits of going viral.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:53 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's interesting...I know that there are YouTubers with far fewer subscribers who manage to make a living at doing their videos than the author's channel has, but I'm sure they have different deals, lower costs of making videos, and probably aren't being scalped by their multichannel networks. (I have yet to see what MCMs do for content creators beyond take money and give them free music samples.)

I know that making money in the arts is just about impossible (and I'm lumping YouTube in with "the arts," because I think most content creators think they're doing creative work), and the economics of YouTube are really, really terrible. You have millions and millions of channels exactly like yours out there, doing the same things, and there's no real way to put yourselves ahead unless some other entity does it for you. Getting a sponsorship deal can put money in the bank (or, more often, a couple of sample products on your shelf), but that can alienate the users.

I think that a lot of these YouTube creators haven't had any sort of taste of what being employed is all about, however. They're trying to start a creative startup with absolutely no idea of what they're getting into. As someone who has started new theater companies (that basically cost me every penny I had) and went on tour with a fairly popular improv comedy show (and basically lost every penny I had), I wonder why the expectations are so high? It's like expecting to be paid professional basketball players' money for hosting games in your local civic center. Just having people watching you doesn't mean you're getting a big cut of the money being spent, and third party free applications like YouTube are not in it to employ you.

I have a channel. I've been diligently making videos for a year, on a schedule, and promoting them as much as I can. I have a full-time job and a local theater schedule that I maintain as well, and that works out well for me. I think there are terrible expectations for those who are in that strange limbo that author mentions, where being in a regular job may be problematic (though really, just for publicly-visible jobs like retail or waiting tables), but there could be opportunities for these people with really specific knowledge about how to treat and maintain an audience, if they looked beyond being stars and went into companies who want that kind of expertise.
posted by xingcat at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


I timewarped through the vlog happening. There was ZeFrank and he was good, and then one day I woke up to this world of Jontron, Roman Atwood and Ethan and Hila and a world of others. I hear there's some sort of phenomena called "vlogbrothers" that I haven't seen yet.

I'm not surprised to hear the only people getting consistently rich of this cultural phenomena (that operates something like Montgomery Wards' Rudolph ad campaign and conventional product placement) are google. It seems like some folks (Roman Atwood) seem to do OK largely on the youtube revenue, but that's in the realm of millions of views per video.

All I know for sure is that when I finally get around to posting my avant garde recuts of daytime television to the internet I AM DISTRIBUTING THAT CRAP INDEPENDENTLY.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:56 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know, back in my day, nobody got rich off their Internet fame, except maybe Kibo.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:57 PM on December 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


Van Gogh didn’t have to shill for Audible.com to pissed-off fans of his art.

well yes, yes, but on the other hand: two ears
posted by Sebmojo at 12:58 PM on December 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


That means fans don’t want to see that you’re explicitly on the hustle. Whether they realize it or not, they dictate our every financial move. Every time Allison and I post a branded video—a YouTuber’s bread and butter—we make money but lose subscribers. A video we created for a skincare line, for instance, drew ire from fans writing “ENOUGH WITH THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT.”

Ah yes, the crossroads between people hating advertising and also feeling justified in "getting something in return" from an artist. Reminds me of the story a while back on here where Amanda Palmer waxed poetical about a fan telling her she couldn't have a baby because it might make her stop making the kind of art the fan liked.

So, we can't fund ourselves through advertising, and if we take direct donations, we are not allowed to choose how we spend our money as artists.

I've been arguing for a long, long, time that if we want, real, respectable, and worthwhile "art" in the world, (and yes, I would consider vlogging a type of art, even if its one I have zero interest in) needs to be fundamentally and absolutely separated from a profit motive.

If only there were some kind of society where artists could make art without having to hang their livelihoods on it being popular.

A (nerdy) example. Fallout vs. Fallout 4. Everything that made the original interesting, that made it like an interactive, non-linear novel, was absolutely gutted from 4. Why? Because it sells better. Who needs deep, well developed characters? Those are confusing to some people, they need simple, declarative statements and characters who don't do a lot of changing. Who needs a in depth RPG system where you can't power level or max out every stat? Because some people aren't good at games, and they need to be overpowered from the get-go or they will get bored. They don't want to have to plan how to play the game from the very beginning. The fact that dumbing art down for people always works in terms of sales never ceases to make me physically ill.

In a world where art is just another commodity in capitalism, art will never, ever have anything interesting or worthwhile to say again, as it will all just eventually become consumed by advertising.

(Let me be clear, I do have some sympathy to those who want something in return for what they pay for art, but I think those feelings come from the consumers of the art generally being poor themselves, so when they don't get what they want out of it, they feel like they got ripped off. Is it rational? No, but it makes sense, nonetheless.)
posted by deadaluspark at 12:59 PM on December 14, 2015 [25 favorites]


I'm not surprised they're struggling. 70k seems to be a very low subscriber number. The vgame folks don't seem to hit a sustainable full-time level until they're doing daily content with about 300-400k sub, getting at least 10k watches per video. The folks with 1M+ seem to do fine, but below that the benefits seem pretty marginal. Those on the lower end of subscriber numbers seem to be increasingly moving to Patreon and/or twitch to supplement Youtube income.
posted by bonehead at 12:59 PM on December 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


In a world where art is just another commodity in capitalism, art will never, ever have anything interesting or worthwhile to say again, as it will all just eventually become advertising.

I don't buy that. I think the problem is that the art itself has become devalued, so that there's no ability for art to be sustainable on its own.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:04 PM on December 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'd rather have kittens lick my eyeballs than watch vlogs on YouTube, but I sometimes feel this way about some popular Instagrammers I follow. Consciously I know that people need to make a living but seeing a huge departure in their usual content for a clearly sponsored post is jarring, see Chef Jacques LaMerde for the most recent example of this. I don't know exactly how they can walk whatever thin line there is, but it looks like it's getting crossed more and more as advertisers ask for more.

I eventually just unfollow when I get tired of being advertised at, but I wish there was a better way for people to be paid for their time AND for them to create the honest content people followed them for to begin with.
posted by mikesch at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2015


I think the problem is that the art itself has become devalued

And I'm personally pretty sure it was the system of capitalism that devalued art. *shrugs
posted by deadaluspark at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've been arguing for a long, long, time that if we want, real, respectable, and worthwhile "art" in the world

But we have that. We have more than we can possibly consume in a dozen lifetimes.

The job of art is to make itself necessary.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:06 PM on December 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


In a world where art is just another commodity in capitalism, art will never, ever have anything interesting or worthwhile to say again, as it will all just eventually become consumed by advertising.

Yeah, that's bullshit. It utterly devalues artists and treats them as though they need to maintain some religious purity. Furthermore, the end result is saying "art is zero value or it means nothing"
posted by Ferreous at 1:07 PM on December 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


Hell even more it says to everyone making art in the here and now "You're not making real art" because they exist in a system where they need to survive. It's completely insulting.
posted by Ferreous at 1:10 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's pretty hand-wavey to so quickly dismiss your connection to past artists. I realize the distribution model has changed, but the pressures and challenges are ultimately the same. It feels like the only 'new' thing here is that unsuccessful artists used to bitterly languish in obscurity. Now the do so with 100,000 followers.
posted by woof at 1:11 PM on December 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


If they're altering their art to make it sell better instead of it representing their actual artistic vision, then I'm fairly sure that it isn't "real art," it is marketing.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:12 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]




In reading this I wondered, perhaps because I am middle-aged, what these would-be Internet celebrities would have been doing prior to the advent of the Web and proliferation of social media. I suspect many would have gone the route of community theater or any of the myriad of hobby-like forms of creative self-expression available.

There are plenty of people who paint and some of them participate in local art shows and some very small number of them are professional artists who are paid for their efforts. There are lots of us who play soccer and some of us participate in city leagues, but very few of us are paid to be on an MLS team. Why should Youtube or Instagram or what have you be any different? That these folks are paid anything at all for their work is actually the story here in the longer view of history, I think.

I guess the wrinkle here is that Google (or Instagram or whomever) owns the outlet and is making money off the person's effort. But how much is Google making off any individual contributor's work, I wonder. And aren't the vast majority of people posting their videos receiving something from Google for free? So the money they make off popular posts is something that offsets the cost of my sister's video of her cat.
posted by Cassford at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


I think the takeaway from this is not that everyone should make money from the ether for whatever their creative pursuits are, but that if you're creating the content that drives people to Buzzfeed and serving the drinks at their party, perhaps the hierarchy is messed up.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2015 [31 favorites]


Countless artists from Van Gogh to Modigliani never got to enjoy their legacy’s fame and fortune.

I’m failing to see the difference. Do they think none of said YouTubers fellow waitstaff are musicians or actors? This seems like a classic case of "But Computers!"

People don’t like to pay for things, especially these days.
posted by bongo_x at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not surprised they're struggling. 70k seems to be a very low subscriber number.

The thrust of the article isn't "Why aren't they rich if they have so many followers?" It's about how they struggle to hold a full-time job because they have to crank out content or because the fans are too annoying to let them hold a job that isn't cranking out content.
posted by Etrigan at 1:24 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


People don’t like to pay for things, especially these days.

Conversely, just because you built it doesn't mean I'm coming.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yeah the problem isn't that artists aren't getting funded by their art, it's that they operate on the assumption that they should be able to. Not to sound too platitudeful but art should be its own reward. If you're enjoying being a minor internet celebrity that's great, but don't expect it to pay the bills. If you're not comfortable asking your thousands of fans to chip in a little to let you keep doing what you're doing then you either need to do something else more lucrative than YouTube videos or find a traditional job to support yourself and stop worrying about what your fans will think of your Starbucks apron.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:28 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Not to sound too platitudeful but art should be its own reward.

Nope. Again, that's a fantastic way to assert a moral high ground while also assigning zero value to the work artists do.
posted by Ferreous at 1:31 PM on December 14, 2015 [33 favorites]


Conversely, just because you built it doesn't mean I'm coming.

Except that's not what's happening. People are coming, they're just not compensating the creators. Stuff like freebooting is pulling revenue away from creators, even while their creations are being consumed.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:31 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


>Not to sound too platitudeful but art should be its own reward.

It is. Some guy can sit on his back porch and play the guitar all day and that's its own reward. If you're listening to a recording of him, however, you're making use of his time and labor and it's quite reasonable for him to expect that you should be paying something for it.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:32 PM on December 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


Yeah the problem isn't that artists aren't getting funded by their art, it's that they operate on the assumption that they should be able to.

Then you shouldn't have any issue with your employer saying that you shouldn't assume you should be paid for the work you do for them, right?
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:36 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's about how they struggle to hold a full-time job because they have to crank out content

Or, to put it another way, it's about how one sustains an art career based on youtube. My point was that it's really very hard to do so, and, I think, has been getting harder. Numbers are very hard to come by, but ad income has anecdotally been dropping for years. Perhaps 2012 was the high point, but since then the formula Google uses seems to be significantly less generous, and this is killing the "mid-list" of semi-pro producers.

Thus, increasingly people seem to be moving away from Youtube-only revenue streams.
posted by bonehead at 1:37 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mr. Encyclopedia beat me to it. The original article had a misguided sense of entitlement. I represent a number of talented individuals who first made their marks online. Not a one of them made much money off their original platform (Tumblr, Web, Instagram), but each was canny in finding ways to monetize their growing loyal audience through speaking fees, art sales, book deals (my small contribution to their careers), etc.

Kevin Kelly first articulated the notion of artists making a quiet living by building a base of 1,000 True Fans, although I and others have suggested he rejigger that to 10,000 or 100,000 true fans. But whatever the number (on whatever the Internet platform), that's merely a starting point and a potential opportunity to find ways to exchange your art for money.
posted by twsf at 1:38 PM on December 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


The problem is that YouTube is implicitly sold as a free entertainment source.
posted by bongo_x at 1:40 PM on December 14, 2015


There's no business like show business
Like no business I know
Everything about it is appealing
Everything the traffic will allow
Nowhere could you get that happy feeling
When you are stealing that extra bow!

There's no people like show people
They smile when they're low
Even with a turkey that you know will fold
You may be stranded out in the cold
Still you wouldn't change it for a sack of gold
Let's go on with the show!
posted by valkane at 1:43 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


TWICE now this "Fusion" site has put popups over the text as I've been trying to read it, first asking me to "like" them (who is this, Colonel Cathcart?), the second with suggestions for other things I might wish to see.
posted by JHarris at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The original article had a misguided sense of entitlement. I represent a number of talented individuals who first made their marks online. Not a one of them made much money off their original platform (Tumblr, Web, Instagram), but each was canny in finding ways to monetize their growing loyal audience through speaking fees, art sales, book deals (my small contribution to their careers), etc.

Yes, because heaven forbid that people expect that they get paid for their labor online. Don't they know that's just exposure, and they need to hustle to actually make a living? Don't they see how entitled that view is?
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:47 PM on December 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


As a professional opera singer, this resonates with me in an uncomfortable and familiar way. I wonder, when I'm taking my curtain call and people are cheering me on, if they realize that I am being paid less than minimum wage for this labor of love. Art is expensive, and the performers are underpaid. Still, I am happy to have a job that I love.
posted by schmopera at 1:47 PM on December 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


TWICE now this "Fusion" site has put popups over the text as I've been trying to read it, first asking me to "like" them (who is this, Colonel Cathcart?), the second with suggestions for other things I might wish to see.

It's fun to say "Disney-funded Vice competitor" over and over, emphasizing a different word each time.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:48 PM on December 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


No one owes anyone a living, especially when they choose to take advantage of a free platform. In fact YouTube DOES offer some revenue share (unlike most of the other Internet platforms). The author of the original article says she and her partner and putting in more time/money to produce their videos than they are getting out of it. OK, how is that different from any band in the world who finds it costs more to produce an album than they make in earnings? They're worried about being perceived as selling out? That's an issue between them and their fans.

I don't find it "sad" that there is a bell curve of vlog artists, some with huge numbers of fans that generate big direct earnings, some with tiny audiences who are simply taking advantage of a free global platform and (I hope) having fun, and some in the middle who have aspirations that aren't being met and business plans that aren't panning out. Welcome to adulthood.
posted by twsf at 2:04 PM on December 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


I thought this was a really well done article that missed a few key questions, namely: Is it possible that "internet fame" is simply not particularly monetizable? I feel like Ben Stiller in Reality Bites, but: "I love doing this, and thus I should be able to make a living doing it" is not a true statement. "Well, I guess if I can't make a living at this, I'll have to stop Instagramming those brunch photos!" Well...I can live with that. Not everything is worth money — that doesn't make it worthless, which I think capitalism forces us to lose sight of, but still. I see things on Etsy that I do not buy, even though they are someone's art.
posted by Charity Garfein at 2:05 PM on December 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


Is it possible that "internet fame" is simply not particularly monetizable?

Every time this rhetorical question gets asked (and I'm rolling my eyes particularly hard at you, South Park) I think some variation of, "AOL bought Buzzfeed for $315 million in 2011. Somebody's fucking monetizing it."
posted by Navelgazer at 2:17 PM on December 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


Van Gogh didn’t have to shill for Audible.com to pissed-off fans of his art.

Am I missing some irony here? Van Gogh mostly sponged off his brother and parents and earned almost nothing for his art in his lifetime. There's nothing pure about how he earned a living. This notion that there was a golden age where artists were rewarded for their art in a fair way without needing to prostitute themselves is ahistorical nonsense.

Maybe I'm just old and cranky? I found this article sadly lacking in perspective.
posted by frumiousb at 2:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [45 favorites]


The other day I noticed that Barnes & Noble devoted an end-cap to "Youtuber books."
posted by smackfu at 2:20 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


heaven forbid that people expect that they get paid for their labor online

Traditionally, if I want to be paid for my labor I find someone who is willing to pay me for it and we engage in a transaction where I promise to labor for them and they promise to pay me for it. And then I do the labor and they pay me. If I can't find anyone to buy the labor I want to sell, I'm out of luck unless I can think of some other type of labor to offer.

Expecting to get paid for art you put online for anyone to enjoy is... well, it doesn't map well to the traditional model of selling your labor. Hoping to get paid, sure. But by framing it as getting "paid for their labor online", you're shoving it into a model that just doesn't work. You're making the artists the equivalent of the guys who wait at intersections to spray and wipe your windshield and make you feel guilty for not giving them some money in exchange -- there's no contract for labor there.

I mean, this is a huge complicated issue that's certainly bigger than vloggers. I know a bunch of amazingly talented and hard-working musicians who are barely scraping by. They deserve to be rich and famous, or at least to be able to afford food and housing. But for the most part they don't expect that because they're making art, they'll be adequately compensated for it. For the most part, they make art and barely scrape by, or they stop being able to scrape by on the art and as a result they make less art and sell more non-art labor. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of writing think pieces about how unfair it is that they do all this work and don't get paid well. Possibly because everyone knows now that it's hard to make money as an independent musician.

And I guess everyone doesn't know yet that it's also hard to make money as a vlogger, or an indie game developer? Because computers somehow?
posted by hades at 2:21 PM on December 14, 2015 [35 favorites]


Welcome to being Popular On The Internet, kids. At least you no longer have to worry about getting a huge bill for the bandwidth when you suddenly become popular like people did in the early days of the web. Get a Patreon, they're pretty rad, I'm making tons more off my web comic that way than I ever did off of advertising. If you can find some piece of merch that's cheap to make that your fans love, that can help a lot too.

Oh yeah, and don't ignore the financial elephant in the room: the richest twenty people in the US have more money between them than the entire bottom 50% of the US, and the minimum wage is way below what anyone can actually live on. Maybe you should poke some of that huge skinflint audience of yours to go vote for people who'll make it easier for them to have a few bucks to throw at folks like yourself.
posted by egypturnash at 2:27 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


So what are we going to do when no one has a job?
posted by The Whelk at 2:29 PM on December 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's interesting because you could just as easily put this exact same article in the 80's and the writer could be complaining about getting their band on the radio.

I think. There's a threshold to be gotten over, at any rate, where you get paid to do other things and the 'vlog' is the thing you do for self promotion. It's the free logo you design or the hours you put in helping build sets so you can use the equipment for four hours before it has to be returned, etc.

When you're good enough, the ad agencies come calling and you make ads and make money.

It's fucking hard to start, always has been, always will be. It's too bad no one told her that, makes it all a little easier, that nugget of perspective.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I'm wrong. There are a ton of think pieces about how unfair it is that musicians do all this work and don't get paid well. It's just that they're about streaming royalties. Because computers.

(Which is not to say that I think there's anything fair or good about the system of music publishing, licensing, and fee collecting we have. It's just that I don't think there's anything particularly more broken about the part of it which deals with online services.)
posted by hades at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


So what are we going to do when no one has a job?

Same thing, we're doing now, argue on MetaFilter.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:36 PM on December 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


Expecting to get paid for art you put online for anyone to enjoy is... well, it doesn't map well to the traditional model of selling your labor.

Yes. Their beef should be with YouTube, not the system, or the fans. YouTube makes money. Stop punching down. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are owed money though, YouTube does give them something.

So, a club decides to offer free shows with many bands all the time. Bands play for free. Some will figure out a way to monetize, most won’t. Maybe people just don’t like them THAT much. Many more people will attend these free shows, being free, so the club will make more money than before on drinks (The difference of course being that the club is not going to make millions and is probably only barely getting by themselves). If the club is packed all the time the bands should say "pay me motherfucker", not berate the fans or complain about society not appreciating them (and many musicians have done just that over the years). The club has to figure who’s worth paying, how much, and factor in that there are a million bands willing to play for free although of possibly lesser quality and drawing power.

Same as it ever was.

The free part of this is not trivial. People think these videos are worth watching for free, whether they are worth paying for is entirely different. The same as everything else in the world.
posted by bongo_x at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


YouTube (Google) has made a profitable business off the unpaid labor of, what, millions of people? And now we see the real benefit to capital owners of destroying organized labor--a lot of this generation doesn't even know that organizing is a possibility.
posted by Automocar at 2:46 PM on December 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


Narrowing the discussion to vloggers makes trivializing the issue easy, because vlogging suffers from a lack of respectability.

I don't know what society you and yours might live in, but in my society people seem reluctant to fork out $8 for a movie they adore, or $10 for a set of songs from a musician they enjoy. A lot of people have a lot to say about how consuming artworks without paying is a sort of social liberty, because of reasons I suppose I'm too politically unsophisticated to appreciate.

It's confusing. People really seem to like music, for example. They carry it around. They curate their collections. They use music as a social glue or lubricant, as the situation warrants. They identify through their music. But many of them will feast on the livers of their enemies before consenting to pay one red cent over $1 to license a song.

People hate paying for artworks. It's some kind of affront.

If you ask them whether it's fair to expect artists to live and work on such proceeds, you often get a lot of hand-waving about evil corporations and flawed methods of royalty distribution.

Society values artworks as experiences, but society does not value the experiences of the people making artworks. Those people should get real jobs or get extra jobs or become professional grant request writers. Those people are spending their time frivolously by creating the artworks I enjoy in my spare time. Isn't adoring their products enough for them? Greedy narcissists!

People stand around tapping their feet to buskers' music, then walk away with pants jiggling with change. Why not? It's not like entertainment is work. It's play, right? Tipping is optional. If this busker has to go home, another will take her place.

It is obvious that hungry artists should stop whining and just learn to be luckier.
posted by Construction Concern at 2:48 PM on December 14, 2015 [54 favorites]


Construction Concern: Can’t favor you enough.

This site has had passionate outrage because DVD releases did not feature the same music as the original showing, and the musicians portrayed by some as being awful and greedy for wanting to be paid. This was possibly the most ludicrous example of this kind of entitlement I’ve ever seen. To state that the music was SO important that it’s absence ruined the whole experience and made your life worse, yet it certainly wasn’t worth paying for.
posted by bongo_x at 3:03 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


You're making the artists the equivalent of the guys who wait at intersections to spray and wipe your windshield and make you feel guilty for not giving them some money in exchange -- there's no contract for labor there.

I don't think this is a great analogy. In that case, the labor is being forced upon you and then payment expected. This is not the same as me going on YouTube, actively finding a vlog I want to watch, and clicking on it. I agree that there's no explicit agreement to pay, but it's also not as if the person provided the service without me requesting it. (Ok, obviously they did create the video before I "requested" it, but the individual "performance" in terms of a video view was at my explicit request.)

If you want to use street-corner car care analogies, I'd say it's more like pulling into a charity car wash where people are holding signs saying "car wash" but without prices listed, letting them wash your car, and then being surprised that they expect you to donate. It might be possible to drive off without paying, but it's a crappy thing to do.
posted by primethyme at 3:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


People hate paying for artworks. It's some kind of affront.

People also hate paying for public infrastructure and services such as roads, transit, sewers, and schools. It's almost as if people are awful about everything, and art's no different.
posted by hades at 3:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


But there doesn't seem to be a lot of writing think pieces about how unfair it is that [musicians] do all this work and don't get paid well.

There's been a fuck ton of articles written about it since mp3s and broadband became a thing (and many before that about how the recording industry took advantage of musicians, including the often cited Steve Albini article). And frankly, Construction Concern is absolutely right, a huge portion of people seem to think that it's immoral to suggest that they pay musicians whose work they enjoy. Every thread on music piracy here is a swamp of people justifying it in various ways. Or sometimes just celebrating the inability for musicians or the recording industry to do anything about it.

At the end of the day, it's the same basic story as it's always been - big companies (record companies, TV stations, Google, whoever) will make most of the money and the content creators will make little, because there's an almost unlimited number of people interested in creating content and a merciless enough company or industry can find ways to extract a percentage of most transactions, so the content creators will be engaged in a race to the bottom.
posted by Candleman at 3:23 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know what society you and yours might live in, but in my society people seem reluctant to fork out $8 for a movie they adore, or $10 for a set of songs from a musician they enjoy. A lot of people have a lot to say about how consuming artworks without paying is a sort of social liberty, because of reasons I suppose I'm too politically unsophisticated to appreciate.

It's not politics. It's math. Infinite supply.

There is I think, something different this time, with the Internet. Artists have always struggled, for sure. But it used to be that if you attract the enthusiastic interest and admiration of thousands of people, that was worth something. Today you need an order of magnitude more than that. Why?

I think it's this simple: Physical embodiment imposes limits, and only scarce things can be priced. When you can make infinite, perfect copies of something, when a there are infinite alternative products, equally appealing, available instantaneously, then there is no price the market will bear. Printing presses cost money to run. So do CD plants. YouTube and BitTorrent cost nothing, comparatively; the only scarce thing left is the attention of the viewer.

We've seen it again and again, with practically every form of content the Internet has produced: when the supply is infinite and attention the only scarcity, you get power law distributions. Winner takes nearly all: the #1 competitor will have a million followers, the #2 200K, and on and on through the long tail. Because when the viewer can go anywhere they still naturally drift to where the other viewers are. But even #1 can't leverage the position; annoy the viewers and they jump ship to #2 in a click. They have nothing invested and so the creator has no hold.
posted by Diablevert at 3:24 PM on December 14, 2015 [22 favorites]


People do pay for "art"--they go to concerts, comedy clubs, movies. But when you start out working for free, it's hard to change over and get paying customers.
"YouTube’s “middle class” often means grappling daily with the cognitive dissonance of a full comments section and an empty wallet."
A full comments section doesn't mean anything--comment is free, remember?
But if you're working for Buzzfeed for free---you need to rethink your career choices.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:32 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is I think, something different this time, with the Internet. Artists have always struggled, for sure. But it used to be that if you attract the enthusiastic interest and admiration of thousands of people, that was worth something. Today you need an order of magnitude more than that.

It is at least an order of magnitude easier to reach people, though. Probably two.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:34 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how much Fusion paid the author for her article...
posted by twsf at 3:38 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Personally, I think the answer to this problem is the same as the answer to most problems: Guaranteed Basic Income, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.

I'm an independent musician, or rather, a dependent musician, in the sense that I am totally dependent on the charity of people who enjoy my work. Whether that is busking, live performance, or donating online, it's all essentially the same: I give it all away for free, and sometimes the people who enjoy it decide that they want to help keep me alive.

Art is worthless, but it does have value. The trick is finding the people who value it enough to also value the comfort and security of the artist. It's not easy.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 3:52 PM on December 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't know what society you and yours might live in, but in my society people seem reluctant to fork out $8 for a movie they adore, or $10 for a set of songs from a musician they enjoy.

Welp, this reminded me to pick up Low's C'mon and Bonobo's Sweetness, as they've been helping me work for like a month now.
posted by Existential Dread at 4:07 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Max Headroom (the TV show) didn't quite predict the internet, but somehow it predicted Youtube anyhow. That show literally had a 50-something punk rocker driving around in a van, broadcasting his "network" to a tiny cult of devoted fans. Blank Reg would so be at home on Youtube, rolling his eyes about how these kids today don't even know what the fuck books are. (And he probably wouldn't have gone "viral" there either.)

I know a guy who is in that weird "Youtube fame" limbo. He makes fun videos that get views you wouldn't believe, and he's made a couple of indie features. Before we started exchanging emails I assumed he had to be paying his bills with this stuff. But no, it doesn't pay well and he's still working day jobs. Finding that out made me feel bad for him (he's a really nice guy, and with hits like those he deserves to be paying his bills with this stuff) but it also made me feel just a little better about my own stalled out Youtube career. A few of my videos got respectable hits, but it never turned into anything, at all. Knowing that guy has taught me that I didn't just miss the brass ring. The brass ring was miles away, and I was chasing a distant glint in the sun.

But it really is disgraceful that the stoner lesbian lady is all over Buzzfeed and she has to work as a waitress to support herself. (And I say that as somebody who always found her smug and off-putting in her videos. I thought she was part of the problem at Buzzfeed, but it turns out she's just one tiny, squeaky, easily replacable cog in the big machine over there.) Knowing how close to the edge she's living makes me wonder about videos where she tries on weird bras for them and stuff. If she WANTS to do that stuff then good on her, but I find myself wondering if she had a problem with it but did it because she feels like she has to. I also wonder about the "try guys" who are always doing weird, kinky stuff like getting waxed and wearing sexy lady Halloween costumes. Are they starving waiter-comedians who feel like they have to strip down and get waxed on camera or they'll get locked out of Buzzfeed HQ? I don't know what's really going on, but it raises some incredibly creepy questions. Buzzfeed shouldn't be paying their employees so little that questions like those are even as issue!

That story about the woman awkwardly serving her Buzzfeed co-workers is like some sort of millennial nightmare come true. Buzzfeed is like the Wal-Mart of web content. Seriously, fuck those guys.

All that being said, this kind of thing is not new. I used to know Darby, of the Ben is Dead zine. At the height of its fame, she once quipped that she was soon going to be granting CNN interviews from a cardboard box under a bridge. And I've had a few of those red carpet/dead broke moments myself, going from a roach-infested apartment to Grammy parties and stuff. The weirdest is when you're some broke weirdo and you land a one-time gig for the really big, slick, cool money boys. It's like a fabulous trip to Emerald City, only you're just there to put in a couple of sparkling new bricks and the man behind the curtain has no idea you exist. And you don't even have to figure out how to click your heels together to go home, because now the gig is already over and the exit back to Kansas is just down the hall and through the lobby, thanks. And no, Emerald City does not validate.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:23 PM on December 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's not politics. It's math. Infinite supply.

Came here to say exactly that. The popular arts are extremely vulnerable to centralization and outsourcing. Back before mass media, you didn't have to be the best singer, actor, or musician. You could just be the best in your area or even at the moment of performance and get money from doing your labor. Then technology invented the movie, the phonograph, the radio, the TV, the VCR, and eventually the Internet. Now someone can just enjoy a recording (or live performance) anytime without leaving their home for pennies or completely free. And all the money accrues to the machine that distributes it and some to the artists that produced it.

Youtube and the Internet kind of shifts things back a little towards artists by providing a platform for "anyone" to create and by cutting out the gatekeepers that were imperfect in choosing what an audience liked. And, I have to add, the Internet also shifts power the audience a little, giving us the opportunity to find our own small artists and creators that we like and connect and support them. But, the draw of tradition and network effects is strong (at least for now). Most people would rather listen to the Top 40 than a local band. Most people would rather watch a summer blockbuster than a community theater performance.
posted by FJT at 4:25 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Also, I just realized "best" performer is subjective and it's arguable whether the best performers are the most widepsread. So, replace "best" with a something like "most popular")
posted by FJT at 4:33 PM on December 14, 2015


Doesn't this really come down to whether the platform company's cut is fair? Like no, you can't just do whatever and expect to be paid for it (I mean ideally you would be paid to be alive in my opinion, but nobody has to care about your vlogs) and it's possible that 90K followers is actually just small potatoes in this strange new world. But it's also possible that they are being ripped off. I don't really know the answer to that but somebody probably does.
posted by atoxyl at 4:34 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Doesn't this really come down to whether the platform company's cut is fair?

Well, some of these vloggers have views that are about the same number as the ratings for David Simon joints, and I doubt that he's taking tickets at his local multiplex.
posted by Automocar at 5:49 PM on December 14, 2015


Doesn't this really come down to whether the platform company's cut is fair?

That’s the point I was trying to make. You can’t expect money for showing up, but if someone is making money from your work you should get a proportional amount.

The disconnect people seem to have between the YouTube-Creators and Record Companies-Artists is fascinating to me (but I’m always baffled by the way most people view the music industry in general).

YouTube asks you to do all the work and cover your own expenses, they will provide the platform, but they’re making most of the money no matter what you do. Record companies will loan you the money (a pretty large amount) upfront with no guarantee of getting paid back unless you make money, then they are damn sure getting a good chunk of it. Two different methods, both have pluses and minuses, but they way the internet tells it YouTube are benevolent patrons of the shiny future and record companies are evil plantations run by Mr. Potter. I guess because of Computers and Libertarianism or something.
posted by bongo_x at 6:29 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, some of these vloggers have views that are about the same number as the ratings for David Simon joints, and I doubt that he's taking tickets at his local multiplex.

But that doesn't mean anything without knowing how much revenue Google sees for those views. Obviously they are, overall, making plenty of money. But then so are *some* YT stars. So the question I was asking is whether YouTube takes a greedy share or whether the money pool from online ads just isn't that big unless you're way more popular than that. (By the way the number I see looking this up really quick is that the creator gets about 55%, which does seem low though I actually thought it might be worse.)
posted by atoxyl at 6:33 PM on December 14, 2015


Like, it seems (I could be wrong) that Google likely breaks even a good ways below 45% since they have such an economy of scale. But that's a much much lower percentage than record labels (which do of course spend money on promotion etc. but then Google spends money on, you know, software developers.)
posted by atoxyl at 6:43 PM on December 14, 2015


By the way the number I see looking this up really quick is that the creator gets about 55%, which does seem low though I actually thought it might be worse.

Way more than I would have thought.
posted by bongo_x at 6:46 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


From what I have heard, creators get between 55% and 60% of the ad revenue on YouTube.

For some of them, and probably the people in this article, even if they got 80%, it would still mean they'd need other jobs. For others it could be the difference between doing their creative passion full time or not. But I'm not sure that 55% or 80% is a fair number, based on previous platform/performer relationships, and without seeing what costs YouTube has to create/run/manage the platform and then sell ads against it.
posted by cell divide at 7:05 PM on December 14, 2015


I don't follow vloggers that make all their money from vlogging. Not that I wouldn't, but it just hasn't happened. I follow a couple of truckers, a couple of farmers, and some miscellaneous organizations.

The farmers and the truckers are interesting because they vlog about their days. It's a gopro strapped to a tractor or a truck. One of the farmers seems to spend more time harassing his son and repairing farm equipment than actually baling hay. One of the truckers is a Russian guy who hauls very large and heavy equipment. Pretty niche audiences.

The interesting part is that none of them have expressed interest in actually making a living at vlogging, but all of them have said that being paid to do it really offsets the cost of camera equipment and computers. It's paying for itself.
posted by disclaimer at 7:12 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Banking on making a living being famous is generally not a good idea. The public has only so much bandwidth to pay attention to media and public figures, and it's always saturated. The only way in is to displace someone else.

The early adopters of YouTube caught a wave (YouTube and mobile displacing cable and TV) but now that the public is mostly settled again in set consumption platforms, aspiring artists are back to vying amongst themselves for the available attention.
posted by mantecol at 8:32 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Gaby Dunn, the author of this article, might be familiar to the site for the 100 Interviews project (previously).
posted by flatluigi at 8:35 PM on December 14, 2015


disclaimer you need to link to those channels; I am intrigued.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:36 PM on December 14, 2015


Another thing, I think it can be said in general that the artists with the most successful careers are the ones with conviction that comes from within. A strong identity that they are willing and able to share with the world. They're not worrying about what people think of what they produce, but still, they have lucked onto something that works with audiences.

In acting, or writing, or singing, or dance, or modelling, or comedy, or illustration, or anything else (even stuff outside of the public eye), you're never going to be able to please everyone. If you're spending time and energy waffling or second-guessing, or trying to predict or control (or even monitor, really) the reaction of your audience, that will eat away at you in multiple ways.

On top of that, if your unique identity is too similar to something that has recently been seen, you might not do as well as you would have otherwise. If it's too far out, that may also be a problem.

In other words, winning the fame lottery is about as likely as winning the actual lottery. And neither one is guaranteed to set you up for life, even if you do win. So I'd say do it for the joy of creation only. As for making a living, it's never too late to gain additional education and switch careers.
posted by mantecol at 9:54 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is a never ending stream of young people willing to sacrifice their time for a tiny chance at glory, and a never ending stream of old people who are willing to take advantage.
posted by miyabo at 10:20 PM on December 14, 2015


There is a never ending stream of young people willing to sacrifice their time for a tiny chance at glory, and a never ending stream of old people who are willing to take advantage.

I'm afraid it's not as simple as old and young. There are plenty of old people still chasing a dream, and plenty of young people ready to bleed them dry.

Tomorrow morning that woman from Buzzfeed will probably get called into a very tense meeting with people her age who look and talk a lot like her, but are not like her in certain crucial respects. She will have put the company in a very awkward position, you see. Do they actually pay her something, or do they fire her and do everything they can to prevent her from ever working in the industry again? I'm sure they're spinning the numbers on that as we speak.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:32 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's not politics. It's math. Infinite supply.

If only someone would sit down and study the economic problem of overproduction.
posted by ead at 11:08 PM on December 14, 2015


The interesting thing for me is the author trying to sort out Wealth and Fame. I suppose you could call it entitlement ("I've created the fame, gimme my wealth!") but it feels like something more basic going on. She says the fans simply can't conceive of a famous person being poor and I get the feeling she's largely in the same boat. It's not so much about greed as confusion.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:20 PM on December 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


YouTube has made emotional labor alienable?

That's too strong, or at least the true part isn't actually new. But the description near the end of the essay of needing to have overcome trouble, to be 'relatable', but not admit to being currently in trouble, which would be 'whining', is a catchy description of a lot of emotional labor.

"Lord, is there nothing in the cup for me? While you were drinking I was singing to you."

Off to Patreon some folks.
posted by clew at 11:33 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


People hate paying for artworks. It's some kind of affront.

There are a few people in this thread (and in every thread about what artists are paid) who are really committed to this idea that I have a free and infinite source of money and when I don't shell out said infinite money to every person who asks regardless of what that person is willing to give in exchange that I'm somehow a thief. (If you're feeling your hackles rise about your argument being misrepresented as far crazier than it actually is, maybe this would be a good time to think about why you think it's okay to lie about the arguments of anyone who disagrees with you.) This is not how money works. I don't hate paying for artwork. I love paying for artwork, and I do it whenever I can. But if I was expected to pay for any art that I would like to experience then I would get to hear a new song maybe a couple of times a year, and forget movies or television or video games. Maybe I could get a book once in a while. If your core argument is that only rich people should be allowed to have art and culture, well I'm just not sure we have a lot to talk about given your obvious levels of incredible cartoonish supervillain-level evil.

Like basically everyone in America, I don't hate paying artists, but also I can't pay artists, not very often or very much. There's just not money for it. In the article she mentions a bit about sponsored content where there's no standardization of pay, and how one company might pay $4,000 to one Youtuber for a branded video or $20,000 to another. I sure as fuck don't have $20K to drop on somebody. If you make stuff I love for my entire life and I pay you at every opportunity I can afford to I honestly might die before all that payment adds up to $20K. There's a hell of a lot of money in America, but it's all concentrated at the top and the people down here get to fight over the trickles. There are two ways that a larger number of artists are going to be able to make a living from art: either they start getting paid more from the top, or the people down here at the bottom start having a lot more money. (Obviously I'm very much in favor of the latter.)
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:52 PM on December 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


IAmUnaware, nobody is asking you to pony up 20K for your favorite artist. But if enough fans pony up SOME dough, and/or the corporations getting fat off the work of artists pay them a fair share, then artists can afford to make their living making art.

Artists and their defenders get pissed off about the entitled attitudes of a lot of people online. Too many people expect stuff to be free all the time. They either don't understand or don't care that if an artist doesn't get paid somehow, that artist may not be able to continue making art. The way you're talking, that's not the stuff that makes most artists angry. You're broke, but you wish you could pay more. There are indeed some artists who would say that if you can't see a movie legally, you have no business seeing that movie. But even if you can't pay, I think most artists would prefer you see their work rather than not see it at all. They would probably also very much prefer it if you don't take the work they're trying to sell and upload it to Youtube or Tumblr or Deviant Art, and you don't make copies of it and give it to all your friends for free, and you don't give them shit if they have to bring in a sponsor or do some crass shilling just to keep the lights on. Treat their work like work, because that's what it is. It's hours and days and years, it's sore wrists and broken marriages.

Somebody doesn't have to lie about your argument to disagree with you. I think you're only seeing part of the picture here. As a frequently broke person myself, I've also seen plenty of stuff I would have gladly paid for. When I didn't pay, I knew I was taking from the artist. I didn't feel like I was personally committing a grievous sin because I was just one consumer and as an individual I wouldn't make any real difference in that artist's life. But paying for art is like voting. No one vote matters, but the way those votes add up can change everything.

No individual consumer is responsible for an artist starving. Big fat companies like Youtube or Buzzfeed, on the other hand...
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:21 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Another aspect of this I should have thought of earlier is the focus of the content - it seems to me there are probably not as many ad dollars coming in for gender and sexuality as a subject as for video games.
posted by atoxyl at 3:51 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


People hate paying for artworks.

Patreon kind of refutes this. We support a few folks at the $5/mo level. One person who migrated recently from youtube to Patreon was a bit stunned to discover that their audience was willing to go for $4000/mo+, all pledged in less than a week after they opened their account.

What it does say, to me, is that relying on Youtube alone is really tough. There just isn't enough money in the free+ads model to work, particularly for those folks who are niche or just developing an audience. That's not a statement of their value, it's simply that the Youtube model is not very well funded. A new artist needs to have a bunch of income sources, not just a single client.
posted by bonehead at 5:07 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


As someone who has gone viral multiple times (including being the subject of a few FPPS) and garnered a significant following for her writing, whose writing has led to some pretty incredible experiences, and who has a resume and portfolio that makes people go "omg you are amazing, someone should hire you right now" -

- and who is also chronically jobless and has been for years, who keeps being told "you're perfect but we decided to go in another direction", who only has 5 Patreon subscribers despite the high readership and virality elsewhere, who is writing this from her parents' home in the middle of Blahsville because she is jobless and visaless and nothing she's doing is sticking -

I really appreciated this article. People seem to think once you're viral you're set for life. I wish. I fucking wish.

And it's not about whether I have a "deep conviction within" or some BS like that. I know plenty of people and organizations who have made significant differences in their communities for their work and still struggle to get by. People are cheap, whether directly (they're being miserly or reluctant to pay) or indirectly (they don't earn enough to afford it even if they want to), and somehow it's up to the creatives to shoulder the burden of "working for the love of it".
posted by divabat at 6:42 AM on December 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've been arguing for a long, long, time that if we want, real, respectable, and worthwhile "art" in the world, [...] needs to be fundamentally and absolutely separated from a profit motive.

If only there were some kind of society where artists could make art without having to hang their livelihoods on it being popular.

A (nerdy) example. Fallout vs. Fallout 4. Everything that made the original interesting, that made it like an interactive, non-linear novel, was absolutely gutted from 4. Why? Because it sells better. Who needs deep, well developed characters? Those are confusing to some people, they need simple, declarative statements and characters who don't do a lot of changing. Who needs a in depth RPG system where you can't power level or max out every stat? Because some people aren't good at games, and they need to be overpowered from the get-go or they will get bored. They don't want to have to plan how to play the game from the very beginning. The fact that dumbing art down for people always works in terms of sales never ceases to make me physically ill.

In a world where art is just another commodity in capitalism, art will never, ever have anything interesting or worthwhile to say again, as it will all just eventually become consumed by advertising.

posted by deadaluspark

ok this post is forever ago, but if you're missing the deep, well-developed characters in fallout 4 I think you're doing it wrong. there is plenty to dig into and plenty of unique interactions (have you done all of the companions personal quests?) and there is a massive change in tone (from hopeless post-apocalypse to building something new in the world, making it a world you want to be in again) that, despite being forever loyal to 1 and 2, I appreciate on a pretty fundamental level. it can be plenty non-linear if you want it to be (I honestly have no idea what your criteria are here, also "those are confusing to people" is sooooo dismissive in an insulting way). don't get me wrong I got criticisms with the game, but these aren't any of them.

"because some people aren't good at games" is kind of a shitty thing to say in that it's a statement commonly used to exclude people who, well, aren't good at games. for whatever reason. should they not be able to have something accessible? what about people who just don't have the time to meticulously plan out every battle? people who are just bad at strategy, which, for the record, can be a thing for people with developmental disabilities (see: my uncle)? I mean I miss the old rpg/strategy system too but this is just something different, not bad on some weirdly perceived, inherent level. I was sad when dragon age moved away from basic turn-based too but I got over it and ultimately enjoyed DA2 and Inquisition anyway.

if fallout 4 isn't for you that's fine, but it's just a different kind of game. it's a different kind of art. the fact that you put much more value into your kind of game and art than one that clearly isn't doesn't mean the game itself is unequivocally bad. there are still 'strategies' you can employ. there are still higher difficulty settings.

in other words, "popular" =/= "bad", not inherently anyway. that's a sentiment I see a lot and frankly I think it's bullshit. is Hamilton bad? it's ridiculously popular. is Andy Warhol bad (ok, kind of an on-the-nose example but i digress)

art is messy, is the point. Andy Warhol's an example.

I say a lot of this because recently I've seen a lot of discussion about changing how accessible video game art in particular is, but I think that can easily extend to other art as well. it's another discussion with things like Broadway, where the current model of expecting people to drop hundreds of dollars to go see a performance (not just for tickets, but for travel--not everyone lives in NYC and not all shows go off-broadway) is untenable, and crying about how your profits are down afterwards is ridiculous when an easy solution exists that only requires sacrificing this sense of superiority and elitism for the--gasp--much-asked-for professional recordings of performances that so many people have been begging for and will happily pay for

"real, respectable, and worthwhile "art"" is a phrase that, while I think I get where you're coming from, rubs me the wrong way. and I agree that divorcing money from the artistic process would be ideal (i.e. not like 'let's starve the artists' but like 'everyone gets paid regardless of their chosen profession/ability to work in a way deemed worthwhile by society or not/etc.') but I do think the doom and gloom about capitalism destroying and making completely meaningless all art is a bit much, or at least, a bit much given your examples.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 8:10 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love paying for artwork, and I do it whenever I can. But if I was expected to pay for any art that I would like to experience then I would get to hear a new song maybe a couple of times a year, and forget movies or television or video games. If your core argument is that only rich people should be allowed to have art and culture, well I'm just not sure we have a lot to talk about given your obvious levels of incredible cartoonish supervillain-level evil.

Interesting. I wouldn’t say that only rich people should have access to all art and culture, but I would say that there are certain forms of art and culture that only rich people will experience; if you don’t have the disposable income for a Wii U and games for it, then no, you shouldn’t expect to have access to it, or feel entitled to pirate the content. Art is historically a luxury; fashionable art is something you consume because you can afford it.

That said, if you’re putting your videos up on YouTube you’re explicitly opting to make your content free. Which is fine! But that’s kind of on you. Indeed, I tend to think that YouTube, the middle man that makes your content available and searchable, is providing a much more valuable service than the vast majority of the folks posting to it. It’s certainly right to pay for good amusement, but given that 99.5% of cat videos are interchangeable I find it hard to think that they’re worth paying for.

And that said, it’s also really unfortunate that we have a double standard in society in which money is valued but talking about the need for it is uncool. if anything, I think that such reticence empowers the wealthy by deceiving folks about how hard it is to get paid and also contributes to our overvaluing of entertainment. I’d be really curious to know how this is handled in cultures with different cultural norms. Is this a quintessentially American problem, or does it also affect, say, popular German video makers?
posted by Going To Maine at 8:29 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe this will out me as an "old" but one of the things that struck me in reading this article is that the author's struggle didn't seem all that different to me than any other mid-late 20-something trying to muddle their way into adulthood. Someone upthread made a comment that this article came off not necessarily as entitled, but as naive, and that tended to be my feeling as well. This part in particular stood out:
I’ve never had more than a couple thousand dollars in my bank account at once. My Instagram account has 340,000 followers, but I’ve never made $340,000 in my life collectively.
This appears to have been written in such a way where this information is supposed to shock the reader, but thinking back to when I was in the same age bracket as the author, this would be a fairly accurate description of my own financial situation at the time, and seemed to be fairly typical among my same age peers who weren't trust fund babies. There seems to be an assumption in this article that having a lot of fans on social media or Youtube should equate to being really rich, but I don't know if that follows any sort of logic any more than assuming that being a popular member on Metafilter with a high favorite count should have a monetary reward.
posted by The Gooch at 8:51 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Art is historically a luxury

Only in Western colonial countries (and even then probably not all of them). In many other cultures art was inextricable from daily life and culture: it was a vessel for education, religion, politics, history, cultural relations, all kinds of things. You engaged with the world through art, so you learn how to produce and appreciate and honour art.

Colonialism split art away from culture and made it this separate, esoteric Thing that is only allowed by the "talented few". This had to result of ostracizing Indigenous peoples from their culture, because suddenly a large part of how their culture is manifest is either dismissed as "folklore" or it's siloed to worlds that deny them access. A lot of Indigenous and POC are shut off from the art world - which persists now - because of structural inequities from early on.
posted by divabat at 8:53 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It was a vessel for education, religion, politics, history, cultural relations, all kinds of things.

This doesn’t seem particularly tied to the fact that art was a luxury good -art created for all strata of society can be vessels for these things. The economic aspects might limit the ranges of values expressed, but the values are surely there. Indeed, western religious iconography is rife with codes and symbols.

Colonialism split art away from culture and made it this separate, esoteric Thing that is only allowed by the “talented few”

I’d need to be more of a historian to engage with this critique properly; my assumption is that much Western folk art has simply been lost because only the high quality, luxury items were preserved. The lower classes surely made some form of temporary art - graffiti, etc. - in their own time, but it was lost because of the creators’ social positions.

In the context of YouTube, while I can take the point, it doesn’t seem like much of a benefit. Indeed, if art should be understood as something ubiquitous and widespread, why should we pay for it? By submitting material to YouTube, you’re participating in the cultural sharing that is -presumably- worth something on its own. Your reward is that you have participated in the collective education process.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:11 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Colonialism split art away from culture and made it this separate, esoteric Thing that is only allowed by the “talented few”

I am enough of a historian to say this is not at all true. Colonialism did a lot of things (slavery, global inequality, resource extraction), but specialisation in the arts is something that has happened all over the planet -- and it started at about the same time as the emergence of city states and strong social hierarchies (so 3500 BCE in the Middle East, India and China, 1000 BCE in Central America, etc).

The folk arts continued - and they do to this day. Every time someone knits a scarf with a pretty pattern, decorates cookies, has a sing-along - these are folk arts. But the "Arts" as a profession has long been specialised -- and supported by patronage, whether royal or religious.

Mass media did change how the arts were organised. It used to be that you had court musicians (whether in Paris, Beijing, Bagdad or Machu Pichu), but you also had musicians and players at fairs. But now we can all have recordings of the court musicians. We don't have to see repertory theatre when we can see the big names perform in films. But this long predates the internet: there used to be more of a market for story tellers and balladeers; the printing press put a big dent in that. The scribal arts have suffered greatly, too. There is so little work for someone with a good hand these days.
posted by jb at 9:50 AM on December 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


And when people say "Art is luxury" a what they mean is that "Making a living by making art is a luxury". Artists in societies which do not have agricultural surpluses are never just artists: they are artists and toolmakers, artists and priests, artists and potters, artists and hunters or gatherers, etc.

It's only in a society with agricultural surpluses which are appropriated by elites that you begin to have people paid just to make art or entertainment. Artists, writers, musicians - along with scribes, teachers, accountants, lawyers, and just about everyone other than people who make food and/or tools exist because agricultural surpluses support them.

And that specialisation happened thousands of years ago -- just about the same time that social stratification set in big time.
posted by jb at 9:58 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is where my statement is coming from - a report on arts education in Australia:
Art is central to Indigenous culture and traditions. Indigenous Australians hand down their
stories orally, through song, music and dance. These arts are important in religious and
social ceremonies, men and women’s law and funerals. Aboriginal artists signify rather than
represent their world. This is why it is recognised that the Arts in Australian Aboriginal
cultures are literate (as well as including other kinds of) practices, because they are symbolic
and conceptual, and embed religious, social and ceremonial meanings (Freebody, 2007;
Sutton, 1988). Sutton (1988) has also suggested that in Indigenous art it is the design rather
than the object that is decorated or created. Given what the art itself signifies, the transition
from body art to art on school doors and canvases is not particularly radical, though it is
commonly described as such. In addition, Australian Aboriginal art traditions are commonly
collaborative, conveying both the religious and cultural knowledges of a whole community.
Chatwin’s (1986) description of Aboriginal ‘songlines’ reminds his readers of their centrality
in telling the story of a place or a particular landform and its cultural significance. It was
through song, music and dance that laws were taught and maintained. Songs evoked the
imagined world and were an essential part of both moral upbringing and the passing down
of heritage. Aboriginal social histories are still captured in songs and art that provide a link
to the Dreaming and are connected to ancestral spirits. Wesley Enoch (see Archer, 2009)
summed this up at the Australia 2020 Summit (Commonwealth of Australia, 2008) when he
reminded the participants that nothing separates Aboriginal people from their art.

In a keynote address in 2009, Robyn Archer suggested that white Australia is not good at
valuing the ephemeral or the spiritual in this way. She explained that by the time Europeans
arrived in Australia they brought:
… a sense that art was something produced by individual genius, to be consumed
by those with good taste enough to understand it. For the rest, folk art and popular
entertainment would be good enough.
(Archer, 2009, p. 11)
The understanding that art needed to be at the centre of any society had thus been greatly
diminished over two centuries ago. This devaluing continues to be reflected in the lack of a
strong presence of government support for the Arts and of support for the role of the Arts in
the formal and compulsory Australian curricula.
posted by divabat at 2:59 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]




I don't think this is about youthful naivete, and I think there is something new going on here. We're not just talking about young artists struggling to make it, we're talking about people getting famous online without making anything like the kind of money that we might assume their level of notoriety would bring.

The kind of situation described in the article, where a young woman has to work at Starbucks to pay the bills but she's famous enough online that her fans memorize her schedule and hound her until she can't work at Starbucks anymore, and she can't get a regular job because she's too famous and she can't give up her low-paying web stuff because it's her only source of income, that's weird and relatively new.

Gary Coleman was in a situation like that at one point, where he was trying to work as a security guard because he couldn't get work as an actor, but people kept hassling him because OMG Gary Coleman was working as a security guard. (Dana Plato had a similar situation where she tried to get a job working at a dry cleaner's, not long before she killed herself. Todd Bridges' biography is a real horror show too. Diff'rent Strokes was truly a cursed show.) But those were fallen stars who had been on a hit show, and in their glory days they'd been paid well. Some of these web stars are probably as famous as they are ever going to be, they have fans and they're regularly producing content for websites that are household names, but somehow they're broke.

I'm not saying the lesbian stoner lady from Buzzfeed (I really should look up her name) deserves to get paid like a sitcom star, but it really is shameful that she is all over this huge, oppressively popular website and she is waiting tables to pay the bills. I generally dislike Buzzfeed, but if it's popular and it's making people rich, some of that wealth should be spread around to the people who make the freaking site popular: the smug little millennial twerps who actually produce the content and take off their shirts to show us their love handles for all those Youtube videos.

Check out this Buzzfeed video, where the lesbian stoner lady (I'm just going to start calling her LSL) is one of the women who demonstrates vaginal weight lifting. At one point, she is described as one of "three very willing vaginas". That line might sound funny and empowering, if it were true. But Jesus, is it? Check out the suggested Buzzfeed videos in the sidebar, where the Buzzfeeders taste test flavored condoms and get their buttholes steamed. I sure hope those vaginas (and mouths and buttholes) were truly willing, because after reading this article it is way too easy to picture these people as desperate Starbucks baristas who felt like they didn't really have a choice. Maybe at Buzzfeed you can either steam your butthole on camera, or you can go back to Starbucks and try to explain to your fans why you're not on Buzzfeed anymore.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:54 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe at Buzzfeed you can either steam your butthole on camera, or you can go back to Starbucks and try to explain to your fans why you're not on Buzzfeed anymore.

I don’t know if that’s an overt threat, I think it’s probably more insidious and skeezier than that; do it if you want to be famous because there’s a line of people waiting to take your place.

Which is where I disagree with you, this isn’t new. Porn. Music. Acting. Modeling. Athletes. Lots of people didn’t/don’t make much money and were/are much more famous than her.

Maybe this is a case of, just how the some people read this article and are surprised YouTubers don’t make that much, people don’t really realize how little some of the semi-famous people in those other fields actually make. I was watching a minor league baseball game once featuring a hot new prospect and thinking how he’s making $2 million that year and the guy next to him is making $20k.
posted by bongo_x at 6:11 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Now I am trying to envision the bit where the devoted fan goes into Starbucks and says loud enough for eight people to overhear "I just loved the video where you got your butthole steamed!" Please tell me that would not ever actually happen in real life.
posted by bukvich at 6:20 PM on December 15, 2015


It’s hard to see how that’s really much of a concern when, you know, there’s video of you on the internet getting your butthole steamed.
posted by bongo_x at 6:36 PM on December 15, 2015


I don’t know if that’s an overt threat, I think it’s probably more insidious and skeezier than that

Oh, I didn't mean to suggest that anybody is ever that blunt about it. I'd agree it's probably an unstated thing, and perhaps you're not even aware of it until you've refused to steam your butthole often enough that some cool, fashionably-dressed person takes you into a conference room and gives you a little talk. The thing is, you're just not fitting in with the team. See, here at Buzzfeed, we need people who are ready to have fun...

And while I'd agree that wealth/fame disparities sort of like this have happened before (again going back to the Diff'rent Strokes kids, or Darby the Ben is Dead lady I mentioned in an earlier post) I still think it's different in many ways. For one thing, I think it's much more common than it used to be. There are so many web content creators that these days a whole lot of people are "sort of" famous. (Hell, I'm almost vaguely kinda sort of famous, if you catch me on a good day.) For another thing, I don't think the people in the fields you mention usually get much actual fame without at least being able to pay their rent. Maybe you could throw a few examples at me of models who are more famous than the Buzzfeed lady but who are still waiting tables, but I doubt it's common. And I doubt that many of the people in the fields you mention are regularly producing content that's being seen by so many people, without reaping much financial reward from it. Maybe an actor gets famous for one commercial he did three years ago, and now he's working in a car wash. But if he's starring in commercials like every week, he's probably not working at the car wash anymore.

Please tell me that would not ever actually happen in real life.

I am willing to bet stuff like that does happen. Life is so fucking embarrassing. And bongo_x, steaming your butthole for the web doesn't necessarily prepare you for life as that person who got their butthole steamed on the web. There's all kinds of shit I've done when I was in a certain mood, when I had my armor up and I was ready for whatever came at me. It's different when you're just in line at some store, just being some anonymous schlub with greasy hair, and suddenly a stranger is making loud noises and treating you like that person who did that crazy thing.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:44 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now I feel gross for conjecturing on the possible moral dilemmas of these people, like it's any of my business. I get all hetted up sometimes and my typing fingers work faster than my brain.

But Buzzfeed still sucks.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:29 PM on December 15, 2015


A (nerdy) example. Fallout vs. Fallout 4. Everything that made the original interesting, that made it like an interactive, non-linear novel, was absolutely gutted from 4. Why? Because it sells better.

It's the medium -- it makes it much, much more expensive to build all these branching possibilities, compared to just tapping out a plot in text.
posted by effugas at 12:05 AM on December 16, 2015


The money in cultural projects has always gone to the people who control the means of distribution, whether it be YouTube or the record companies or the people who owned concert halls and the entrepreneurs who promoted the concerts (going way way back to where people started to charge from it). They generally have to come to some kind of arrangement with composers and performers as they do anyone else who provides services (cleaning staff, caterers, the people who collect tickets), but they're businesspeople and so not given to scattering largesse clumsily everywhere.

There are mechanisms for getting paid - in music one of the most important ones is copyright and PRS*. That's how some performers are remunerated, and it works fairly well at that. On a whim, I signed up for PRS, log my intermittent performances and every so often get a bank transfer for enough to pay for a modest but satisfying dinner. I couldn't live on it, but if I did a lot more performances (at the hugely minor level I play at) I can see how it might be an identifiable part of my income, and if I played a lot of performances at large venues it could actually be a living.

I think that's how those bands from the 70s who are still touring medium-size concert halls make most of their money - ticket sales and merch, yes, but PRS is slow-moving but reliable. And traditionally a band could be the biggest in the world but didn't see any money until the royalties caught up.

PRS is a mechanism we can (posthumously) thank Samuel Coleridge-Taylor - the African Mahler, who was simultaneously one of the most performed composers in England and poor - for. It works because the state allows the PRS to make the license to broadcast or promote dependent on paying into a fund that's distributed to registered composers. However it's hugely bureaucratic and unpopular with anyone it approaches to get them to pay a license (technically having the radio on in the workplace is a performance, so shops and cafés require PRS licenses).

But it's just a mechanism for strong-arming out of the rentiers who control the means of distribution some of the money that they make. Personally I don't see that sort of thing being extended - I expect lobbyists on behalf of the big players will use the stories about shopkeepers being menaced into buying PRS licenses to change the law in their favour. Because they want to keep all the money.

In general that seems to be the way things are moving - I know of middling-successful authors who have built up a considerable backlist and used to be able to rely on royalties and no longer can.
posted by Grangousier at 1:20 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there’s been a saying for some time that you got rich during a gold rush by selling shovels, not digging, or something to that effect.
posted by bongo_x at 12:02 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is way late, but I just found out I was mixing up my Buzzfeed lesbians! The woman in the article is not the woman who'd annoyed me on Buzzfeed, she's another woman who seems only vaguely familiar to me. The woman who WROTE the article is the woman who has annoyed me on Buzzfeed! So when I was talking about the woman in the article stripping down and doing weird vagina stuff for Buzzfeed, that was actually the author of the article who did all that.

I know that absolutely nobody cares, but I felt like a dope when I realized my mistake and I was compelled to straighten that out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:03 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


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