Shit Should Cost Money

Yo, what’s up, starving artist here. Guess what? I like to eat food. Trouble is, no one’s buying my shit. I haven’t eaten a square meal in days. I’m down to cooking my shoelaces on the tar when the sun comes out. I don’t know. Maybe it sucks. Maybe no one’s interested. Nobody’s got time. I understand. But I got another theory. It’s all about this thing called the internet, where you can, like, type a few words, and click your mouse a few times, and download basically whatever you want for free. Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. I’m using the internet right now. I’ve downloaded hundreds, maybe even thousands of movies, because I can’t get netflix in Korea and the only dvd rental places around carry Transformers, Transformers 2, and Transformers 3, and that’s about it. I love movies, and I can’t help myself, and if I could pay a reasonable price for them, I would. In a heartbeat. Because there are hundreds or even thousands of people who make each one of these amazing things called films, and all of them have to eat, too. They do a great job most of the time and they deserve every penny of mine they get. Down to the last makeup artist. The last grip. The last gaffer. I love you guys.

This is the problem. The internet has spoiled me. I expect quality content, quality newspaper articles, quality magazine articles, quality blog posts, and quality movies costing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, for free. I don’t want to pay for any of that shit, because if I can get it for free, why shouldn’t I? I mean, who cares if these talented journalists get turned out onto the street just because they aren’t willing to work for free? I expect free quality entertainment, and if I don’t get it here then I’m going to go somewhere else. It’s the same thing with food, construction, transportation, electricity, police and fire protection, insurance, whatever. I expect all of it to be free. And handed to me on a silver platter. Thanks to the internet.

You heard about Aaron Swartz? This guy made reddit and RSS. He was a pretty smart dude. Only now I have to write about him using the past tense because he killed himself after getting his ass busted for trying to make all of JSTOR’s data into a free torrent. Now I’ll be the first to admit that the punishment the government was chasing after was way too severe (20+ years for downloading academic journals?), but goddamn, this guy, Aaron, he broke the law and he stole. It’s just like those stupid videos that come on before movies telling us PIRACY IS STEALING: you wouldn’t walk into a video store and steal a dvd, so why are you downloading all those torrents? It’s the same goddamn thing.

But just like Aaron Swartz, I’m all about transparency and freedom of information. I wish there was a goddamn camera jammed into the ass of every last member of Congress, every single Supreme Court Justice, and every last worker in The White House, from the president down to the gardener, and I wish you could watch all of these cameras at the same time from a single webpage. That would be awesome. I wish people in the poorest third world village on Earth had 24/7 access to wikipedia. That would be great too. But something’s got to give. You can’t expect good movies, good newspapers, good magazines, and good books, to be free. Not when the people who make them need to eat. Even the dudes behind facebook are scared of making you pay a couple of bucks a month to use their website—which is obviously one of the best ever designed—because they know that millions of you guys will ditch them in a heartbeat for some other facebook-like service which makes money by jamming farmville ads down your throat. Seriously. It’s just a couple of bucks. And facebook is awesome. No question. A billion people signed up for it. Yet that whole company would go the way of the dodo the moment it announced that it was abandoning ads and sponsored posts in favor of subscriptions. Because they’ve already spoiled y’all with endless reams of free shit.

The internet is a two-edged sword, offering more free entertainment than anyone could possibly consume, while making it harder than ever for people to pay for their food when they’ve created an app or an ebook or a website that’s actually pretty good. So, much as I despise the fascists who churn out The Washington Post, and much as hell will freeze over and much as the Devil himself will turn into a cherry-flavored popsicle long before I even think of glancing at one of their free articles, I’m glad they just decided to charge money for their content. I’m glad The New York Times does the same thing. Most of The New Yorker has been locked up from the beginning. I hope The Atlantic follows suit. I hope this race to the bottom has finally bottomed out. Twitter, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, and every other insanely popular website that’s worth at least a couple of your dollars a month, should charge money for their services—they shouldn’t be free, because free things are (monetarily-speaking) worthless, and these websites aren’t worthless in the slightest. They should stop posting ads and start charging money. And you guys should pay.

Like I said at the beginning, maybe my book sucks. Maybe I didn’t advertise enough. Maybe nobody cares about my shit at all. Whatever, that’s cool. People got their own problems. But maybe there’s another factor here. Maybe people don’t want to shell out a few bucks for my book, because why should they pay for the few hours of entertainment it offers when they can troll the vast reaches of the internet for free? Why should any artist be able to live off of his or her art at all?

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4 thoughts on “Shit Should Cost Money

  1. Jennifer says:

    I think the actual solution that is needed is not that we should pay for everything, but that the whole way we look at work and compensation needs to be changed. I’ve read a lot of articles about this recently (wish I could remember the exact name/site of any of them) talking about how the more jobs we make obsolete, the more people we put permanently out of work, the more we need to think about our whole system of government/economics/how we live. In other words, instead of expecting people to earn a certain amount of money in order to eat, be housed, have medical care, we should organize societies where everyone, EVERY SINGLE PERSON is afforded the very basics as a human right. To get extras you’d have to work more or harder or at specific needed jobs. But you start out with a baseline of – everybody eats, everybody gets clean water and health care and education. This probably sounds crazy and untenable, but it’s also crazy and untenable to continue to eliminate jobs through automation and yet expect a growing population to be able to find enough work to support themselves in a world with scarcer resources. So I would say rather than looking for ways to prop up capitalism as it currently exists, we ought to be looking for ways to profoundly change society so that every single person is able to meet their minimal needs. Perhaps it’s way off-topic.

    As to my personal reason for not having your book – I don’t do e-readers or e-reading. I have a crap computer, I refuse to buy a kindle and I just like reading things I can hold better. If you come around my door with a paper copy, though, I’m sold 🙂

    • hiddenconnections says:

      I completely agree. I need to reply to this comment as well as your other in more detail, but I’m with Harry now!!!

  2. you’re not addressing the same two things people usually don’t address when making this argument: 1) facebook, twitter etc are not free services, they are services that invert the pay structure by rendering the user the content. facebook, twitter etc should NOT charge money because they are not providing a deliberate or unified functional service (other than data mining, which is why they DO charge money to their actual customers, who are advertisers) — the functional service of facebook is entirely created by and subjective to the user. they have created a fairly sustainable model (until the ad bubble bursts) in the absence of a pay structure BECAUSE of this. if you look at orgs that DO provide a deliberate, unified functional service (like, say, spotify) you will find users shelling out a reasonable amount of money for them. i unblinkingly pay $9.99 a month for spotify. if netflix cottoned on to a better way to prevent me from sharing an account with a friend, i would pay that monthly fee, too — and if they truly do shake up the television distribution system the way folks are predicting their ‘house of cards’ model will, i may just pay for it out of gratitude for smart contemporary art teevee with a distribution model from this century.
    2) art doesn’t pay well, or fast, or sometimes at all. that is a very large part of what separates it from commerce or advertising. if we have foolishly convinced ourselves that bleeding ourselves in service to muses is a legitimate way to make money, we’re at fault. this is LESSON ONE i tell my students. you want to be an artist? great! HOW GOOD ARE YOU AT ASKING FOR MONEY? you will be doing it for the rest of your life. how good are you at business? YOU ARE THE BRAND. how good are you at networking? YOU ARE THE AD. all the clever artists we dream about were either broke or business people, end of story. 95% of them maintain a non-art job to stay alive. as it ever was, so it ever shall be — and this is not a system that has been made significantly worse by facebook, twitter etc per se. it’s been made significantly more difficult by what the first commenter alluded to: job loss.

    /mic drop 🙂

  3. hiddenconnections says:

    Jennifer, yeah, I agree with everything you wrote, and I’ve thought the same thing–while wandering neighborhoods filled with people who, like me, earn their daily bread by performing unnecessary or soon-to-be outmoded functions–but that’s way too logical. Everyone everywhere should be guaranteed food, shelter, safety, health care, and freedom of speech? But if we aren’t all competing with each other to buy things we don’t need, like luxury bags and Macbook Airs (the computer I’m currently using to write this), then how can the world function?

    A girl at Hampshire was in the news recently for living in one of those really small houses. Maybe a Bare Necessities Movement is possible among us American fatcats, but it has to start from the bottom.

    I’ve been working on-and-off on attempting to woo a publisher for the first time since I was fifteen. I always assume I’ll be rejected, so the work is slow, but maybe one day the book will appear in print. I also think that ebooks are the future and I like that trees don’t have to be cut down in order to propagate my work.

    Wherearethebees,

    You make numerous salient points. Perhaps facebook could charge money if they guaranteed that they wouldn’t sell user information to outside sources? I think most people aren’t really happy about exposing themselves to evil corporations, and would rather expose themselves to their friends and acquaintances only.

    And yeah. I’m thinking it was a mistake to write this. I should have pretended that the book was selling like crazy—or refrained, at the very least, from whining about how I haven’t attained instant success. Most artists have never lived off their art, I agree. But that fact doesn’t prevent me from wanting these words to be worth more than nothing.

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