Cartoonist/multi media artist Matthew Thurber has a provocative piece called Letter to a Young Cartoonist about the use of the internet as a career approach, and he offers an idea that I had never really engaged with before but now that I’ve heard it, I can’t forget it. The internet is “pay to play” for so many of us, even given the free tools available.
For instance: Many people post their artwork online for free. (Or comics, movies, music, writing, etc.) But it’s not really free. The cost of your labor is absorbed. The value of the work goes to Big Tech. Everyone viewing your work has paid for whatever screen or computer through which they view your work, and also for their Internet access plan. But your audience doesn’t value you, Young Cartoonist, so much as the device that frames you. You are disposable.
In effect, Young Cartoonist, you become part of a package deal included with the monthly payment of Internet service. The artwork is consumed by the viewers online as part of their daily steroidal dose of information. For the consumer, it’s as though they subscribed to a newspaper with an infinite amount of funny pages! But for the artist…you get paid in “likes” and those don’t translate into dollars.
But in the end, this system is only financially rewarding to the corporations who provide the platforms you pimp yourself out to. Worse, the Social Media companies proceed to harvest your information — Metadata — which is then shared between corporations to advertise their products to you. Facebook, Tumblr, and YouTube are not giving you something for nothing.
Are we this desperate?
Thurber suggests that stepping away from free platforms and finding more paying outlets is a smart move, and calls on publishers to support that. Which would mean readers would have to want to pay for their entertainment again and…I think that cow is out of the barn and being served as a burger at Shake Shack right now. A provocative piece about which I expect to hear a lot this weekend.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.