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Thurber: The internet is “pay to play” for young cartoonists

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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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The internet is the worst possible way for a serious artist to make a living–except for all the other ways.. Deciding to make art is an act of faith in your own talent. It’s not a guarantee of anything except lots of hard work.

    Cartoonists should be on the web AND looking for off the web opportunities to get paid. Online life is the flip side of real world life, the two work together. Making this into an either or proposition misses the reality of contemporary life.

    The comments about libraries are spot on because the internet is a library: Lots of stuff easily available for you to access as well as a great place to connect with like-minded library browsers.

    Being online and using online as a platform is not simply a way to hustle a product–although that seems to be what the internet has been reduced too in the minds of some. The web is a place to connect more easily with anyone who is interested either in what you do or the stuff you believe in. After that, like everything else in life, it’s all about how creative you are.

  2. There’s a lot of successful webcomic artists and youtubers who make money off ads and selling stuff like T-shirts. Additionally (once you begin to build a fanbase) you can leverage services like Patreon and Kickstarter as well as hustle goods at conventions, more of which are popping into existence by the year.

    Not everyone is making quit-your-day-job money, but it’s disingenuous to say putting your art online only benefits the ISPs. At some point one must shed the childish view of capitalism and learn how to get out there and monetize their work beyond a low traffic blog and a Facebook page.

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