“[T]he long history of Harlequin does a lot to explain why ‘no no no OK actually yes’ became such a popular trope. It’s very easy to forget how hard women had to fight over the course of the twentieth century to feel they had a right to sexual pleasure. And so, while romance is often treated as a static genre, I prefer to think of it as a sprawling, decades-long intergenerational discussion (sometimes polite, sometimes a bare-knuckle brawl) among women about what constitutes love, how one finds a partner that’s worth putting up with the occasional tantrums and dirty socks. Scenes that disturb the modern reader nevertheless paved the way for the more sex-positive genre we enjoy today.” — Kelly Faircloth
This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.
We’re approaching the first anniversary of David Carr’s death. Carr was the New York Times media critic, a former drug addict and newspaper editor who was adored by most (possibly all) reporters and media pundits. I have never seen anyone say a bad word about him. Considering how much time his cohort spends on Twitter, a platform not known for its users’ niceness or ubiquity of opinion, that’s impressive.
When Carr died I had just started becoming interested in journalism as a discipline and economic phenomenon. I had no idea who he was. It was bizarre to see, as Ben Thompson put it, “a nearly unending stream of expressions of grief mixed with personal anecdotes of a figure so clearly beloved.” Bizarre not because I found the outpouring unbelievable — I didn’t — but because I had just started following a bunch of tech and media analysts. It was the first topic that I watched everyone converge upon. The next was probably some Gawker-related scandal.
In a way, although it was tragic, David Carr’s passing was a wonderful introduction to a normally contentious community. I got to see everybody at their best, united in affection and gratitude for someone’s ideas and mentorship. Admittedly I enjoy the everyday arguments about ethics and money, which involve no shortage of sniping and ad hominems, but I’m glad that I know all these @handles can be kind too.
“Failures in Self-Publishing” just went up on The Digital Reader, so now feels like a good time to post an elaboration on how to actually make money by writing online. (Scroll to the bottom for the other reason I’m putting this up now.)
As a person with many opinions but only moderate hustle, I’ve ended up writing for free a lot. Not just writing for free, but being published for free. I’m okay with that — I have a day job. I also understand supply and demand: personal essays aren’t scarce, so they’re not particularly remunerative. When I have been paid, the check was usually a pittance that amounted to minimum wage (and that’s before self-employment taxes!). I resented this when I was freelancing professionally, but now that I do it as a hobby, I shrug and tell myself, “This is what the market dictates.”
Price, after all — especially average price — is a number synthesized from the desires of the various players in a commercial endeavor. Customers want to pay less and merchants want to charge more. They agree somewhere in the middle, depending on which side has more leverage. Who is willing to walk away? Who is anxious to make a deal? If customers have many other merchants to choose from, the price is low. If merchants face a deluge of eager buyers, the price is high (*cough* iPhone 6s *cough*).
It’s not a new observation that this problem plagues digital media. Readers can easily jump from website to website without sacrificing anything. Publishers, on the other hand, need as many eyeballs as possible and therefore must be flashy and attractive, as well as careful not to alienate their audiences. Most website-owners are stuck in this game, straining to make a couple of advertising cents per reader. You can’t convince people to pay money for a subscription unless you offer unique, high-quality content, which is extremely hard to produce.
Writers have the same relationship to publishers that publishers do to readers — there are plenty of other fish in the sea, so unless you offer something very compelling that can’t be obtained elsewhere, you’re probably shit outta luck. Don’t get me wrong — there is money to be made in writing to entertain a general audience, but not enough for the amount of people who are trying to make a living at it. Incumbent media outlets and winning internet-age startups like Vox Media have flooded this territory.
There are several ways to deal with the evident economics of writing online. One is to be a typical professional from nine to five — in fact, being a smart and prolific blogger will get you a better job and a better salary than you would earn otherwise. It will also bring you surprising opportunities — I landed a copy-writing gig via Twitter recently. Good writing demonstrates key communication and analytical abilities, which are important to every kind of skilled labor. Does having a day job mean that you can’t devote most of your time and intellectual energy to writing? Yes. Such is reality. The other options are to 1) work for peanuts and write thousands of words per day or 2) develop expertise in a particular niche where there is a market for quality.
Additional note: I originally wrote this in late September and it was published on Samantha Bielefeld’s blog. I asked her to take it down because of this drama. Summaries of the situation can be found on Building Twenty and Analog Senses. I resent being duped and exploited, and I don’t want my name associated with someone who is essentially a fraudster. If you want to explore the whole brouhaha, you can read everything I’ve said about SB on Twitter (scroll down to September 25th and read upward) as an introduction.
— Sonya Mann (@sonyaellenmann) November 25, 2015
Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief of video-game blog Kotaku, just published a piece alleging that Kotaku has been ill-treated by two very large video-game studios:
For the past two years, Kotaku has been blacklisted by Bethesda, the publisher of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series. For the past year, we have also been, to a lesser degree, ostracized by Ubisoft, publisher of Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and more.
In those periods of time, the PR and marketing wings of those two gaming giants have chosen to act as if Kotaku doesn’t exist. They’ve cut off our access to their games and creators, omitted us from their widespread mailings of early review copies and, most galling, ignored all of our requests for comment on any news stories.
I used the word “alleging” not because I don’t believe that Kotaku has been stonewalled, but because I disagree that the companies are doing anything wrong. Yes, it would be annoying — even infuriating — to be cut off, and I support Kotaku’s right to publicize the issue. But I object to Totilo’s implicit attitude of entitlement. And I disagree with everyone who thinks that Bethesda and Ubisoft are behaving unethically. That position depends on the idea that journalists deserve access, that they have some inherent right to interviews, review copies, and answered emails. They don’t.
Too many big game publishers cling to an irrational expectation of secrecy and are rankled when the press shows them how unrealistic they’re being. There will always be a clash between independent reporters and those seek to control information, but many of these companies appear to believe that it is actually possible in 2015 for hundreds of people to work dozens of months on a video game and for no information about the project to seep out. They appear to believe that the general public will not find out about these games until their marketing plans say it’s time. They operate with the assumption that the press will not upend these plans, and should the press defy their assumption, they bring down the hammer. […] Millions of people still read our stories about them. The companies just leave themselves a little more out of the equation.
True, it’s silly to expect to be able to keep information totally under wraps in the Internet Age. But with respect to Bethesda and Ubisoft “bring[ing] down the hammer” and absconding as much as possible — yes, that is their intent! They think it’s a wise business decision — whether that’s true is irrelevant to my point. The whole point of PR and marketing divisions is to propagate the perspective you want and quash the one you don’t. A method of quashing is limiting access. It would make no sense for Bethesda and Ubisoft to throw the doors open to Kotaku and welcome all scrutiny.
For the better part of two years, two of the biggest video game publishers in the world have done their damnedest to make it as difficult as possible for Kotaku to cover their games. They have done so in apparent retaliation for the fact that we did our jobs as reporters and as critics. We told the truth about their games, sometimes in ways that disrupted a marketing plan, other times in ways that shone an unflattering light on their products and company practices. Both publishers’ actions demonstrate contempt for us and, by extension, the whole of the gaming press. They would hamper independent reporting in pursuit of a status quo in which video game journalists are little more than malleable, servile arms of a corporate sales apparatus. It is a state of affairs that we reject.
Totilo and Kotaku’s staff are free to reject this “state of affairs”, but Bethesda and Ubisoft are also free to ignore them. Crucially, Bethesda and Ubisoft are not violating any obligation or doing anything wrong. They never made a promise to renege on. The companies are acting to further their own plans, which have nothing to do with disseminating information to an ad-viewing gamer public (which is Kotaku’s goal). Are they being immature? Maybe — that’s a different argument. Is the tactic counter-effective, as Totilo seems to think? Also a separate discussion — but it’s definitely not evil. It’s just corporate.
Note: I wrote this quickly so I’m probably going to fix typos and wording later.
“Particularly when you’re early stage, your biggest enemy is indifference. You put a product out in the world and it’s not that people hate it, it’s like they don’t even notice, they don’t even care. And one thing that we are generally good at is making people care.”
Matt Lieber of Gimlet Media on starting a company and recording the process (in conversation with Alex Blumberg and Lisa Pollak). This, my friends, is why you need marketing! And access to that interview is part of why buying a Gimlet membership was worth it — I love discussions of the “new media” biz.
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