When I started as a freelance writer n photographer in Hong Kong back in the late 1980s, there was a plethora of magazines here as outlets for articles with photos. I never really got onto the gravy train, but looking back it was relatively easy to find somewhere to publish and get paid.
Now, many of those magazines are gone; far fewer outlets that I know where I can get paid for words n pictures, with an upturn in media hoping to get content for free - in exchange for mentioning my name, which should happen even if paid, and anyway is not often really too useful. Especially if name is in small print.
Well, boo-hoo hoo, you might say, welcome to the modern world.
Yet this is not some localised phenomenon, but worldwide.
And not limited to writing and photography.
I've seen several articles online about this trend; a few quotes from them here:
highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.
In fairness, most of the people who ask me to write things for free, with the exception of Arianna Huffington, aren’t the Man; they’re editors of struggling magazines or sites, or school administrators who are probably telling me the truth about their budgets. The economy is still largely in ruins, thanks to the people who “drive the economy” by doing imaginary things on Wall Street, and there just isn’t much money left to spare for people who do actual things anymore.
The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.
Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting.
Is there a way forward?
There's also this piece from the BBC's Peter Day, suggestiing we are in a transition from mass production to creating customised content:
Joe Kraus told me something that I regard as one of the keys to understanding how different life is now compared to the world in which I have spent most of my life. It's one of the most important statements we have ever broadcast on my Radio 4 programme In Business.
He said: "The 20th Century was about dozens of markets of millions of consumers. The 21st Century is about millions of markets of dozens of consumers."
And that single phrase, "millions of markets of dozens of consumers", really does turn the conventional, mass production, 20th Century business world, upside down. The really revolutionary thing is what is happening to the notion of the "consumer"... In many societies, consumers are now beginning to challenge their passive role as users of stuff provided by others. They are becoming much more like creators than they have ever been allowed to before.
So this seems a potential way forward - such as I'm trying with photo prints: can offer prints as people wish, such as canvas prints, matt or glossy regular prints, various sizes, choices of frames.
Which seems a jolly good idea; and there are websites where I can set up a "shop" offering just such customisation.
Ah, but here's another article, saying that a relative unknown like me would be part of what's known as a "long tail" of content creators and content in shadow of major stars. And it's bigshots that are really making in the money, with smaller players getting small slice of the pie.
Digital technology has lowered the cost of selling and buying. With that came the long tail theory, popularized by Chris Anderson in Wired and later his 2006 book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Businesses is Selling Less of More, held in the bulk of revenue now would be driven by small volume sales of thousands of niche products.
It was a wonderful egalitarian theory that would have us supporting small publishers, young authors, fringe artists and macrame jean makers. Pop culture and mass market would no longer rule commerce. The belief was, as Elberse put it, “The hits of the past were artificial because consumers’ choices were limited.” Digital technology would usher in the end of the blockbuster.
But that’s not what happened, said Elberse,
The notion that the tail was going to be most important turned out to be wrong. The tail is actually getting thinner and thinner. We’re now looking at more concentrated markets where the winner takes all.