monopoly-guyMusicians have been battling music streaming services, such as Spotify, for years. These services pay a minuscule royalty for each play of an artists song. David Lowery (of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker) wrote an article titled My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale! The title speaks for itself. Some artists have decided to remove their content from streaming services in protest. David Byrne (former lead singer of Talking Heads), a vocal advocate for artist rights and against the streaming music business model, wrote an article in 2013 about why he pulled his catalog from Spotify. Other artists have decided to start their own streaming service.

It’s not just musicians who are harmed by a couple companies having control over deciding what content is worth. Of great concern to us at WatzThis? is an announcement by Amazon last week that they’ll be paying authors of some Kindle books based on how many pages of their book people actually read.

Paying authors based on pages read is even more damaging to authors than paying musicians based on listens to individual songs. Authors don’t generally have T-Shirt sales or live concerts to fall back on for income.

Some argue that any amount paid to content creators is better than what they get from illegal downloads. Of course, this is true. It’s not difficult to find free downloads of pretty much any content you want. Even our new book, JavaScript for Kids, is already showing up on illegal download websites — even though it won’t be available in stores for 2 months, and the cover hasn’t even been finalized. There’s very little risk of prosecution to anyone who illegally downloads content.

But, that’s not the point. The point is that the web requires content, and the nature of the web is that out of the millions of possible websites where people can download content, just one or two sources will eventually gain a monopoly. Once the number of sources for content has been reduced to just a couple, the winners have total control over what they’ll charge consumers and what they’ll pay for content. The price of content has been plummeting. It’s inevitable that the quality will also suffer as a result. For online articles, this has already happened.

A quick search for ‘freelance writing jobs’ turns up hundreds of results with companies offering between $0 and $40 to people to write articles. For example, a recent post on Craigslist is seeking someone knowledgeable about thoroughbred horse racing to write articles for $20 – $40. It’s impossible for anyone to make a living at that rate, unless they write very fast and don’t pay attention to quality. By the time we’re done with our revisions and editing process, this newsletter will have taken between 4 and 5 hours to produce. If we were knowledgeable about horse racing, we could make $8 per hour writing website content.

One solution is for content creators is to become the media (as Jello Biafra has long advocated). Some content creators are having great success with this strategy. Two notable examples include Louis C.K. and Amanda Palmer. But, for content creators without a large network and name recognition, going independent means losing the invaluable support that comes with having a publisher behind you.

Another option is to go for quantity. If you create enough content and get tiny amounts of money per view or listen, it can add up to something over time.

A third option is to become a spammer and look for topics that have proven to be extremely popular, then crank out content around that topic and go for the maximum number of clicks to your content — quality be damned.

At WatzThis?, we’ve thus far been following the second path — putting out as much high-quality content as possible through traditional channels. But, starting this summer, we’ll also be starting to experiment with self-publishing.

In order for our self-publishing efforts to succeed, we’ll need the support of our friends and fans. We hope you’ll stick with us as we move forward and fight the good fight for quality educational content on the web!

As always, thank you for reading.

How monopolies harm content creators.
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