Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pay Creative People For Their Work, Dammit.

I promise this is not a rehash of the old "don't ask people to work for exposure" argument. I've covered that about as well and fully as I ever will, and it's a lot more multifaceted than it might look at first glance. But no, I've said my say there.

This is more a pervasive mentality, not even remotely limited to genre entertainment. You'll see this in pretty much every demographic regardless of age, income, or choice of leisure activity: the idea that paying for creative output is unnecessary.

I could link you to plenty of the screencapped exchanges: people asking for art, artists giving their rates, and commissioner balking. "That for a picture?" they say. "Aren't you doing this because you love it?" Art should be shared. Art should be free. Why punish fans? Why put your work behind a "paywall"? Basically anything and everything that details why no money should exchange hands.

In the end, no money exchanges hands -- and neither does any art.

Since I began making my money via writing and presenting, I've had some pretty ignorant comments made in my direction. Not by ignorant people, mind. Perfectly lovely, perfectly intelligent people with whom I would happily grab lunch. Which makes it even more disappointing to hear them say these things. Saying they'd like to try my job for a weekend as a "relaxing break" from theirs, implying that I can do Anything I Want of a day and still apparently make money hand over fist. (I do neither of these, by the way.)

Fellow creators and I do have regular bitch sessions about the way we're spoken to on the regular. People wanting our work free or cheaper (where "cheaper" won't be cheap enough until it's free), "customers" being aghast that money has to change hands, strangers telling us we're not proper artists or writers because we're asking for money rather than just doing it for the love.

It would be fair to say a certain percentage of the population are just jackasses, but I'm not ready to saddle everyone with that. I am ready to say, though, that there are some massive misunderstandings at play, and asking people to release those misunderstandings will probably never turn out well. I can try. But I acknowledge as I do that it's an uphill climb.

Anything can be a job.

And I don't just mean that in the modern day you can get a job doing anything (though that sure seems true). I mean that any pastime or activity, expanded to a certain number of hours a day, can indeed become "a job." Acting, for example. Painting. Writing. Playing games in front of strangers on YouTube. If you are putting hours into a thing, working to excel at it and monetize it, it is now work.

Take me. I spend I'm not sure how many hours a day writing about anime, video games, maid caf├ęs, movies, whatever. That involves me watching and playing things, interacting with media. It is honestly fair to say that talking about anime is my job because it literally is. I get up in the morning, I look at the news feeds, I write things. I watch shows and talk about them. I interview actors about their work. And in order to get paid, it is a thing I need to do.

Am I enjoying it more than being a bank teller or a Civil War mansion tour guide or a generic news editor? Yes. Absolutely. Does that mean it is not difficult, tiring, or time-consuming? Absolutely not.  I write more words in a week at a "dream job" than I wrote in a semester as an English major. It may be about stuff I like, but doing that does take time and mental energy that can't be divided up.

Just because something can be a hobby doesn't mean it will be a hobby at any speed. Sitting by the lake and sketching does not take as much energy as working on a full commission. In the former case, it can look however you want, you can take as long as you want, you're not being held to any standards, and you don't have to finish. But when something has crossed the line from hobby to job, there are standards. And with those standards come exertion of energy and a need for recompense.

"The love" exists, but we can't live on it.

Check out Camila and Akahi, self-proclaimed "breatharians" who forego food and live on love, air, and cosmic energy, only eating when they want to remember what fruit tastes like. If that sounds bananas to you, just bear in mind that that's how you sounds to creators when you ask them to do something "for the love."

Now, up front -- doing something "for the love" exists. Okay? We love what we do. Honestly. If we didn't love what we do, we wouldn't go into a field that doles out success largely on the basis of what millions of total strangers think of us. Like, that's terrible. That's a dumb idea. That's what I do, and Kara, that's a dumb idea. Why did you leave your easy desk job with health insurance and paid vacation to move in with your grandfather and become a full-time writer?

Because I bloody love writing. So now that we've got that squared away, let's move on.

We love what we do. But we cannot live on artistic fulfillment. Like that's impossible. Wawa won't give my my turkey cheddar pinwheels in exchange for me telling them I wrote a really solid GaoGaiGar retrospective. That doesn't happen. It'd be nice, but I actually have to work. I have to turn in my daily and weekly articles, write my invoices, paper the freaking world with stories that may not get published.

Could I have just stayed at my desk job and written casually? Yes. I could have. That also would have been a fine choice, and then I could have done things "for the love." But there is a step beyond that -- the pride in providing for yourself with what you love. It's hard to describe that feeling Stephen King describes, the moment you can pay the light bill with the paycheck for something you created, but there's something wonderful and beautiful and meaningful about that.

Again. I don't have to. I could have a much easier time without relying on the opinions of others and having people come to me asking for stories written "for the love" or saying they "only pay some contributors." And speaking of that:

No one gets to price me but me.

I'm talking to Ginger as I write this, and she just said, "You're going to have to address the people who say, 'But you do THIS for free.'" Yes, kouhai. Yes, I am.

This falls under a couple categories. One is "me stuff" -- my NaNoWriMo, my webcomics, my blog posts on this website, D&D campaign settings for friends. Things that are made not for money and never will be for money. That is where "for the love" really comes into play. After the working day is through etc. etc., we get to retire to our own thing. We've been doing commercial work all day, now we really just want to do some fan stuff. Or idle. Or whatever. And sometimes we do share that. Without asking for money. Why? Cuz we decided to. That doesn't mean that we should offer everything we do gratis, any more than it means that you should cook everyone dinner all the time just because you brought a cheese ball to the church potluck.

Then there's other creators. Many price themselves low because it's not their main income stream. Many others, sadly, do it because they've been bullied to or because they've had too many bad experiences charging a fair price and getting nothing in return. Much of what I do is even at a cut rate for this reason, and I'm slowly working my way back up to what's fair for my time spent. You may hear a creator say they don't mind not being paid, or they think their low prices are fair. That's perfectly true. For them. Applying it across the board would be a bit like saying "My girlfriend likes being catcalled so all women like being catcalled," and we know where that's going to put you.

This isn't even mentioning people I choose to work with gratis -- for charity, as friends, because I know the Right People will see what I do, etc. In any case, yes. Sometimes I will charge someone where I don't charge someone else. This is because I know what the other person has that is worth my time. Be it an even trade, genuinely good exposure (a rare but wonderful beast), or simply years of friendship that I want to observe, that's my choice. The choice of any creator.

You're still asking for something for nothing.

I could talk to you all day about how creators work their asses off to make things, and if I go for too long I'll start sounding like one of those damned inspirational straw man comics about "me creative, you mundane," and that's not what I'm going for. (Hot gossip: many creatives have this mentality, and I'm sure I'll get more than one author or artist who stands up with his hand on his heart talking loftily about how he really does do it for the love and a true creator wouldn't be so obsessed with the money. He likely has a steady income stream from elsewhere. Also, he gets to speak only for himself; see previous section.)

But at the end of the day, this comes down to the fact that someone has put in a great deal of effort, put a price on that effort, and you've just said "no." If you were selling off a piece of furniture or some old books and a person just walked up to you and said "No, I think I'll just take these without paying," you'd be understandably cross. Why? Because you apply value to the things, you set the price and want it to be respected, and (likely if you're selling things off) you need the dosh.

If you walk into a store and see something overpriced, you don't buy it. You don't, like, steal it or yell at the cashier. (Or maybe you do. No idea. If you do, maybe don't.) Because even though you disagree with the value placed on the item, you still respect that the value is not going to change for you.

And yet when you are interacting firsthand with the creator, you can't accept the price. Why does a creator willing to make a one-of-a-kind piece for you get less respect than the impulse rack at a grocery store?

This is not to say that everyone is obligated to always buy from all artists. But if you want someone's work, pay for it. If you recognize that you can't pay for it, don't ask for it. If a creator asks for recompense for their work, don't fault them for it. And if you don't think their work is worth paying for... why the hell do you want it?