Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's your enjoyment worth?

No one expects the Spanish inquisition professionals to work for free

When I worked as a physical therapist, I got paid for my expertise. For the first decade of my practice, I was employed by various hospitals that paid me a living wage and no one expected me to provide PT for free, for the exposure.

For the next 10+ years, I ran my own private practice. I was a business of one; I booked appointments, treated patients, filed documentation, sent out billing. I was never criticized for charging for my work. (And I offered sliding scale for individuals who otherwise wouldn't have had access to care. No one expected me to treat them for free.)

I had a very successful practice in which I charged reasonable rates for my time and skill, and provided high quality care that allowed hundreds of folks to recover from injuries and return to full function.

Five years ago, I shut down my practice (for various personal/family reasons) and had the opportunity to focus on my writing. Having been a successful solo entrepreneur, I treated this new enterprise as a business as well. I expected to provide quality reading experiences in return for reasonable recompense in the cost of a book.

And ran right into the disruption of publishing as enabled by the internet.

Now, disruption creates opportunities, just as it obliterates others. I don't need to rehash the way in which the eBook revolution allows writers to directly connect with their ideal readers. However, the very democratization of the internet that we laud is also responsible for the idea that creativity is a public good.

On her blog, Artist Empathy, Sarah Manning wrote a long and cogent post on the criticism the band Pomplamoose received after their breakdown of income and expenses from their most recent tour. The tl;dr version: the indie band paid for their tech crew and backup musicians, slept in a basic motel, etc, and ended up nearly 12K in the red (136K income, 148K expenses) for a 28 day tour.

Cue the hate

The comments, both on Manning's piece, Jack Conte's (one of the principals of Pomplamoose) and the Gawker article that condemned the band, are the expected: the band is scamming everyone, Conte posted his article as a publicity stunt (he's a co-founder of Patreon), they should have lived in the van, they shouldn't have paid their back up musicians or tech crew, and on and on.

Somehow, there's this expectation that artists need to create for the sheer love of their art. They should release it for 'the exposure.' That asking fair recompense for creativity is somehow crass.

The Price of Entertainment

From Manning's post:

"The reality is that we’ve reduced American culture to a system of arbitrary donations and pats on the head. That isn’t sustainable."
Music, photography, digital art, vidoes, and writing can all be distributed, shared, and downloaded virtually. And because it's so simple to find what you want and freely take it, we have devalued the creation itself. But if creators can't eat, house, or clothe themselves, then who will create the art we want?

Sure, creators understand the need for day jobs. I know very few writers, for example, who expect to make a full living from their books. Some will, but they are the outliers. Same with musicians, actors, photographers, painters, etc. But if we (and by 'we' I mean society) buy into and promulgate the myth of the starving artist and suffering for one's art, what are we saying about creativity itself? Especially when we open our wallets to blockbuster movies, tie in toys, big-venue music tours - in effect supporting corporate creativity while starving individual creativity.

I have two sons in college. One is majoring in theatre, the other in music composition. Both know the chances of 'making it' on a big scale in either discipline are slim. Both know they will need to earn income in more traditional ways while they pursue their art. (I don't have a problem with this - I spent nearly 25 years working as a physical therapist before pursuing a full time writing career. There's idealism and there's reality, especially in a tough economy. The thing is, it becomes impossible - not just difficult -  if creatives are expected to give away their work.)  I've gotten flak from friends and family for letting my sons study such 'useless' things, given the return on investment of college.

But what about a return on investment of life? Again, from Manning:
"Repressing artists by making it impossible for them to survive as valued members of the working class represses our whole society."
As humans, we are inherently creators. Look at children: they create every day in the context of their play. We know that we are hard-wired for story. Study after study tells us that creativity and original thinking enhances the productivity and success of all kinds of work. So why do we throw our creators under society's bus?

We are our own Worst Enemies

And we have bought into the fiction that art needs to be free. Case in point: I was looking through Deviant Art for an artist whose work spoke to me, so I could obtain cover art for a short story collection. I found such an artist. Her screen name is Verismaya and her work is magnificent. I contacted her for permission to license one of her images to use for my short story collection: STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE.

Art by Verismaya. Isn't her work beautiful???

She was flattered and excited and told me to help myself.

What she didn't understand was that I was looking to pay her for the use of her art. She had never had anyone offer to pay her before. She had bought into the 'work for exposure' myth. I live in the north east where winter is fierce. I know that 'exposure' can kill. (Yes, I'm being flippant, but it's also a serious matter.) We negotiated a fair price and I paid her for the ability to use the art.

We Value what we Pay For

In addition to my writing work, I'm also a potter. I create functional ware in clay, both on the wheel and handbuilding. It takes time, patience, practice, and skill to make pottery. Hand made work is more expensive than buying a mass produced cup or bowl from a store like Pottery Barn. But the set of dishes we use are not pieces of art. The serving pieces and coffee mugs I have collected over the years (buying from other artists) and have made for myself are functional art. They are worth a few dollars more, not only because of the skill and artistry of the maker, but because they bring beauty and enjoyment to my every day life.

This is what I value. It is what I am willing to pay for.

I also buy books and music. I am paying for my enjoyment and recognizing the skill of the creator.

We value what we pay for and we pay for what we value. What do you value? What are you willing to pay for it?


  1. Great response. Thanks for that!

    1. Thank you! I know you get it. I just wish I knew what the answer was.

  2. Yes. So much this. I'm always DELIGHTED to pay for another's art, regardless of medium. If I can't afford it, I can't, so I don't get it. I never assume they'll give it away. That's freaking insane! I've done a few barters, tho, and that's cool, too. To a point. I also pimp the shit outta my friends. But this whole 'do it for the exposure' nonsense is just that. Nonsense.

    That said, I never sell quilts. Ever. But that's me and I certainly don't expect to make any sort of living off of them.

    I love your pottery, your writing, and you, Lisa. {{hugs}}

    Make good art!


    1. Right back at you, Tammy! The world needs more art.

  3. If the band hadn't paid the techies, they would have been criticized for that. And sleeping in the van wouldn't have saved that much over Motel 6.

  4. As you know, I heartily agree to all that you've expressed here. I run across this all the time. People want my expert advice on scripts, but when I say I simply cannot do this without compensation, I get passive-aggressive behavior in return, or they go as far as to slander and/or libel me, block me on Twitter, etc. It's CRAZY. I don't think you read something akin to your post that I published almost a year ago, while I was still trying to find an online site that would pay for writing in general. Here's the link:

    Loved this, Lisa! :-)

  5. I listen to ScienceFriday and RadioLab podcasts and feel it is right to donate to them when they ask a couple times a year. It's paying for enjoyment. The same is true for much of the software I use, even though these people probably are making good money coding at jobs and making this great stuff on the side. There is much that I receive and value that just doesn't seem to have a payment or donation possibility. I feel it is alright to not ask for payment if one chooses. One person told me he doesn't accept anything for his program. Another had a place where I could agree to pay it in some way to someone else.