How does one make money at writing today? That question seems to be the “pre•occupation de jour” of most commercial writers and journalists. The cyber airwaves are chock full of content: blogs, wikis, e•mail, self•published books, e•zines. How does a writer insist that he gets paid for his work when there are equally good, or sometimes better, content being written by people who possess a deep understanding of their subject matter and an altruistic desire for sharing their writing, and who earn a better living through other means than they can or ever will as writers?
Encyclopaedias were money makers once, but their time ran out; software makers made money too, but they spawned the open source movement and jumped into services instead. Pagers were absorbed into cell phones, typewriters into personal computers, music CDs into MP3’s, videos into You Tube, broadcast radio into blog•talk radio, cable television into web•TV, long• distance phone plans into Skype, and now tree•books into e•books. Many successful products that once exchanged value for monetary benefit are now offered free or have been subsumed into other inventions. And content—a writer’ primary product, plucked out of a fertile imagination not given to many, and delivered in beautiful language—is now also… free?
I think of the hippie era when we played in musical bands purely for the love of expression, not for money but in protest against an out•of•touch establishment and all things resembling corporate greed. But that did not last either, did it? After the hangovers and love•ins wore out, we took haircuts, shaved our beards, bathed, bought new clothes, and joined the very guys we had protested against, to unleash some of the greatest economic growth cycles in history, creating unparalleled inventions, and unleashing unbridled greed that resulted in the meltdowns of Black Monday, the dot•com bubble, and the Crash of 2008.
And now, as if in atonement for our past excesses, we are going back to our hippie days of free drugs, free love and free expression, and giving everything away for free again, including our artistic creation—our writing. Even Big Business is calling this the Age of Creativity and seeking to monetize it. But the creative ones don’t seem to care; self actualization is triumphing over the baser needs of the ego and the pocketbook.
I support those trying to make a living at this very difficult art at this particular time in history. It is indeed a desired end: to do the things you love and to also earn one’s livelihood from it. But it seems like these bold souls are swimming against a tide that has, at least for the next few years, turned against them.