This is a sort of unintentional Part 2 to Christina Rees’ recent piece Relay, about the death of communal newsrooms and the brave new world for young arts writers.
Recently, we made the decision that Glasstire would no longer give away our content for free to other websites.
There has been a lot of pressure on publishers to share content with aggregators, which are websites that re-publish other websites’ original content, in the hope of building their audience. The argument goes that, by sharing our content, we reach new readers who may click back to our site and keep coming back.
We actually do this ourselves, in a way: in recent years, art blogs have started to pop up in various cities around Texas, and we occasionally re-publish their articles. But we always pay a fee. And we do that because I would be embarrassed to ask a young writer who is just starting out to give us their content for free, on the argument that our larger audience would “give them exposure.”
Give them exposure.
Hey, artists: does that sound familiar?
I remember a story, I’m not sure if it’s true but I like it regardless, about the artist James Surls once explaining how the art business worked to a lawyer. Once the lawyer understood how much artists do for free, and how little they earn, he turned to Surls and said, “You guys are stupid.”
Artists are the backbone of the art world, they’re the whole reason why the half-a-billion dollar museums buildings get built, and yet they’re barely scraping by, giving their work away left and right. You know what? They are stupid.
But so are those of us who spend hours agonizing over written pieces about the work artists do. We give it away for free to other websites. And we only do it to placate that nagging fear that if we don’t, we’ll miss out on all those people who might join our audience (and who will therefore, theoretically, create the value for us that we’re not creating for ourselves). We will miss out because they will miss out.
But in practice, that’s not how it works. Those readers almost never become our readers. I met recently with someone from a publication that had occasionally been reprinting our content without paying for it, with our permission. We never got many clickbacks from their site, and I decided this needed to end. I apologized, feeling like I was letting her down, and explained that we wouldn’t share content anymore unless her publication paid us and our writers. She looked at me kindly, and gently told me that she had a glut of free content being pitched at her every day, from PR firms and companies promoting themselves. That she really didn’t need us.
And I was relieved. My fear of missing out on her audience was unfounded. Her audience almost never came back to Glasstire to read other things on our site, and apparently was just as happy reading trussed-up press releases as sweated-over art essays.
I guess we humans have always had the fear of missing out, the firm belief that the unknown grass is definitely greener, it must be, on the other side of the fence. And the Internet elegantly and insidiously feeds off of—and feeds—that fear. The art world does too, as it happens. But we needn’t fear. There’s always something out there to discover, greener or browner, and the process of discovery itself is worth something. It has value. What are we willing to pay?