Indie Creatives Allow Themselves To Be Taken Advantage Of Far Too Often
by Stephen Zimmer
It has happened yet again.
Another prominent site used by indie creatives has made a major policy change that causes much more difficulty and hardship for the very creatives that made the site prominent to begin with.
This time it was GoodReads and their recent decision to make authors pay significant fees to do book giveaways on the site beginning in early January of 2018. The “standard” package for giving away up to a hundred copies of a book is $119, which is a large fee for any indie author, many of whom typically gave out just a few copies at a time in the past.
So, in a nutshell, if I wanted to give 5 books away, after costs of the books themselves and shipping, I’d be looking at spending around $200, or nearly $40 a book!
There is no question that the end result will be that a great many independent and self-published authors will no longer be able to give books away on a site they have come to depend upon, in many cases for several years.
A bothersome pattern has been developing in regard to sites that become predominant in certain areas. Let’s take a look at two more clear examples.
Any active YouTuber running a channel can tell you of the outrageous “adpocalypse” that occurred this past year. After becoming a dominant platform for content creators, using an advertising revenue model that incentivized the creation of quality, compelling YouTube channels, YouTube changed their rules toward monetization without any real warning, leaving many popular YouTube channels filled with demonetized videos and a huge slash to their monthly revenue. Channels with less than 10,000 views could no longer participate in any kind of ad revenue. Demonitized videos and channels were left with no efficient way to appeal or dispute the imposed status as the murky terms of service could be interpreted in all kinds of ways. The content creators have since had to turn to services such as Patreon to regain some of the revenue lost as a result, but those outlets, while wonderful, are not able to fully make up the gap that was lost for most creatives.
Then, there’s the case of Kindle Unlimited.
Having become the dominant eBook platform through being supportive of independent and self-published authors, in a manner that resulted in growing numbers of writers being able to make a living from their book sales, Amazon brought in Kindle Unlimited. The service not only involved the requirement of exclusivity to Kindle but also adopted a compensation model based squarely upon how much of a book in the program has been read. Such a system puts great faith in the aggregation and reporting of Amazon’s tracking of such reading totals, versus the very cut and dry system of unit sales.
This is not even taking into account that compensation itself inevitably took a major hit in an environment where customers pay a flat fee to access thousands upon thousands of books. Nobody in their right mind could fail to see that a compensation model such as that would be a very poor substitute for the unit sales model. The end result was a major hit to the income of a great many authors who had painstakingly worked up to the point where they could make a living as writers. Since then, there’s been, not surprisingly, a noticeable decline in the perception of the value of eBooks, which only serves to make a writer’s path more difficult in generating an income from their work.
These are just three examples of major sites changing the rules once they are predominant in ways that cause harm to the very independent creatives who were instrumental in building those sites up in the first place.
Creatives are far from powerless as they fill two crucial roles for these large sites.
First, creatives are the content creators. They are the ones developing and producing the content for the YouTube channels that draw in the views that produce the audience attractive to advertisers. Creatives are the ones producing the books that GoodReads and Kindle Unlimited depend upon to even exist. Without content, these big entities would find themselves in more than a little trouble.
Secondly, creatives are also the product the big entities rely upon. A site like GoodReads needs a mass of creatives participating regularly on the site to create the market that draws in advertisers to make use of their marketing services. The creatives themselves are the product being “bought” by the advertisers, in a manner of speaking.
All of this underscores a need for greater plurality of platforms and the need for independent creatives to never become overdependent on any one site or service.
It also justifies the need for creatives to work to develop elements within their own platforms that are not vulnerable to the whims of a large corporate titan such as Google (in the case of YouTube) or Amazon (in the case of both GoodReads and Kindle Unlimited). From email newsletters to a renewed emphasis on individual websites, creatives must bolster every possible area that is more fully under their own control and direction.
Finally, it calls for the discussion and development of better compensation models for the work of creatives, because creative work has value (otherwise these big corporate entities would not put so much focus on harvesting the work of independent creatives).
Independent creatives have been taken advantage of for far too long to become the products and content creators for major corporate entities. Working together, with increased awareness and support of each other, creatives can see to it that there is greater plurality in the marketplace, more ways in which individual creatives can be empowered, and better compensation models put in place.
It will take some time, focus, and cooperation among creatives, but positive changes can be made that more properly reflect the position of creatives as content creators in a world becoming more voracious for content by the day.