To Pay or Not to Pay? Why I’ll Start Supporting Creators

Though I’ve only very recently begun to think about paying for subscriptions (the last two years or so), I can pinpoint the exact moment when my thinking began to shift: I had been complaining to my brother that one of my friends was going to charge me for art I’d asked her to make for a piece of fanfiction I was writing, and had been really upset that she hadn’t offered to do it for free. I had written her a ton of fic in the past, I’d changed my travel plans to visit her in both Germany and Italy during the semester I’d been in Europe, and I’d been shocked that she hadn’t offered to do this for free when I thought we were friends.

My little brother was not sympathetic.

He first asked why I didn’t think my friend should be compensated for her labour, then pushed further by inquiring if I didn’t want to support her in her creative endeavours. I was gobsmacked.

I had honestly never thought of paying my friends for their creative labour before. Mostly, this can be attributed to how I grew up: I was always taught that you don’t charge your friends (or you at least give them a serious discount) because you love them, and that’s just how you behave towards the people you love. Other parts can probably be explained away by the general undervaluing of the arts: even in last year’s federal budget, the Canadian government failed to recognize the precarious position of 650,000 cultural workers, and “some forms of museum funding still remain at levels lower than they were in 1972”. That’s not even considering the fact that the arts are severely underfunded in Canadian grade schools[1]… which is where you’d generally learn to appreciate and value various kinds of art.

Needless to say, my opinions shifted. Later, when I began to consider the possibility of publishing written fanworks in printed anthologies, I became aware that my attitudes towards monetizing print and visual art were also very different. Namely: I believed visual art to be inherently more expensive. I was willing to pay $20 to commission a piece of fanart, but I couldn’t conceive of compensating a fic writer for the same service. For a printed anthology, fine… but where I was willing to pay for art whether I received a print or it stayed on my screen, an online fic was something I very firmly believed was and should stay free of charge.

I think this might have had to do with a subconscious viewing of fanfiction as lesser due to its primarily female reader and authorship—but I think it also had to do with the way Western society values the visual over text. When was the last time you went into a place that displayed and showcased books? Museums don’t tend to have selections of books on display unless they’re very old, and libraries are not viewed as having nearly as much cultural capital as museums. Furthermore, if you want to have access to a special collection, you need permission to do so. Part of the reason as to why this is may also be is due to the fact that text is so very ubiquitous, both in print and online—we’re so used to seeing it that we have certain expectations when we do. I think that a lot of these expectations have to do with form: I expect to pay for a newspaper, so I’ll subscribe to a newspaper. I expect to pay for a print book, so I pay for a print book. But the idea of monetizing long-form content unaffiliated with traditional news sources, or monetizing the creation of online fanfiction, are fairly recent and had been indiscriminately free when I started using the web.

I have never paid for a subscription to any online magazine or blog. I tend to find quick fixes through switching browsers, or moving on to view free content. This is, I think, for all the reasons listed above, as well as the fact that my historical lack of disposable income has meant I’ve had to be very selective in where I allocate what few dollars I have to give. That doesn’t mean I’ll never pay, but right now, my priorities revolve around rent and groceries and allowing myself the odd night out when I spend all day reading on a screen. After I graduate and get a job? Chances are, my priorities will have shifted towards wanting to read long-form articles—ones I pay for, this time, in order to properly compensate authors for their labour.


[1] If the linked article doesn’t convince you due to its 2013 timestamp, take a look at this one, written specifically about Ontario and it’s practices (2018).

3 Replies to “To Pay or Not to Pay? Why I’ll Start Supporting Creators”

  1. Hey Alex! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about subscription! I loved the way you opened this blog piece, as the reflection with your brother is something I can definitely relate to. I feel the same when you explained a belief that loved one’s shouldn’t have to pay for your creations/ get a really cheap discount because I grew up with the same belief. It would be quite rude and disrespectful if I ever made my mom pay for a poem I wrote. I’m also still really interested in what justifies as worth when we decide on things we want to subscribe to. You made a great point about how income might come into play, which is fair because if we had all the money in the world, we would buy for anything we want because we’re $$$$$$ balling! I wonder if that becomes an important factor that divides generations from subscribing to things, and so subscription is catered towards middle+ income people. What problems could arise from that?

    I also wonder if there are other forms of support we can offer creators when we don’t have as much $$$$ in our broke grad student lives. I think that could be equally valuable. Thanks for sharing again! I love your narrating style.

  2. I really like the way you begin this piece with your personal narrative. It isn’t an easy thing to do and I was super impressed. I also have an interesting relationship with commissioned work as a performance artist and friends of visual artists. Perhaps your case is also related to the gift economy of the fandom world, where work is not monetized in the same way that original artwork would be? I think places like Medium undervalue creators work in a way that capitalizes on their work while reaping the rewards, in a similar way to Uber, but to a lesser extent. It isn’t necessarily Medium’s fault– I think that they’re trying to help, but I also think that they don’t pay their creators enough. I also have trouble subscribing to online written content, but for me it’s because I don’t have much interest in the content that is published on these sites. If their was a good fantasy magazine I might subscribe, but until that day arrives I’ll just buy books.

  3. Like your previous reviewers, I also appreciated your anecdote at the beginning, which opened the opportunity to run through your thinking on paying for access to content. While your piece allowed you to explore some of the reasons why paying for text is the same and different to paying for visual art, at the end of the piece I was still left wondering where you really stood. Your writing represents your thought process, but fails to articulate an end outcome. As you write more of these, try to draw some conclusions or find a commonality to latch on to and present.

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