Brown: In pursuit of craft while not starving

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By Marcus Brown

marcus-brown@uiowa.edu

The medium in which one chooses to publish written work has an obvious effect on the availability and profitability of the work being published, but this is not always a good thing. The oversaturation of the published word market, whether it be journalistic or literary, has created a buyer’s market. This has had an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on the writer seeking to publish consistent work to a large readership while simultaneously having enough money to consistently feed oneself.

The prominence of social media as an avenue to publish new work and advertise previous or forthcoming work has had a contradictory effect on this issue. On the one hand, social media provide a platform for underrepresented members of the literary and journalistic communities that may not have had that platform in traditionally established publications. They also offer an unprecedented potential for self-publication and targeting of niche audiences that may have been inaccessible via other media. On the other hand, that does not mean this method of publishing does not contribute to a larger problem in terms of the sustainability of a market that enforces a crippling profit to quality-of-work ratio.

Any product that is made available for free diminishes the value of similar products offered at a price. It’s logical to assume that the relationship between supply and demand is dramatically altered when the supply becomes free and the demand takes on a level of presumption that renders any sense of rarity near null.

Specifically, in the case of journalism, the demand is so high alongside the supply that one simply searches a desired topic into a search box with the expectation of finding a litany of free, current, and well-written resources. The idea of subscriptions or memberships comes as an afterthought. In the realm of literature, the ailment is the same but differs from journalism in that art does not have inherent value outside what is assigned to it by the consumer of the art.

Journalism can be said to have a tangible, albeit ephemeral, value in that the currency of time-relevant, accurate information isn’t difficult to justify. Art differs in the way that its contribution to society can be measured is entirely dependent on a choice by the consumer to recognize said value. For this reason, the dual issue of oversaturation and demeaned value strike even harder.

So now we have talented writers encouraged to put out as much quality work as often as possible with the assumption that they do not even need to be paid living wages if they are paid at all. Furthermore, the mentality of the occupation is that if you do not abide by these lopsided and unbeneficial standards, there is somebody willing and capable to take your position. It is the same mentality that fuels the unpaid internship industry, and simply trying to make a name for oneself as a writer often demands perpetuating this very problem.

How does one pursue one’s craft when the craft is not recognized as one deserving of real financial compensation? I believe the first step in doing so is to recognize the value of one’s work and encourage others to do the same in a manner that does bolsters the ability for all writers regardless of medium or occupational distinction to collectively bargain. The second step would be to make a conscious effort not to encourage a system that is reliant on pitting peers against each other by way of starvation tactics that only benefits those who aren’t reliant on the income of their writing in the first place. More often than not, we are only given what we think we deserve, and the only remedy for this mentality is to be confident in the fact that sometimes we deserve more.

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