Subscription models for us, in a new era

Self publication.  Traditional publication.

Unsure how this pans out in a pandemic.

I find the Substack model most intriguing.  A straightforward e-publishing method that allows you to groom a subscriber base. Writers have control over how and when a paywall goes into effect.  No need to pay a fee for the service, the service makes money when you make money.

For the various writers and journalists being laid off around the world, it seems like a good deal, but some are complaining about the loss of the newspaper, the magazine, or even the curated website.

It’s not lost, it’s just reduced.  There is less variance of voices now, and the freelance journalists who thought they had a home?  Squeezed out.

So they’re given a choice: claim your own audience, or keep seeking assistance with publication.  Is this adapting?  It depends if you consider yourself a professional journalist. A professional critic, maybe?  I’ve watched some of my favorite writers bounce around between papers and news-sites.  If they had an independent feed or blog, would this be my way of supporting them?  This concept is within arm’s reach of Patreon and Kickstarter, established routes for artists to fund their projects.

It also seems to squeeze content creators OUT of the professional sphere.  What is the business model here?  I’m a big fan of Seth Godin’s dichotomy of Entrepreneur vs. Freelancer.  Direct subscriber models seem to drift towards freelancers, since the person doing the creating cannot step away.  Yet, it doesn’t seem project based.

If I’m in the mindset of the person doing the subscribing, it’s either “I need to read this content” OR “I want to support this writer”.  I believe this is also a dichotomy, much like the Stones vs. The Beatles.  Nobody can hold both of these things equal, one is slightly dominant than the other.  If you polled your meager audience and made them choose between the two options, the ensuing data would reveal how your freelancing business is actually operating.

But does that matter, if the $ is flowing in?  Maybe the ensuing data would just illustrate the tilt of capitalism.  The critical question: How much of my income from writing should I put back into the freelance writing ecosystem?  As in, pay other writers for content that I need/want.

It’s a stone’s throw away from the concept that we should give 2% of our income to charity.  It’s a concept that charitable foundations have embraced.  Big-thinker charity types are trying to raise it to 3%.  That percentage mark would drastically increase charitable giving worldwide, but these ideas were before the pandemic and the new probability of economic recession.

What we end up with is a bunch of artists trying to argue for their own existence as professionals.  Hey, you need us.  You need to be entertained, or challenged intellectually.  But who is going to pay for the good stuff?  Who even decides what the good stuff is anymore?

Let’s say I allocate 2% of all my income towards supporting artists via subscription services.  If I want to pay money to see one of them in concert, or buy a book, do I re-allocate money from a different artist subscription in order to offset the additional cost?  This micro-budgeting seems stupid, but it’s not far my wife and I budgeting how often we go out to eat, and what restaurants we support, usually lining up with our tastes.

We pay a premium because of both the product (the food and drink) and the experience (the service and atmosphere).  We’ve suffered through enough zoom meetings to know that we cannot control the service and atmosphere of the internet, but we can try to control the product.

I’m getting to the heart of my woes as a musician lately.  I’ve been an entertainer specializing as a cover artist that worked primarily in bars and restaurants.  Any product I served up was hardly  unique.  I viewed myself as part of the service and atmosphere, and my employers agreed.  Upon scrutiny, this is actually an unholy alliance that devalues what I create.  My covers weren’t really that special, since there are already thousands of piano bar entertainers in the country, and our product doesn’t actually have much variance.  We end up overly relying on the atmosphere setting a standard of what our audience expects, and spreading ourselves over localities and regions.  I relished exceeding an audience’s expectation, but the business reward was just more of the same.  Freelance work led to more freelance work.

You could argue that’s how it’s supposed to work.  I’ve long held a Darwinian view of the music industry, especially of side-men.  If you are mediocre PLUS untrustworthy, unreliable, and unpredictable, then you won’t be contacted for more work.  This is the plight of the freelancer, and we rise and fall accordingly.  This was a value I’ve held tightly for decades, but it’s challenged by this paradigm shift.  Without live music, what is the value for my product as a free-lancer?

Time get busy making something.

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