Throughout most of history, the only way to spread ideas and information was through physical materials, such as books and newspapers. However, with the invention and increase of accessibility to the internet, spreading and accessing new information becomes increasingly easy. This difference has also created a dispute between the web and publishing industries, who feel threatened by content that is inexpensive, culturally relevant and has the ability to be tweaked or edited at any point.
Although traditional mediums, are now exploring new formats to interact with their audiences, the main issue that arises is that once it is published, there is an inability to involve others in the work, unless a follow-up is published. This may be why physical newspaper are losing readers, while audiences transition to online news sites, where they can interact with projects and comment on articles.
Other sites have gone further with collaboration by uplifting audiences’ knowledge to create content. These sites – including Wikipedia, Youtube, Twitter and Yelp – avoid paying experts by giving anyone the ability to make content and share their ideas.
At first glance, these interactions seem positive. Such platforms expand the marketplace of ideas by accepting that anyone can be an expert. However, they also pose a serious question: are these sites exploiting their content creators?
Take Youtube, for example. Any individual who wants to be in front of a camera can post a vlog, tutorial or any other video. This is made easier by the accessibility to cellphones with high quality cameras. In addition, viewers can comment, like and subscribe, thus further engaging in the conversation.
However, Youtube collects a profit from both their creators and viewers by adding advertisements, which are largely unavoidable. Although creators may see a share of the profit, it is little compared to what the company is making. Creators also see more profit based on the number of subscribers that they obtain. Unfortunately, a large percentage of viewers will watch content, but not subscribe.
This is why Paul Ford argues that these platforms are not a publishing medium. They don’t create or edit content. They are a customer service medium that moderate users.
Although there are other similar video-sharing sites, such as Vimeo, as the second most popular website in the world (https://merchdope.com/youtube-stats/), Youtube largely dominates the industry, giving creators little incentive to use a different site.
Furthermore, these websites draw subscriptions from websites and organizations that rely on subscribers to exist. Alison Miner expresses frustration in this fact when she asks, “how can I get paid for my profession if there are people out there who are willing to do the work for free?”
Say you’re writing an essay on megabats (part of my Wikipedia deep dive this morning – it’s worth the google image search). You google it and find a New York Times article. Unfortunately, when you click on the article, you hit the paywall. You’ve used the three freebees that the Times gives you each month. Instead of subscribing, you go back to Google and access a free Wikipedia page on the subject. While you’re happy because you’ve gotten all the information you need, the Times editors and analytics team sees that the article has not received much readership and decides to layoff their reporter on the subject.
That’s dark, but it’s essentially the impact that the internet is having on the publishing industry (among other influences). Still, it’s understandable. Why should readers pay for content they need if other sources provide it for free? Maybe it shouldn’t just be because they have a soft heart for experts that need their clicks to put food on the table? Or maybe they should understand that even the free work requires effort that should be paid for? But then it becomes a question of who can afford to access information.