Tim Kreider is spot-on with “Slaves” OpEd

Author and cartoonist Tim Kreider neatly and wryly sums up everything you need to know about what’s wrong with the digital-age economy in this editorial that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times.  Kreider covers many bases, including a nod to the oft-overlooked factor in the economic calculus of the male author — that money is merely the conduit between the work of writing and getting a date.  So, this is just another aspect of real life that “new-model” cultists absolutely don’t understand.

In all seriousness, though, anybody who works professionally doing anything should read this OpEd, not merely for what it says about the devaluation of the creative worker, but for what it implies about the devaluation of all human endeavor.   What Kreider is really calling attention to is how the digital age has normalized the expectation that he, or any other artist, should be happy to work for free.  And it is that cultural shift that ought to concern everyone because the free-labor attitude may be coming to a job near you.

“Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again.”  

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Ha I get an average of 1800 photo views per day on flickr, why would I need any extra exposure from some poxy website?

    I spend hours each evening during the summer search for and photographing insects, I spend hours photographing and researching medieval buildings and their artefacts. That’s not counting the time and expense travelling to the locations, and pre-arranging for access. Loads of people want freebies, oddly enough not respected publishers who always expect to pay a reasonable price. Others especially commercial websites just want free, I’ve taken to asking for a quid pro quo, you provide me with an article for MY website. Strangely they’re not so keen on doing free themselves.

  • A cornerstone if not the cornerstone of the so called “Free” revolution as continually espoused by the internet and those seeking legitimacy for taking others property without permission, compensation or even a “Thank-you”.

    Tim Kreider doesn’t just speak for journalists and bloggers. He speaks for every artist.



  • The problem is as long as people continue to put out articles en-masse for free, that’s exactly what article writing will be worth.

    You know I read this one op-ed the other day, pretty well written and stuff. The guy obviously wrote it without compensation, I think his name was David… hmm.. David Newhoff if I remember. 🙂

    And there was this comments sections of all these posters writing their comments for free as well. Oh wait, I’m one of them.

    Of course none of this is as good as the “professional” stuff, but we all still read it. Forget professional editors, I usually can’t be bothered to basic proofread what I write before I hit the “Post Comment” button. You still read it, right? People don’t care, the standards for what is “acceptable” prose is quite low, if YouTube comments are any indication.

    Two professions I feel are completely fucked is photography and journalism/writing. Because everyone can do it, and they can do it well enough that the market really has little tolerance for a professional cadre of these types. My advice: don’t go into these fields, don’t you dare major in these fields (you are wasting your money), and if you are already in the field, plan for a career change. That is all.

    • The central point I think you’re missing is that I do write for compensation and for free, but I make the choice about what “free” work supports or dovetails with professional work. And while I might even share a measure of your cynicism about the future of professional journalists, for example, I am also encouraged by the fact that people do keep returning to some very serious professionals when push comes to shove. Ten years from now, it may be all hacks, but I maintain a whisper of hope.

    • There are amateurs and professionals. In photography, which I have some experience of, the technology has moved to the extent that people can create results that would have been considered excellent some 30 years ago. Now if professionals were still producing the equivalent of 30 years ago then there would be no difference. But they don’t their creative ability and use of technology has increased such that you can still differentiate between the work of a professional and others. Technology lowers the skills required to create something, but it also increases our expectations as to what is desirable/acceptable.

      In any case just because there is a glut of apples doesn’t mean that I have to give everyone that come along a free bag of apples.

    • The point is it doesn’t matter. There isn’t enough of a quality difference that a legitimate market can exist. Sure there are examples of professional photographers and print journalists out there, but you have to be like at the top of the game. The professional equivalent of a rockstar. This is not to make rockstar money mind you, but basically to make the same amount of money that maybe a pretty average plumber would make. Not a rockstar plumber, just an average plumber. I feel like I’m being kind of conservative actually with this comparison.

      You don’t have to take my word for this, the OP that David linked to is basically complaining about this very issue. It is hard for a respected journalist who graduated from Yale with 20+ years for experience to make subsistence money.

      But if your dream is to be a professional journalist or photographer, go for it. Just be warned that probabilistically you are more likely to end up working at Starbucks then the field you trained for. It’s a waste of effort that you could have used going to medical school or training in a more lucrative STEM field, and kept the whole photography thing as a hobby. Ironically, you’d probably have more money available for a camera that beats what the pros can afford!

      I know we are suppose to be all about hopes and dreams and butterflies and unicorns. But it’s more rational in my opinion to do what is in demand vs what you want to do, because don’t be surprised if what you want to do doesn’t happen to be what people are willing to pay for.

    • And you don’t have to give away anything, but it is meaningless. If someone opens up shop selling widgets for $1 that you sold for $2, it’s going to run you out of business unless your widgets have something worthwhile that justifies the $1 extra. If you want to sell your widgets for $100 or for the Brooklyn Bridge, that’s great. You still have to deal with market forces, if you want people to actually buy them.

      It’s really no different with free content.. you need to significantly better. Photography is completely saturated with free content.

      It drives the prices of paid stock photography down so you can pretty much buy an image from a “pro” for $5-20 with no strings attached. Meaning the “pros” have less money to produce innovative photographs, making their photography less competitive with the free content, and on and on in a feedback loop ensuring the continued irrelevancy.

      I must mention, there is a way to “beat the market forces”. It’s called unions. They would fix prices and intimidate practitioners not in the union to join, basically creating something of a monopoly for the specific product or service. Thus making the union’s idea of prices became “the market”. But that controlling the trade is impossible with as prevalent as photography or writing.

      • Wow! Union intimidation. Just what America needs to arrest the long downhill slide of unions.

        But your comment that there isn’t enough quality difference to create a market is dead on.

    • Is photography saturated with free content? I suspect that it isn’t. Otherwise there wouldn’t be people coming knocking on my door and others looking for a freebie. They’d just go get an equivalent free image. Non-commercial users are welcome to reuse. Commercial re-users need to negotiate a license.

      Now this might be news but photographic innovation in optics, sensors, etc aren’t developed for amateurs. They are primarily developed for the professional market, and later taken up by the amateurs, but amateurs don’t drive the developments. The people that are spending several $1000 on a lens are those that expect to make a return on investment. Even with the amateur they are spending $1000s on a 30Mpix+ camera body not to take holiday snaps, but with a view to perhaps selling something.

      I develop CAM software the driving force in 3D printer technology isn’t the guy with a tabletop setup but the aerospace industry, and high end designer jewelry. Developments in automotive comes about through motorsport.

  • I think M makes some valid points, at the same time he is fighting very hard for mediocrity, which I’m not sure he intended.

    I but up against this attitude quite often and ultimately people who share M’s belief system see David and myself as standing in the way of the inevitable or worse blocking progress to some digital utopia where creators are taken care of.

    The words Luddite and Adapt are the two words that come to mind.

    So here’s my point, M, and those people like yourself that say, give up, they’ve won. To you I would say, that unless you have a financial stake in one a tech company that distributes creative content. You may want to consider why you fight so hard for mediocrity.

    And perhaps the one thing you should consider is that 3D copying is here and robots are performing open heart surgery.

    So M, so much for your job security, unless you work in tech.

    • Ultimately the point of technology is to eliminate mandatory human labor, so yes even medicine and technological development itself will happen without much human involvement, and the value of human labor itself will [and is already in a] decline. Without government assistance, unemployment should converge towards 100% within the next few decades.

      Since our economy can not handle high levels of unemployment, there will continue to be extensive government spending via Recovery Act type programs “putting people to work” in increasingly inefficient broken-glass fallacy ways. And because of the way we structure our money systems, this will increase the debt considerably, beyond the point of no return, and we will eventually lead to a hard default. Emerging from this crisis would likely be a resource-based economy.

      Although there does seem to be occupations that are more future proof then others, I say medicine is one of them because the trend has been as procedures become more complicated, there is increased human labor available, not less, at least in the developed world. STEM as well, because a lot of these efficiencies are being driven by STEM.

      Ironically a lot of the “brute” type occupations are a bit more future proof as well due to Moravec’s paradox. So your garbage man is more secure in his job then your local poet.

      Not all creative fields are doomed either, professional music and especially movies are not something that technology can conquer at this point. So these fields should stick around for awhile, and if they adopt subscription/streaming-based business models, they will make a comeback on the revenue side of things as well, although they will never be very healthy industries for numerous reasons: their product is spectral – it competes with itself, media piracy can never truly be conquered, and free and UG content will continue to encroach into the very idea that this creative output needs to be compensated.

      TLDR: Yes, as technology progresses, ALL human labor will approach worthlessness. But in the mean time, some types of human labor will be worth more than others. Medicine, STEM, non-intellectual trades, etc.

      • I bet all the readers here just can’t wait to live in M’s “Mad-Max-but-with-Doctors” world…
        Wow… what a great goal you have there [/sarcasm]

  • All the would-be authors who have nothing to show for their work but a pile of rejection letters, all the would-be artists who can’t get their work shown, and all the musicians who cant get a recording contract are playing their violins for you.

    Because who wouldn’t want to spend their days traveling and taking pictures, or writing and getting published, or making music, and getting paid for it? Now technology has shattered the monopolies of the handful lucky enough to have pulled it off. American Idol has shown that for every performer in Hollywood there are dozens of others equally talented who aren’t professionals solely through sheer chance.

    There is no such thing as a RIGHT to make a living being creative. For every creative person who is being paid there are hundreds of others who work mundane jobs and do their creative work in their spare time. So if someone sends you a portfolio and asks you for help breaking in, and you actually help them, then I’ll take you seriously when you talk about respect for creators.

    • Those are the bitter words of somebody who resents talented and skilled professionals veiled in disdain for corporations. What there is no right to is music, movies, TV, literature, etc., and if you want to celebrate the ascendence of hackery, that’s your privilege; but you need look no further than the dominance of the free-roaming Kardashian in any given news cycle to see where such faux populism leads. By the same token, it’s amusing that you think American Idol is the great equalizer. You might want to examine that premise for a while and consider where it really leads.

    • Of course there isn’t a right to a living by being creative. That isn’t the point. The point is that there is no right to consume that creative output for free. Big Corp Inc has no right to sell books or magazines without paying for the content. Content consumers likewise have no absolute rights to content without recompensing the creator.

    • This new way has led to popular music being dominated by uninteresting, immediately forgettable stuff. I have yet to meet a young person who can say they think people will be listening to the popular music of today in 30 years, much less 300 years.

  • I’m beginning to think that people that share “M’s” view are just jealous people with sour-grapes…
    “since I got rejected, i’ll burn down the barn” type attitude.

  • Or…if you believe society deems your profession as worthless…than change professions. Give actual value…something that someone ASKS for…not something that YOU deem to have value. Let’s face it…you didn’t go to college to end up working hard. You didn’t study writing to do manual labor and SWEAT for a living. You did these things so you can avoid hard work. You needed to be the peer that told his friends and new acquaintances…”I’m a writer”…(I don’t wait tables like you)

    • If these things don’t have actual value, then don’t read, don’t listen to music, don’t watch filmed entertainment. If you consume any of these things and don’t value the work that produces it, you’re a hypocrite.

      • I do read, listen to music, watch film entertainment and go to a stage play on occasion. The challenge I have is to go to those that truly entertain or challenge me. There is thanks to electronics, an easy way to get an incredible amount of written material, music, etc. But my time to discover the gems I seek is very limited. There are a number of solutions. First, I read the reviews of those I trust and select my film entertainment accordingly. Music is selected through recommendations of friends. I am the type of person that once a musician/song writer is discovered that meets my tastes, I contribute through the purchase of a significant amount of their material. For free material, I seek websites that support my tastes and have the editorial skill to select good written material. Yes, they are free. But a recent trend that I have seen, is for them to then go to Amazon and move into the paid arena. Each of these barriers acts as a filter to ensure those with the skills, perseverance, and respect to their audience will succeed. While technology has allowed the masses to participate, it is only the skilled that can bring humanity in all its facets to the understanding and benefit of their admirers.

  • If been hearing this line lately. “If people don’t value what you do, then do something else.” This almost makes sense, the problem being it has totally been lifted out of context and therefore is valueless.

    It is the convoluted stepchild of adapt.

    Tony you are kind of late to the game on this post. Have you been pondering this response for months or just bored by all the worthless literature, film and music?

  • In a free society, others will determine the value of your work. To wish otherwise is a dangerous slope. There are no proposed solutions that don’t require coercion, which implies a belief that you’ll get to do the coercing. Thank you, no.

    • In a free society, customers or clients are free to determine the value of someone’s work by paying for it or not. To consume or expect work for free is hypocritical and has nothing to do with freedom.

      • And to expect payment for all artistic work is illogical. Artistic work by its nature has value based on the ability of the artist to present a view that is understood by the selected audience. I enjoy the comic strip Dilbert. The cartoonist presents situations that I have personally experienced, but in an easily understood manner. Many of the businesses that I have visited have cubes with his cartoons attached to their walls. This is an admiration of the skill he exhibits. And as you probably know the cartoonist Scott Adams, initially gave his work away for free. This allowed him to improve and gain an understanding of his consumers. At the same time, I would not expect to see his work at an art museum. That is a set of consumers with a completely different set of experiences and tastes. The opportunity for the skilled and inventive has greatly increased with the digital age, but people are also demanding different and better. The digital age has also accelerated that side of humanity. A free society is able to adjust to the changes better than one that is not free. It is an exciting and challenging time.

  • Somebody already said the following.
    “There is no right to consume content for free.”

    My response = Are you truly THAT clueless?

    Let’s use images/videos online as my first example, & TV shows (online & not) as my other example. Let’s assume that you took some photos & recorded some videos, & you post them on a site that you either own & administrate, or are allowed to use & administrate by some site-hosting service. (To simplify the rest of this line of reasoning, I’ll treat being allowed to use & administrate a site by some site-hosting service as being the same as owning & administrating a site.) Your assumption (see top of this post) implies that ALL sites are literally online STORES, & that the ONLY way for you the site/store owner to get PAID for posting things to your site/store is to have everybody who visits your site/store to PAY to view whatever you have posted there.

    While that is one possible model for online site owners to use, it’s NOT the ONLY way to post things to your site/store & get paid too (though not EXACTLY for POSTING things to your site/store). Another way (which is EXTREMELY COMMON, too) is, instead of requiring visitors to your site/store to pay to view whatever you have posted there, allow some online advertisers to advertise on your site/store instead. As long as your site/store’s visitors click on the ads sometimes, you’ll get paid. Sure, it won’t be your site/store’s VISITORS who’ll be paying you, but you have to have priorities.

    • David Newhoff

      Thanks for posting, but I don’t think anyone who reads or comments here is unfamiliar with ad-based revenue models. They’ve been around since long before the Internet. Regardless, this does not refute the principle that consumers do not have “right” to free media (or technically) a right to media at all. More to the point, the scourge of sites which have created this sense of entitlement are piracy sites, which are ad-revenue based but do not in any way share that revenue with the owners of the media they steal and distribute without permission.

    • Edit: I forgot to discuss TV shows (online & not), so here it is.

      Basically, with regards to TV shows, most TV show makers & TV channel owners have also decided to use advertisers rather than asking viewers to pay DIRECTLY to watch their shows/channels. Of course, this should not be confused with satellite/cable/internet service providers themselves charging money for THEIR services.

  • Let me give you all a little Nancy Pelosi. It goes something like this.

    You can become an artist or writer. You are able to do what you love. And you have your health insurance so you don’t have to go bankrupt when you have medical bills.

    She never said you should be paid for what you do!!!!

    • Well, Betty, aside from the fact that your comment entirely misses the point, I can assure you that health coverage isn’t free and neither are the bills that insurance doesn’t cover. As such, if someone asks me to write something for them — Kreider is very much addressing work for hire — I shall continue to demand payment for the service, whether I love the assignment or not.

  • Yes, it’s all sadly true, but it didn’t begin with the digital age. Where do you think the expressions “starving artist” and “starving writer” came from? I can remember busting my butt—pre-Internet—writing for newspapers, magazines and book publishers for less than peanuts—nearly for free. On a work-for-hire basis, though, I once earned a princely chunk of change for ghost-writing a best-selling cook book for a celebrity chef: $4,000. It didn’t seem like such a grand sum, however, when I found out the publisher made more than a million dollars on the deal. Most artists and writers don’t get rich. Never have, never will. But I believe poverty is a small price to pay for doing what I love. I’ve been doing it for 50 years.

  • So you’re mad because your job doesn’t pay enough. Welcome to the club! We like to call it “the not spoiled children of rich people club” and it has about 6 billion members. Seriously, the reality is that there are lots of people out there who are overjoyed to get published just for the exposure, ie just the idea that other people are interested in reading what they have to say. Then supply and demand kicks in and the price that publishers have to pay goes down. Nobody pays me to play ball with my friends or repair my own car or talk politely to my in laws either. That’s how life is.

    • You seem to have missed the point of Krieder’s article. I also don’t get paid to talk politely to my in-laws, though there are moments someone would have to pay me to do it. There may be people overjoyed to get published simply for exposure; but one reason to do this is with the hope of being read by someone in a position to hire the writer as a professional. No writer or other creator insists that the world owes him a career, but Krieder is talking about a dysfunctional expectation that the experienced and sought-after professional will be only too happy to work for free. You seem to be confusing this fissure in the market with myriad hobbies and leisure activities.

    • As has been said many times before: People die due to exposure.

      If some popular commercial site uses one of my photos, it may get 10,000s of views. None of which means a thing to me, as almost all of the viewers aren’t people that are ever going to pay for a photo. At best they’ll pin on pinterest or stick on facebook. Again none of the viewers are going to pay for the image. The only site that is potentially going to pay cash is the original site.

  • Video killed the radio star. Photoshop killed painting. When I was a kid there were 300-400 bands, now there’s 30,000-40,000. It’s all double plus good!

    • Video actually didn’t kill the radio star. Photoshop certainly did not kill painting (or photography). And even if your numbers are correct about the bands, it’s an illusion. If there used to be (sample numbers) 10,000 amateur & struggling bands, 400 working professional bands, and 10 mega star bands; and today there are 40,000 amateur bands 100 working professional bands and 2 mega star bands, that’s a net loss. And that’s a more accurate description of what’s happening. And not just to music.

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