“Sure, I torrent movies. What’s the big deal?”

“Why buy albums? I can listen for free on Pandora, Spotify, or even Amazon Unlimited Music.”

“I get all those ebook bargain newsletters, so I only download free books on my Kindle. I have so many now, there is no way I can read them all.”

Or

“No way am I paying more than $3.99 for an ebook unless the author is someone really famous or one of my favorites.”

The other day I read an article on Medium about how creative careers are dead. “Creatives are fucked,” the author lamented. “And it may be too late.” This comes as I, and a few others I know, are eeking out a living writing, often with an “and then some” added to it.

The reasons are not primarily those who are selling thousands of novels on Amazon in e-book form. There is usually more to it than that, much more. There are people making a living from stringing letters and words together in coherent sentences, though. Creative careers are not dead: far from it. They have evolved into something different than what we once expected.

It’s also not too late. Things can turn around for creative careers: this song has been sung before and really sung for years. Its tune is familiar to me. The first time I heard it, I was in a high school counselor’s office.

“So what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A writer.”

Stifled laughter. “No, not a hobby. I mean, what are you going to do for a living? Like for money?”

“I’m going to write.”

“Seriously, come on. Be realistic. I mean, I don’t want to crush your dreams, but what’s your backup plan when writing doesn’t work?”

At that time I didn’t have a backup plan. I attended a Christian school, so I was encouraged to be a pastor, school teacher, and even a campus janitor or landscaper. I didn’t like the idea of any of those things, as respectable as they were compared to being a writer full time, but I was reasonably good at math and liked airplanes, so it seemed like a career as an aeronautical engineer might work out. Short story, for a writer? It didn’t.

Neither did restaurant manager, sporting goods sales, retail, fast food, call center employee, pest control tech, delivery driver, auto parts salesman, motorcycle mechanic, service manager, or ski instructor. None of them were writing, although they all provided story material.

Then I started to hear about self-publishing, Amazon, and alternate paths to publication other than the Big Five. I finally took a job where much of my work was writing, and I had to be creative all of the time. It was perfect.

Since then I have been in and out of the freelance world and struggled to write full time, sometimes putting in 60-70 hour weeks for a sum that was certainly not correspondent to that much work.

I was happy, mostly. I was a workaholic, but I was doing what I loved. I just wanted to make more money.

Fast forward a couple of years. I’d gone through a move, gotten remarried, and lost one of my major clients. Suddenly I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. In the writing and freelance area, I was floundering.

I needed to figure out, again, what I did a decade before: how do I get paid for my words. In other words, in a world of free and .99 cent books, how can I make a living? I discovered a few things about myself and others and decided that to make a difference I had to change my own behavior and attitudes first.

We Are Not Entitled to Art

I get it. You are on a budget, and so you don’t pay for what you do not have to. As a creative, I understand. Our budgets are often smaller than those around us. However, if I am going to complain about how difficult it is to make a living as a creative when I enjoy someone else’s art or words, when I use their photo on my blog, and when I listen to music, I need to make sure the artist is getting paid.

How can you do that? The steps are simple, really.

Stop stealing stuff.

It is easy to look at the big publishers and box office receipts, even big record companies, and say they are greedy, and there is nothing wrong with downloading a free movie.

Except there is. If it stopped with big name publishers, you might have a case, even though your activity is technically illegal. But it seldom stops there. When you do the same to indie films, indie artists, and small time writers, you are making it even harder for them to make money.

I mean, let’s look at Drake’s latest album, More Life, and the sales in its first week of release. The album is expected to be number one on the charts with 500,000 – 550,000 sales plus streaming units (225,000 – 250,000 pure sales) in its opening week, according to HDD.

Drake has 35.2 million Instagram followers. That means around 1.5 % of his followers, who enjoy tons of free content and interaction with the artist on social media actually bought his new album in the first week.

If Drake’s return is that low, how is an indie artist who has less than 500K followers supposed to make a living? Is it any wonder that local singer works as a waiter four nights a week and lives in a studio apartment downtown?

In 2015, Drake made $15 million from Spotify for streaming. Nothing to sneeze at, until you figure that it took almost 2 billion streams, or around $0.00084 a stream to make that kind of money. Break that down to your local indie artist, and he got a bigger tip from the disgruntled couple at table six than he made all month from Spotify.

If You Like It, Buy It

Spotify is not stealing, exactly. I mean, the service pays the artist less than a penny per stream, but they have to be profitable too, right? It is similar to Amazon Unlimited for authors: they get paid fractions of pennies per page read, and there are tons of scammers out there getting fake reads and clicks, draining the pockets of honest writers trying to make a living.

So what can you do to help? If you find an artist you like on Spotify or Amazon Unlimited Music, go buy their stuff. All of it, or as much as you can afford. Come back and buy their new releases, and share their work with friends and encourage them to buy it too.

This doesn’t mean putting the files on a file sharing site or sending them to your friend. Re-read the last part of that sentence again: encourage your friends to buy their work.

It is the same with authors and other creatives: buy their stuff. Pay for it, don’t just grab it when it is free or on sale. Pay full price. Then read it, review it, and encourage your friends to buy their books too.

Creatives spend valuable hours creating the art, music, and words you enjoy. If you put in a 40 hour week and never got paid, how long would you keep going to work? Is it any wonder so many artists and writers quit and give up?

Think about it. When is the last time you paid for a book, an album, or photo you used on your blog? How often have you complained about writing on a website that you are consuming for free?

If you like music, art, books, or even the content on a website, pay for it. The writer on the other side of the screen will thank you for it, and so will those he or she is trying to feed.

Stop Asking Creatives to Do Things for Exposure

Look, I am not saying I will never do things for exposure. But at this point in my career, I choose what I do for exposure. If you ask me to do something without offering to pay me, and you are a for-profit business, you better have a damn compelling reason it will benefit me.

If I am going to write a 1,500-word article for your website, you need to have a compelling reason for me to do it for free. If I contact you, and I know your site does not pay, I probably have a reason of my own to write for you, and you should be at least thankful you are getting quality content for free.

The pickiest website editors, the ones that cause me the most headaches as a writer more often than not are not paying me for content: they expect me to be grateful my content is on their website.

When I share those articles, it gives them increased exposure. I have more social media followers with greater engagement than a number of these sites. Who is creating exposure for whom in that case?

Would you ever take your business, whatever it is, and do a remote event that involved set up, costs, your time and that of your employees without a tangible return? No? Then stop asking bands to play at your bar or event for free in exchange for exposure.

Think of it this way: would you ask a restaurant to cater your event for free in exchange for exposure to those attending? If you say you would, I encourage you to try it, and see how many restaurants you get that will “volunteer.”

If you would never do this, stop with the asking artists to do things for exposure nonsense. If they provide you with entertainment in some form, that is a service. Pay them for it. Be that writer, artist, actor, musician, comedian, or performer of any kind. If you can’t afford to pay them, don’t ask. It’s rude.

You Need Creatives

Chances are your business or the company you work for has a logo. You probably have brochures, email newsletters, a website, and even more written materials. You probably even have videos with music, webinars, podcasts, and any number of other marketing materials.

Personally, you probably listen to music, read the news or your favorite blog, watch movies and television shows. You may listen to audio books or read novels. Every one of those things is created by someone or a group of someones. Those people need to be paid for their work. They need to make a living the same way you do.

Every time you steal a movie, every time you stream music rather than paying for an album, every time you click on that free book on Amazon, you let the artist who created it know that their work is not worth much at all to you.

There is a person at the other end of that article or piece of art. Someone’s fingers ache and their head hurts at times from writing that novel. They sacrificed hours of time and sanity to create it, and you were offered an escape from reality in return.

You need creatives. Your business needs creatives. Without them, much of the material on the internet would not exist, movies would not come to life on the screen, and music would not be made.

Artists, Stop Undervaluing Your Creations

Why do people download free books? Because authors give them away. Publishers and authors set prices. Musicians agree to less than a penny per stream of their song or album.

Creatives live in fear of charging too much. That if they sell their work for what it is worth, no one will buy it. Stop it. What you do is valuable and worthwhile. If we could all get together and simply say “No more” it would make a difference.

No more should anyone undervalue their work. Your music, your book, your art is not worth less because you are an indie, or not part of a big publisher or movie studio. Your work is worthwhile, and those who wish to be entertained by it, to use it, should pay a fair price for it.

The more we say “no” when someone offers us a writing gig for “exposure,” or wants to use our photos or art for free because “hundreds of people will see it” the less we will be used by those who don’t really value what we do anyway.

Creative careers are in the same jeopardy they have been in for decades. Art, writing, and music are a huge part of all of our lives. We need to value them. We need to pay for them. We need to give creators the respect they deserve.

It’s not too late.


Also published on Medium.

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Troy Lambert
Troy is a Freelance writer, editor, and author who lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho with the love of his life, his son, and two very talented dogs. Troy writes about business, sports, GIS, Education, and more. He is most passionate about writing suspense thrillers, and his work can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Troy-Lambert/e/B005LL1QEC/