Making proclamations online is therefore a dangerous business. But as you can guess from someone whose day job wouldn’t look out of place in the first chapter of a Kafka novel, I live to take risks, so I’m going to tell you something I’ve observed about the internet lately. And that is that high-quality free internet content is disappearing. Fast.
I first noticed this when US trailblazer The Toast disappeared. I loved The Toast. It was full of really, really clever and funny stuff, like the Hey Ladies series, which was the most brilliant and sardonic takedown of toxic female cliques ever to grace the web. Granted, not everything on The Toast was pure genius, but no publication can hit the high notes 100% of the time (case in point: this blog post. My last few were very popular, whereas I haven’t cracked a single joke in this one yet).
Then I noticed a couple of other literary journal-type sites going dark, or just very, very quiet. Eventually, a post goes up which says, sorry lads; we have other commitments, like paying bills, eating, and not being mentally ill. And another one bites the dust.
There are 2 ways of looking at this. First, one supposes that high quality content isn’t as popular as clickbait or image-based stuff, and will never get the same sort of traction. Perhaps the people who curate this stuff can’t understand why it isn’t popular, and end up getting despondent. Or perhaps they get tired of spending time producing high quality content for little or no reward.
Another way of looking at it is that perhaps all internet content has a finite shelf life. Nothing lasts forever, and the internet shortens non-infinity faster than you can zip through a piece called 10 Photos Kim Kardashian Doesn’t Want You To See.
But I’m seeing a pattern here. Long-form, high-quality, free internet content is disappearing. Are writers finally taking a stand? Are they saying “No more getting our work for nothing”? Is it that once people have built that mythical platform showcasing their writing, they’re going off to bigger and better things? Or is it that people are thinking “This so-called exposure thing is a complete swizz – I’m getting nothing out of this. Better stop”?
After all, if a Buzzfeed staff writer can reputedly earn an annual salary of $40,976 to tell you that Daniel Radcliffe shares the same face with the fictional character Harry Potter, why would someone bother to earn nothing for writing something which has merit?
I think about this a lot when I’m under pressure. There aren’t 10 contributing editors to this blog, nor does it facilitate internet marketers touting thinly disguised product placement in guest posts. I’m not sitting here sifting through submissions and chuckling to myself thinking, hahaha, totes hilaires, that’s perfect for Thursday. There is only me.
I write all of the content on this blog, excepting the comments (which admittedly can be wittier, smarter and livelier than the blog posts on a frequent basis… FYI: I’m still considering banning all commenters funnier than me).
But I’m also writing a novel, submitting another, co-writing screenplays, reading, maintaining relationships with non-virtual humans, and holding down a full-time day job in an industry as unrelated to creativity as cats are to landscape gardening.
When I look at my to-do list, I often wonder when something’s going to give, and whether or not that thing that gives will be the blog. Although it would probably hurt me more than anybody else. How else am I to fulfil my life’s ambition (taking the piss out of absolutely everything) if not through blogging?
Having said that, it takes me quite a while to complete a blog post. Nothing you see here gets churned out in twenty minutes, which is why I only post once a week, and sometimes even less frequently. I’m not telling you what I’m thinking right now and how it relates to me because, you know, Me. I try to produce the type of stuff I’d like to read: stuff that’s thought out, structured, properly worded, layered. Just more. By the time images are added, promotion is done through social media and comments are replied to, hours have passed. That may not be sustainable forever.
It seems to me that internet content providers really have to decide what exactly it is that they want to achieve from what they’re doing. I wanted an online profile: now I have one. Bonuses I didn’t anticipate were meeting my screenwriting partner through blogging, and getting introductions to people in publishing I would never have got within an ass’s roar of otherwise. But when or what is that critical point, whereby a blogger already has everything they’re ever going to get from it?
In the meantime, the sort of high-quality free internet content I like appears to be disappearing. Maybe more stuff will rise to take its place. But for now, I’m seeing a pattern of empty space, and not feeling terribly surprised.
What do you think? Are you providing free content online, and loving it? Or is anyone out there getting frustrated? Come on, tell your Auntie Tara. Provider Of Discontented Content Since 2013.
Apparently WordPress have been running ads here which some readers may find offensive. I have no control over it, so I can only suggest that you boycott whatever’s being touted without my (or your) consent.