December 26th, 2017


Net Neutrality and Fandom Economy

I'm thinking about a meme I keep seeing over on Tumblr (here). Basically it's an "ad" for an imagined future, where you pay a base rate for internet services and then can purchase "packages" for full-speed access to your favorite websites. Without them you can stream at the lightning speed of 128 kbps. $5 for Livejournal! $10 for Netflix! What a dystopian dreamscape that would be.

To be clear, I'm obviously not in favor of net neutrality. Outside of Comcast execs, I've not met anyone who actually is. Speaking on a purely relativistic level, I'm not convinced it's worth the outrage when there's so much else going on these days to get in a huff about, but it's obviously not good. But every time I see talk like this I always get hung up on the rhetoric. Because when we talk about $5 for LiveJournal, we're not talking about $5 going to the actual content creators (the bloggers and commenters), or even to LiveJournal, but to the ISP that lets us get there.

And this bothers me. A lot. The funny thing is it's actually how the web works now, isn't it? But having it laid so bare like that does rub salt in a wound, because it always seems like such misplaced priorities. I see blogs written by really intelligent people with unique perspectives, and people --myself included-- who approach the content like something we're entitled to. I wouldn't mind a mechanism to give (say) Andrew Sullivan or Paul Krugman $5 a month for the privilege of accessing their thoughts. And I'd gladly cough up a few bucks to AO3 authors or other fan-creators. They give me much more enjoyment than Netflix ever could.

I don't donate to the AO3 platform just because they don't seem the most efficient. I've gladly donated to other sites to help cover their operations costs, and would love to buy some of my favorite webmasters a Starbucks from time to time. But supporting the platform directly --let alone the technical infrastructure that lets us access it-- is different from supporting the actual content creators.

Of course, in fandom particularly, I'm not entirely sure how welcome it'd be. Tolkien fandom in particular revels in the idea that this cannot be bought, and I don't want to rob that from them. Sherlock fandom (both Doyle and BBC) seem more open to this idea, I'm guessing because there's such a history of commercial or at least professional adaptations and spin-offs. What's the difference between a pastiche sold to a magazine and a fanfic written in the Doyle style posted to AO3? And with fan-artists, there's a similarly murky divide between illustrators, professional artists using the characters with or without permission, and fan-artists. So the idea of selling commissions or accepting donations is more acceptable in that world, even expected. (I've bought my share in recent years.) But for those who don't like thinking of their work in those terms, I certainly wouldn't want to force that metric on them.

At the same time, though... these days it does seem like we value things when we (or someone) have to pay for them. That's not right, but increasingly it does seem like reality. So when we conflate "paying for YouTube" or "paying for access to YouTube" with "paying for these particular YouTube users who produce the videos making me want to spend time there," that seems to miss something vital.

I'm curious: is there a way to insist that fan-creators or content-creators generally (that would include bloggers and anyone else creating and sharing online) matter, without saying "you should pay for this"? Is there a better way to talk about supporting and maybe even giving people the breathing space to have a little fun and be a little more creative, without boiling it down to money and marketplace? How do we do this in fandom?

(That's very murky, I know, but I hope you all know what I mean, somehow....)

I do know that when I was posting to a paid blog site and getting paid a nominal fee, that nominal fee meant I could go do something guilt-free and off-budget, and it made me feel really good. I do wish I could give that experience to my fellow fan-creators.

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