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Betwixt and Between Creators and their Platforms.

As a creative, I feel I should do the best I can to support my fellow creatives, but find myself wondering what’s the best way to do this.

Creatives generate their own content, their art: visual, written, musical, tangible, untangible, informative or entertaining, and many other things. I indulge in YouTube videos about DIY, fashion, and cats, recipes from many internet sources, pilates workout videos, written and audio commentary about the tech and other industries, and photos I embed in my own creative work (i.e. blog posts).

We all want our content to be seen, heard or experienced. The internet, and various businesses built on it, provide a wonderful platform to showcase our work and reach broad audiences. So much entertainment is available for free. Or so it seems. Content creators blissfully post their hard work, their intellectual property, for the sheer joy of sharing and having others experience their creations. Right?

Many creatives would consider an idyllic life to be: creating, sharing, and inspiring and entertaining their audience, unfettered by commercial interests or concerns. Two things (at least) stand in the way:

1. We all need money to provide our basic needs, despite many artists’ preference for pursuing their art without monetary motivations. 

2. The world, being what it is, considers financial gain for artistic accomplishment a form of recognition. 

Many emerging creators dream of one day supporting themselves by working full time at their creative passion. Thus, my desire to support my fellow creatives. Sure, free consumption adds to the tally of page clicks, views, or downloads, which is a form of appreciation and recognition for the artist; however, there is more to do. Let me break it down by platform.

My favs on YouTube say ‘like and subscribe’, so I’ve subscribed and liked a few episodes. Like and subscribes are the currency of YouTube, so I’m conscious that this benefits the creator’s commercial aspirations, promoting their work and allowing greater revenues to be earned through ads. 

The downside of appreciating YouTube creators on their channel is that you have to login to your Google account to ‘like’ and comment on new posts. I don’t participate as much as I could because I’m rarely logged in when I watch YouTube. Would more participation help the creators I enjoy on YouTube? It isn’t inconvenience that stops me, but that I believe logging in is of more benefit to Alphabet (the parent company) than the creator (tracking, data, etc).

Alternatively, I support some of my YouTube favs by buying their merch. And purchasing items from the brands that sponsor them, although I’m not sure how helpful that is to the creator, unless the brand knows I’m there because of them. Should I shout out: ‘Yo! Gymshark. Nicole sent me!”? This approach isn’t practical for many others I gather wisdom from in a one-off viewing. I fail to support these creators most of the time, although a few I acknowledge in my posts. But what’s the right thing to do here? Liking would be okay but requires logging in and as above, this may benefit Google more. 

There are creatives, musicians and writers, that I follow on social media and support through purchase of their music/concert tickets and books. On social platforms I like and share their posts, which may improve the artist’s profile in the currency of the platform, but mostly keeps me informed so I can buy more of their work.

Am I taking advantage of free recipes while the cooks starve? Decades ago, I bought books and magazines for precious recipes. Now, the majority of recipe providers have their own websites which, based on the abundance of ads, are monetized by advertising dollars. Presumably, I support these creators by visiting their sites, providing eyes on page to generate revenue. Although, I do whatever I can to avoid ads – ad blockers, skipping to recipe, printing. It seems silly to suggest clicking insincerely (i.e. without any real interest) on the ads to support these creators, even though technically it would.

Then there are artists who post their photos and drawings on royalty-free image download sites. One site I frequent has a freemium model – loads of free images and premium ones for sale. I wonder how many of these artists hope to be paid for their work, or derive other benefits for seeing it used, being able to point to the popularity of their work (i.e. number of downloads), contributing to a community etc. It is possible to make a donation to the artists that provide the free images, which I’ve never, put off by having to use a payment system that has a minimum value above what I’d like to give. This doesn’t fit my definition of donate, which is a freely given amount.

There is more that I could be doing to support the creators I follow. Should I? As a creator, I’m happy to have a platform to display my work that isn’t gated by a big publishing concern. I even pay so people can read my writing for free (fees for domain registration and web hosting). Other creators invest into their creative pursuits – cameras, video editing software etc. 

My approach thus far to appreciate the creative works I enjoy is ‘legal’, in the sense that it abides by the rules under which the content is provided. I value what I consume, whether it’s access to recipes, free fitness classes, learning how to do anything, or better images than I can generate. I save money that I might otherwise spend on recipe books, hiring contractors, fitness classes and artwork, assuming I would buy these things. I’m not taking from the artists – they have chosen to make their work available for free. I’m not secretly consuming content, nor am I personally profiting financially from other’s content. 

Still I wonder if I’m indirectly taking advantage of creators, as people sometimes do things that allow themselves to be underpaid or otherwise unfairly treated. Voluntary participation doesn’t rule out being exploited. 

The reason I don’t do more to appreciate creators comes down to not liking the way their platforms work. Whether it’s YouTube, royalty-free images, or ad supported blogs, I draw the line where the platform seems to be in charge. The platforms provide a useful service to the creators and consumers, but they are for-profit entities. My suspicious nature wonders if the platforms gamify the system of appreciating creators and therefore take advantage of creators and their audiences. 

So, I find myself betwixt and between the creators and the platforms they use to offer their wares. I want to support the creators, but not when support seems more to the benefit of the platform. Supporting fair treatment of creators is important too. 

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