There’s a considerable amount of well warranted concern over the increase in the amount of account suspensions at Twitter and deplatforming/demonetization at YouTube. Under the excuse of going after soi-disant right wing conspiracy theory, plenty of content on the other end of the spectrum is being removed…apparently for the sin of doing a good job of covering and calling out the right wing! The latest of many examples:
Attention @PamelaBrownCNN: the videographer you interviewed a few weeks ago, @JonFarinaPhoto, has had his footage taken down by @TeamYouTube. Yes, the same footage you interviewed him about. Does your network care? https://t.co/on6uVf5GoL https://t.co/CgEj5s5AsK
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) February 4, 2021
I am not going to dispute the injustice of situations like this. However, we live in a world where powerful interests feel freer than ever to flex their muscles. And whether out of malice or inattention, it’s too easy to wind up the loser.
We were lucky enough to find out the hard way, early on (one of my owns sayings is “Sometimes bad luck is good luck.”). I’d only been blogging a bit over a year and was invited to the Milken conference, which was April 2008. At that point, everyone still assumed I was a man, which amused me enormously, and I was conflicted about outing myself. But I decided to go, particularly because I wanted to hang with some of the other invitees on the blogger panel (Felix Salmon and Mark Thoma).
Just before I was set to go, Google took down the site, which it was hosting on its free service, Blogger, as a spam blog. It was clear that it would take two to three weeks through the normal process to get the site back up. I was hysterical, because here I was about to get a star turn as a blogger and no one would be able to find my work.
Luckily I was friendly with technology writer turned management guru Michael Schrage. Michael was so gracious as to contact his brother, Eliot Schrage, who was then Vice President of Global Communications and Public Relations. Naked Capitalism was back up in 24 hours. But how many people who are similarly screwed have the good fortune to have a C-suite connection at Google?
I realized I could not have my site hosted by a big hermetic company, even worse for free, since they had no service obligation to me. So even though the site was generating only modest revenues from Google Adsense, I moved it to a private host. The layout you see now is a minor rework from the its original Blogger template, Simple. We have had a lot of tech hair-tearing over the years, since our decision to host our own comments makes unusually high database demands (due to the size of the database and the frequency of refresh). But we’ve finally gotten a very good tech team and most of the time, site plumbing is the least of our worries.
So you’ve been warned: if your business depends on a platform, you don’t have a business. I am simply gobsmacked that writers with the huuge reputations and followings like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi don’t have their own sites. Lambert mutters that he is worried it might be some sort of honeypot, or at least not proven to be trustworthy (but the flip side is Substack is apparently very lean, with only 20 employees, so they may be able to make this model nicely profitable for them).
Whatever functionality Substack offers (and it appears the main one is ease of setting up/monetizing mailing lists), it can’t be that hard or costly to reverse engineer, particularly if a few people got together to fund the development of a plug-in or plug-ins that could also be monetized.
To put it another way, it’s all well and good to want to be the creative person and not be bogged down with having to deal with the business side of publishing (and trust me, I do not like administrativa). However, when you choose to hand off the tech and monetization activities to the suits, you are at their mercy.
I have always been sensitive to my legal rights, and recall that I also wrote for many publications, some industry specialist, some MSM or MSM-adjacent, so I’ve looked at a lot of publisher copyright agreements. I am sure there will be nay-sayers, but I do not see how any content creator could be comfortable with the Paetron copyright language (this is the May 7, 2019 version; if there is a newer one, please pass it along and I’ll insert that instead, but I doubt it is materially different):
By posting creations on Patreon, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your creation. The purpose of this license is strictly limited to allow us to provide and promote memberships to your patrons. We will never try to steal your creations or use them in an exploitative way.
Paetron bizarrely and misleadingly has told the financial press that it does not have “contracts” with “creators” and they still control their content. Huh? With an unlimited, perpetual license AND the right to create derivative works? You give away all your rights and 10% of your gross too? By contrast, the normal deal with a publisher is they pay you, either for the work or for a right of first publication (with a certain period of exclusivity) but you as the author have the right to republish for self-promotional purposes. Some pubs also pay a kill fee if you submit an article on time on the right topic but for some reason they don’t run it.
Needless to say, I am also curious (as in suspicious) as how easy it is for a “creator” to download their full opus from Paetron were they to decide to cut the cord.
I wish there were easy answers. But we’ve stumbled though 14 years and are a survivor. I hope other publishers see the storm clouds on the horizon and take defensive measures.
Update 8:30 AM EST: In a bit of synchronicity, Greenwald tweeted (hat tip John Siman) shortly after our post went live:
Really enjoyed this discussion about the unique benefits Substack offers to writers, the growing obsession by corporate media to control and censor anything that offers independence, and how they will start to target Substack, Patreon and any platform that competes with them: https://t.co/y93nesADsC
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 4, 2021