On the (end of the) commercialization of writing

What happens when money is involved in the process of thinking and writing? Is there a danger, or is it simply a neutral motivation?

The end of media?

In a time in which media seems to be of a growing importance in the personal every-day lives of people, conventional organisations that used to provide the content of these platforms are rapidly disappearing or changing their mode of business. Newspapers fire people or become based on a version of crowdfunding (for instance De Correspondent in the Netherlands), and people who try to come up with alternative have a difficult time doing so. As Medium-originator Ev Williams said:

“The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.”

Journalism is struggling. To be able to write what is necessary for a democratic and informed world, becomes increasingly difficult when publishers are not supportive. Exception seems to be when you have a specific political post-factual point of view you want to expand on – sites such as Breitbart are doing well. Which begs the question: why does that political perspective have money for the influence of opinions? Why do they find it so important that they spend so much money on this? Why is ‘fake-news’ profitable in the first place? (And why does a similar but opposite platform which wants to improve the open debating culture in Germany depend on a form of crowdfunding? (Schmalbart, German))
What we do know however, is that people need at least some money to be able to live and write. Too much money and too little money both inhibits thinking – a basic set of living requirements and the ability to read and keep up with what is being developed and the time to do so, is necessary to stay in touch with thinking that happens around the world, and to reflect on it. But too much money would lead to writing for the sake of writing, might lead to not being in touch with reality and not caring how one’s audience responds. There should be a middle way. To earn enough, and to be appreciated.

So, where?

The choice to think and to write cannot be a commercial thought. In his book ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’, the author Haruki Murakami explains how he felt he had to write a novel, even though everyone told him not to, told him to stick to his jazz bar that had just become a little bit successful after years of hard work and struggling. But he wrote, and it turned out the world was ready for his books.
Some think the university is the right place – to have a steady job and to be able to write. Yet this is not totally obvious, at least not now, where teaching loads are often too high to leave room for research, and where the demands of the type of publications required to remain keep your job do not help toward a writing that is connected to the world and gives back something to people who are interested but not in that specific academic niche. And let’s not even begin to talk about the additional pressures and difficulties in place for female philosophers…


One of the things that are important for those who write, and for anyone who wants to be able to dedicate their life and energy to something, is a relatively stress-free environment. I wrote about this earlier, on how writing is a delicate balance of many factors, but one of these factors is knowing that one can pay the basic bills next month. Which is difficult when you work as a freelancer, but especially hard when you don’t want to stop doing your research and provide a high level of thought and reflection, even though that means that platforms you were formerly involved on decide to look for someone else whose writing is easier, and not asking to redefine and rethink paradigms that form the basis of human identity.

Supporting independent thought. For the price of a cup of coffee.

There are two recent developments I know about that are looking into alternative methods of making sure that good content is rewarded in itself, and not because it is of a specific political color. One is Project R (@_Project_R, Swiss, in German), which is still in development and not a lot is known about this yet, but I’ll keep you posted. Another is Steady (joinsteady), a platform designer to help those who provide content to get support from their readership, without putting up one of those ridiculous paywalls. The content is created anyway, but individuals now have the opportunity to support this. For the price of a cup of coffee. Or more. There are several plans available, each with their own extras, little perks that might interest you. Or not.

Am I begging… the question?

Today I have launched my own project-page on Steady. I’m asking people to support me by giving a monthly donation. I have no idea what it will bring. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps it is just my way of telling people I will continue no matter what. I’m committed to the independence of thought and writing. The only way for this to continue to be possible in the future, is to allow platforms like Steady to exist and to provide a very easy and straight-forward solution to the advertisement-driven commercial environment in which thought cannot take place.

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