Listen to an audio version of this essay here ︎
Author: Edward Haynes (@teddyhaynes)
Edward Haynes is a writer, critic, and editor living in Liverpool. As well as editing this site, they write about comics, local culture, and art. Their twitter is @teddyhaynes
The last couple of weeks has seen a lot of discourse about the selling of digital art as Non-Fungible Tokens, a stupid and environmentally damaging idea, wherein a piece of digital art or media is linked to a non-reproducible, unique bit of code, thus creating scarcity and therefore monetary value. The idea of the internet should be resistant to the commodification of art, it should flatten access to information, making things infinitely reproducible, and smashing any barrier to access. NFTs are opposed to that promise of access, they’re forcing capitalism into a space where capitalism doesn’t quite fit.
The last couple of months have seen very little discourse on this website. That isn’t what I wanted. I wanted this to be a place where I would write regularly, where other people could contribute to. An Inside Out has been quiet for four months, and there’s a number of reasons for that.
After a Christmas break, I planned to come back here quickly in the new year, but didn’t. The longer I waited, the harder it got. A long gap calls for a triumphant return, but I wasn’t feeling triumphant here. My focus shifted away. Trying to get submissions and pitches from other people was unfruitful, the patreon stopped growing, I had laptop problems, I got COVID. It was hard to keep momentum. I didn’t stop working on writing, I wrote some very exciting freelance pieces over the last few months (this for SKTCHD was something I had been wanting to write for a long time, and I’m really happy with). But I still felt guilty and disillusioned here.
I think that my work is worth getting paid for. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assertion. But I also understand that asking people to pay for a site like this, that’s intentionally basic, that’s young and unestablished, that’s just me, is a tough sell. So it makes sense for me to focus on work that pays, in places that are more established for people to see.
But that SKTCHD piece is behind a paywall. And that makes me uncomfortable, I don’t want the things I make to be inaccessible. That doesn’t negate the great experience I had working with the editor, or the pride I have in that piece. My discomfort doesn’t stop me from benefiting, I got paid $125 because of that paywall (which is a high rate for writing about comics). This is a much higher rate than most comics specialist sites can offer.
The more we can talk openly about culture, the better we can understand it, hiding arts writing behind walls makes doing so harder. These discussions have to be open and transparent. The paywall turns my ideas from a (hopefully) interesting discussion about how place works on the comics page through the work of a particular writer, into a commodity containing that discussion. As the writer of that essay, I didn't aim to make a commodity, the market did that -- adding a price tag to my work for the consumer. In some ways, I’m glad of that, it means I get paid, but it’s also something that as a writer I don’t want a direct part in.
Writing should be open and accessible. How do you make sure these discussions that help us to understand culture remain open when financial pressure takes necessary, material priority? I ask this earnestly, without having an answer. I ask from multiple, intersecting perspectives here, too, perspectives of writer, editor, and reader.
I ask unsure whether it’s even a useful question, or at least whether it’s a question I want to be asking. Ideally, it would be a false dichotomy. This question, as well as the guilt I feel for not posting here frequently, comes from the capitalist drive to turn my work into commodities, and that’s not a drive that I think is conducive to the best writing. But, in the same breath, ignoring the question would just be denialism.
So the question should be then, how do we break that ideological dichotomy? How do we stop thinking about our work as commodities when capitalism’s ultimate demand is that everything becomes a commodity? I don’t know, I think Zarina Muhammad of The White Pube’s recent pieces considering the role of the critic, and Ideas For A New Art World offer a start, they think about decoupling practice from finances through reforms like basic income, and what good criticism looks like in the contemporary world.
NFTs exist to create a sense of scarcity, of lack of access. But you can still copy the file itself ad infinitum, the NFT is a more ‘certificate of authenticity’ that can’t be replicated, but an image file containing a piece of art is still a normal file. So the work itself is not scarce, it’s an idea of its authenticity that is scarce. But that’s just an idea, a vibe to justify making money. So the pricing has nothing to do with the work of the artist, but abstract financial speculation.
I don’t want An Inside Out to be a place of commodities. I don’t care about SEO or ads, it’s funded through donations of like five lovely people. This is a quiet space for thinking and feeling about culture. This is somewhere I can get away from commodifying myself, my work, and the work I write about. That doesn’t mean not acknowledging that these things are commodified, but trying to value them by a different scale.
(As an editor, the relationship is slightly different, because the drive for getting money in isn’t about myself, rather it is to pay somebody for their writing. This is a dynamic I’ve had less of a chance to explore here, though may consider writing a follow up once more guest pieces have been written here).
The demands of maintaining my income and momentum might pull me away from here again. But that shouldn’t have to mean this site goes entirely quiet for almost four months. I can’t make promises about frequency. I think my initial goals were too high for a new site that couldn’t have ever been my primary focus, the desire to have constant output is one of capitalism that I want to avoid. But I do want new, good writing by myself and others on here, but I need to be more forgiving of myself for not meeting arbitrary content requirements. If I’m busy with other work, or slow in writing a piece, that’s ok!
So, going forward the patreon will continue to pay monthly, which will be used to pay the hosting costs of the site ($13US per month), the remainder will go to whoever has written for the site that month (whether me or someone else), and will roll over to the next month if there’s another empty month. I know currently that isn’t a lot of money, but I think it is the fair thing to do. It is clear that me writing every piece here isn’t sustainable, so I will be more assertive in looking for guest writers, hoping to put that small patreon budget to good use.