A sad truth. Readers will always steal from writers.

This is a little story about volition. Specifically, the choices writers make about how we share and “monetize” our work. It’s a sad little tale, but please read to the end for the moral.

“there’s an extra irony here, that these were writers, who no doubt stomp around the internet chanting Pay The Writer whenever that noise startsup”

I’m a pro writer, and what I haven’t been paid to write is a much shorter list than what I have. My personal blog, however, is a semi-professional space. I make some income from posting here, but this is mostly material I want to write regardless of payment.

Yesterday, I decided to share a popular post from this blog on the Medium platform. I’ve made posts over at Medium since it began. It’s a great publishing experience, but has always been problematic, as it struggles to monetize its readership. That struggle took a new turn this month, as Medium opened up a new “clap” based payment system for contributors. It’s interesting, but I won’t share my thoughts on it here. (Maybe in a future post).

As an experiment, I took a popular post from this blog, and placed it behind the new paywall on Medium. As an after thought, I dropped a link to it on a Facebook group for writers I enjoy following.

What happened next was illustrative.

To follow this, you need to know that the Medium paywall allows free access to 3 premium “locked” articles each month, if you sign up to Medium, or unlimited access for $5.

A spate of comments were made on the Facebook group post of this kind.

“Join Medium to read this post” no way

That’s a fair response. But it’s a choice. You either join to read, or you don’t read.

A commenter screencapped the paywall, as a passive aggressive display they thought its existence unfair.

Another commenter then escalated this rhetoric, calling the paywall a “minor betrayal”

These kind of comments continued. Then a commenter suggested I should copypaste the post for the group. The next commenter went further, demanding that a Medium member screencap the post.

Emboldened by these demands, a commenter found my blog, located the original post, and linked it in the comments. Virtual cheers went up. Hooray! The mob had what they wanted.

I woke up to this mini-drama, and made a few responses as it unfolded, while chuckling about the whole thing. The incredible sense of entitlement, displayed with so little self-awareness, was pure comedy gold. I’m not going to post the screencaps. It’s not my intention to shame these people, because their behaviour is faaaaar from unique. Granted, there’s an extra irony here, that these were writers, who no doubt stomp around the internet chanting Pay The Writer whenever that noise startsup. But let’s be honest here, this behaviour is the norm. And as readers, we’re probably all guilty of it.

I’ve written a number of times on book piracy, and met with controversy every time. To clarify, I’m neither for or against piracy. I simply take the realistic position that, the internet being what it is, and people being what they are, that most folks will always dodge paying when they can. And given that reality, the emphasis is on us as creators to find the most constructive response.

The real issue at the heart of piracy is: volition. The power of a creator to choose how their work is shared and monetized. My decision to put my post behind a paywall was, in a matter of hours, openly violated, by my fellow writers, who then celebrated the act. These are the people who should be most sensitive to this issue, and even they don’t care. Given that as context, what chances do you think there are of ever dissuading the huge majority of people from stealing content whenever they can?

It’s a sad truth. But readers will always steal from writers. Your volitional power to choose how your work is published and monetized in this digital era is very limited. Denying that only reduces your options even further. Embrace the reality, use platforms like Patreon to work around it, and the advantages of this new digital era soon outweigh problems…even when that problem is your fellow writers being thieves!

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