In today’s newsletter: the latest tech bro to take advantage of content creators. This month, a portion of profits from paid newsletter subscriptions will be donated to Girls Write Now. Previous organizations we’ve supported include Women for Women, Heart of Dinner & Black Mamas Matter. If you’ve found your way here but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
This week, a man by the name of Tom Redman really pissed me off.
A few days ago, Redman excitedly posted a Twitter announcement detailing his latest professional endeavor. He had launched a platform by the name of “Recipeasly,” that works as a content aggregator for recipes across the internet. The idea was simple: people looking for recipes on existing food blogs or publications often are confronted with ads and stories before they get to the actual recipe. For Redman, this “fluff” was unnecessary. He figured if he could save readers the 30 seconds it takes to scroll to the bottom of a page to the recipe — past the ads and recipe’s introduction — he would be offering them a service. And so, with the slogan “your favorite recipes without the ads or life stories,” Redman posted his tweet and waited for the praise to roll in.
Except, that praise never came.
Instead, Redman was quickly attacked by an online mob of content creators who were indignant at this new company idea. You see, what Redman had failed to realize is that by cutting recipes out of blog posts or articles, he was effectively stealing content from the writers and food bloggers who had developed these recipes. By eliminating the one or two paragraphs that introduce a recipe, Redman was disregarding the effort put into painstakingly developing, testing, and perfecting a recipe. In cutting out advertising, he was effectively stripping away the revenue that sustains many content creators and publications today. In the end, Redman had made a crucial mistake: he built an idea on the backs of creators but forgot to factor them into the business model itself.
I would like to say that Tom Redman is an isolated instance, but Redman — like so many arrogant tech-bro start-up founders — is a symptom of a larger problem, one that is pervasive across all artistic fields. All too often, the people who create are the ones that are underpaid and undervalued; while the people in business are the ones to profit off an artist’s work. Whether you’re a painter, musician, comedian, or writer — chances are there are people benefiting from your work more than you are. How infuriating.
Recently, I watched the HBO documentary, The Price of Everything, which examines the role of art in today’s money-driven, consumer-based society. The film features interviews with collectors, dealers, auctioneers, and artists — showing the inner-workings of an industry built entirely on artistic talent. And yet, in the massive web of people that work within the art industry, it is the artists who are paid the least.
Let me pause here to emphasize this again: The artists are paid the least for the work they create; while the collectors/dealers/auctioneers who create nothing make everything.
In one example, artist Robert Rauschenberg — whose 1958 work Thaw was bought by wealthy art collectors Robert and Ethel Scull for a measly $900, was later auctioned for upwards of $85,000. In the documentary, the artist turns to Scull and says, “I’ve been working my ass off for you to make that profit?” To which the art collector can only smugly smile.
It’s not just painters. When Scooter Braun acquired ownership of Taylor Swift's former record label, Big Machine Records, this gave him legal rights over Swift’s first six albums, which is almost her entire musical career. Braun leveraged this power over Swift, preventing her from performing music she had previously created while simultaneously profiting off her existing work. Swift’s music made up nearly 80 percent of the record label’s earnings and yet, she wasn’t allowed to sing her own songs. But while Swift is well compensated, other musicians are not so lucky. The iconic Billie Holiday once sold out New York’s Carnegie Hall to adoring crowds. The day Lady Day passed away, she had only 70 cents in her bank account. 70 cents.
I am neither a musician nor a painter, but I am a writer. In the years that I’ve spent writing, I have been aghast at the ways in which writers are routinely underpaid. To this day, I receive unsolicited emails from companies wanting me to write an article, take photographs, or create a video in exchange for….a pair of sunglasses. I have been offered compensation in the form of free product and exposure more times than I can count. The devastating truth is that whether you’re a painter, writer, musician, or comedian — entire industries monetize your talents and yet, devalue them. For writers, their content is the foundation on which publications stand. Without their content, these publications wouldn’t generate revenue from subscriptions, display advertising, brand partnerships, etc. And yet, writers are the lowest paid.
After posting his celebratory tweet, Redman ended up taking recipeasly.com offline and posting an apology to content creators for his faux pas. In the end, it is the same old platitudes whenever the topic of content creators and their mistreatment arises. Rallying cries to pay content creators fairly. Empty promises from businesses to raise their rates. But, if the case of Tom Redman proves anything, it’s that we do have a voice and when we use it, we can make a change. Or, at the very least, prevent another tech bro from taking advantage of our work.
This month we’re ditching social media and escaping to…
In these pandemic days, my life is ruled by social media. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, my fingers seem to be endlessly scrolling and swiping through status updates, Instagram posts, and tweets. At least one part of my body is getting a regular work-out. But recently, I remembered a blissful, pre-COVID time when I abandoned ALL social media for a trip through Iceland. Studies show that taking a social media detox can improve our headspace because (surprise, surprise) when we put down our iPhones long enough to live in the moment, we tend to be happier. For this month’s getaway newsletter, I’m going to be transporting subscribers (and myself) to the crisp cool air of Iceland, the freedom of the open road, the beauty of towering mountains, and the bliss of being social media free. Not yet a paid subscriber? Upgrade to unlock exciting perks, subscriber-only gifts, and this month’s getaway newsletter.
Supporting nonprofits, one newsletter at a time
In December, we donated a portion of profits from this newsletter to Women for Women International, which supports women in war-torn countries. In January, we donated to women-founded Heart of Dinner to support their mission to feed the elderly Asian community impacted by COVID. In February, we donated to Black Mamas Matter to fight for maternal health rights for Black women. This month, we are supporting Girls Write Now, which empowers underserved and underrepresented girls to find their voice through the power of community and writing. Become a paid subscriber to unlock exciting perks, get subscriber-only gifts, AND support some incredible nonprofits. Have a suggestion for a nonprofit we should support? Tell us below!
Face rollers, good reads, and Jane Fonda
Read this article about flop eras by Harron Walker. Harron writes a column for W about the highs and lows of womanhood as a thirty-something New Yorker. Speaking of New York, read this love letter to Manhattan by fellow Substack newsletter writer, Nisha Chittal. I too miss you dearly, Manhattan. While you’re on the subject of life and all its ebbs and flows, read this book about one woman named Nora and a magical library where she has the chance to rewrite her life story. Anytime Nora pulls a book from this library, she gets to step into a new life where she made one decision differently. My good friend, Esme, recommended this book to me and I cannot put it down.
Treat yourself to this crystal face roller from the woman-owned business, Lockwood. If you’re a writer, aspiring author, cookbook aficionado, or food lover — sign up for this upcoming virtual event with Alison Roman to discuss all things publishing. While you’re at it, sign up for this Conversations with Changemakers virtual event, which has a seriously awesome line-up of speakers. Charlize Theron (my girl crush!) and Jane Fonda (the legend!) are just a few of the women you can expect to hear from.