So, several of my online colleagues have been frustrated today by a body of emails that went out resulting in their Youtube accounts being demonetized due to a lack of watched hours. Not too long ago, Medium was talking about similar problems and discussing moving more of their content behind a paywall. If you know anyone who is trying to sell on Facebook, ask them about the challenges of discoverability on Facebook right now.
All of these issues lead back to the same origin: you don’t own that platform, and you don’t get to control it. I feel for Youtubers who put up their videos to make a few extra bucks suddenly feeling the squeeze, but this does demonstrate a problem we’ve had for a very long time. Relying upon someone else’s platform in any business means that you’re at their mercy. Writers who rely upon money from KDP have found similar problems of their money coming in fluctuates with the unilateral changing of policies by the other party.
I have a dark and mysterious past that include working in very corporate spheres and these are all situations where you have a de facto “Johnson account” – that one thing that can make or break your business. Back in the day, the webcomic crowd pointed out that part of their model’s success was ensuring that there was no Johnson account; there was no singular client or business that could break their model (not to say that a series of inopportune things couldn’t happen, more that if one printer changed their rates, they’d find another).
Youtube, Amazon, Facebook – these companies all have a vested interest in profiting off of your work. I don’t blame them for that. Lots of businesses do that: publicists make money by spreading the word for your work, printers make your words or art into artifacts that can be traded in the real world, etc. The problem is that if you don’t like it, your alternatives aren’t great.
I played around with Medium, I’m still on Facebook, I do a lot of things like that, but I’m always keen to ensure that there’s something beneath and behind that. Everything I make and do has the capacity to lead back to here, even if it is through multiple steps on the way. I get to own this no matter what happens. If Squarespace suddenly stops being an awesome place for my website (not being paid for that), I just make it so www.omichinski.com takes you somewhere else.
I’ve done a ridiculous amount of research into how creative businesses operate. It is ludicrously common how often people over leverage themselves into a specific business, only to be left scrambling later. Building your business is important, and tying yourself to a specific company is always something you need to be aware of. It can be a problem for your own business, and we’re seeing that now. Unfortunately, you’re one of the only people that is going to be in your corner. You’ve got to keep an eye on how you’re operating and where your money is coming from.