Want to earn? Join the platform

Traditionally, creators such as artists, authors and designers have leaned on large institutions to allow them to publish their work and monetise it. For artists, expositions in galleries connected them to potential buyers. Authors needed publishers to advertise their work and pay the upfront costs of pressing books, and designers needed to attract the attention of a company to produce their work.

One thing all of these platforms have in common is that they make money by taking commissions from the work they help the creators sell. This has the direct effect of reducing the income a creator receives, but also creates an incentive for the platform itself to work just with creators that produce ‘monetizable’ work.

The effect is that there is a corresponding incentive for creators to produce monetizable work. That already sounds like self-censorship. Because what is and what is not monetizable? If a book has a controversial topic, a publisher might decide not to publish it to avoid a public backlash , costing them their reputation. An agent might judge a book as not good enough to sell well. Work already being available in online form can harm the chances of it getting picked up for publishing.

Earn without the platform? Join the other platform

So it is often not the customer that decides what is and what is not, but the publisher. If you’re sure that your work does have enough interested customers to sell well, these days there are plenty of alternate ways for you to monetise your work.

This can be a platform for relatively traditional publishing, but with the middle man cut out. Platforms such as Itch.io (for games & software) and Bandcamp (for music) offer services similar to what game and music publishers do, but allow anyone to offer their creations on their platform, and take a much smaller cut from your profit. For example, Bandcamp only takes 15% commission, whereas traditional music publishers often take a 50% stake.

Another way to monetise your work is to publish it for people who are continually supporting you. Patreon and ko-fi allow people to become a ‘patron’ to a creator, supporting them with a monthly payment, or one for every update posted. YouTube and Twitch offer similar constructions with channel memberships. Substack supports monetisation of newsletters in a similar manner. And of course there are the many platforms for adult content creators.

Creators can also rely on donations. With the propagation of online payment platforms (for example PayPal donate) and of course cryptocurrencies, it has become easier to directly pay your favourite creator even if they’re located at the other side of the world. Platforms like Buy me a coffee, and Flattr are specifically made to support authors by paying for their free content.

For creators needing to finance large upfront costs, platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo can be a godsend, allowing authors to have their books pressed and designers to have their products made.

For many people — including me, the fact that you can support a creator in such a direct way creates a huge incentive to support them even if you otherwise wouldn’t.

Not a panacea

Alternative platforms for monetization have opened up many possibilities for creators to prevent censorship and monetize content that traditional platforms would not publish. But even these platforms have a reputation to maintain. Patreon, Kickstarter and Twitch all have been involved in censorship controversies.

It seems that if you want to monetise creator content, some level of censorship is unavoidable. Maybe this is not such a bad thing, and maybe not everything should be able to be monetised.

Some level censorship might be good — sexualisation of minors, hate speech and calls for violence are harmful, and it’s certainly wrong to facilitate monetisation of that. But where to draw the line? Well, that’s a topic far too complex for a blog post.