What Will Enshitification Do to Comedy Writing? | Join me at Speed Week | No More Audio
Reading the partially digested tea leaves.
Last week I read my post out loud and added the audio to the substack. I then asked you guys whether you thought it would be valuable to have audio of posts going forward. Thanks to everyone who responded. The result was unanimous and I have heard your cries. “Jim,” you cried, “we’re fine with reading.”
Good intel. Saves me a step. Thanks again.
Today I want to talk about enshitification, a term coined by Cory Doctorow. He defines his term thus:
Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.
I have gotten into this a bit previously but Doctorow has done a lot more thinking about it than I have with the help of much smarter people than I know. But I want to dig deeper.
I want to talk a little bit about how this affects my art: comedy writing. Butt first…
Join Me at Speed Week
Starting this weekend I will serve you, the audience, as your on-mic announcer at six bicycling events in the greater Atlanta area.
It is one of my treasured goals in life to become a fully-fledged pro cycling commentator even though, as far as I’m aware, almost all of the people who hold those jobs are current or former pro racers. I am none of those words. Not even “or.”
I am a comedian who only raced at the amateur level. And even at the amateur level, I confess I stretched the lower limits of the term “racing.”
But I can dream, damn it! And we will dream together if you choose to attend one of these thrilling events:
I’m taking a 360 camera with me with plans to do a wrap-up video once the week is over. But you know who’s the real pro here? All of y’all who have shared posts, subscribed, and supported this newsletter by going paid.
Even as long as I have been writing, it is unbelievably hard to get paid for it. Paid subscribers mean so much more than just the dollar value. So, thank you.
Since I’ll be pretty busy next week there might only be one post. Possibly none depending how exhausted I am. But for now, let’s race back into the comedy weeds.
Comedy writing has never been an easy way to make money but it’s excessively hard right now in the United States.
Book Writing Status - Enshitified: Amazon destroyed this potential revenue stream and they didn’t even really enjoy it. They fucked up books forever as a proof of concept for enshitifying commerce as a whole. It’s now a forest of fake products with fake reviews.
You can probably still make money as a steamy romance author, just judging from the fact that so many people still offer newsletter swaps and other promotional stuff for steamy romance. But the problem with that is you have to write steamy romance, a.k.a. sex scenes. Lots of them. The steamier the better.
I am a published romance author who turned in a manuscript with only one handjob in it. I was told the scene needed to be upgraded to a full-on hump-n-squirt or my contract was forfeit. But I digress.
YouTube Comedy - Enshitified: I love writing sketches. I love directing sketches. I love sketch comedy. But interacting with YouTube is a joke. And it’s worth mentioning that most of the independent people who used to post sketches to YouTube have stopped. Network-supported shows still do it because they can afford to. It’s a sidecar for them.
Back in 2014-16 my wife and I did a car-related YouTube show that made a little money. But toward the end of that experiment I noticed that YouTube would almost always “de-monetize” my videos for the first few days after they were posted, which are, coincidentally, the days when videos get the most views and thus make most of their money.
I could appeal the algorithm’s automatic de-monetization but by the time YouTube corrected the error the views were invariably well into the long tail. So, YouTube got our content without having to pay us much at all.
Post about your work on social media - Enshitified: We’ve all been told a billion times for the last twenty years that the best way to “get your name out there,” is to give away your work for free. Join social media and post regularly on there for free. Write a blog for free. Post to your newsletter for free.
Okay, fine. What should I say on my newsletter? Oh, you talk about your Goodreads or Bookbub or Kindle giveaway. Because, you see, the best way to sell books is to give them away!
I don’t mind some of this. I like writing. After all, I‘m doing the thing right now. But I do not think all those years of social media and free novel giveaways translated to sales. Bezos and Zuck and Jack all got rich. You and I just gave our thoughts away.
Even if tweeting about books “worked,” the margins on Uncle Jeff’s books are just too low. You can raise your prices to create more margin for yourself but readers are trained that books should be free.
That’s why it blew my mind so hard when I started putting up my own plays and people actually came to them and actually paid money to do so. At this point in the memory sequence COVID busts through the wall, Kool-Aid man style.
More thoughts on live shows here:
TV and Film - Status Unknown: This is what I am trying now. I had some success crowdfunding an animated show which is now earning a little money on Tubi. Hopefully, as I’ve said, Tubi is early enough in the enshitification cycle that I might actually get some of that.
Next I am wrapping up the wine documentary and exploring distribution options. Will that make money? I have no idea. It definitely cost money to make.
I will say, though, at least reading more about Cory Doctorow’s thoughts on choke-pointed capitalism is nice. It feels good to have had a bunch of disorganized thoughts and feelings on something and then find out someone has already been down the road much farther than you have.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t know what I should do next. I ranted about all this to him via email and he replied, and I quote, “I hear you.”
What else is there to say?
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