It’s not the idea that makes this a debacle, it’s the tone. He’s prepared himself for war, but I feel most will likely empathize, rather than argue.
Internally, we’ve been discussing how small independent review site VGI has decided to start publishing their reviews as eBooks on Amazon. You’d think the reasons for doing so are strategic and amicable, but in the words of the editor:
“Videogame journalism is broken. The way we earn is broken. That’s why things are changing. In this industry, you evolve, or you die.”
You evolve, or you die. Now, videogames journalism does have its problems, but it isn’t necessarily broken – at least, it’s as broken as any other sort of press. In my opinion, the biggest problem with mass-media games journalism is that, in some cases, journalists are coddled as marketers, which invariably leads to disinformation about the quality of products. I have a personal gripe about reviews that don’t use original screenshots, relying on press packs. We’re not marketers, we’re critics – but that’s just the review side.
The information side is full of speculation, rumors, and often quite poor analysis – but then, so is the political media, and of course tabloid media. Journalism is a messy affair, but for the end consumer it’s just about finding an outlet suited to your needs, and sticking with it. It’s easy to get sucked into discussions about corruption, marketing, and PR… but that’s not what we’re talking about today.
VGI are currently selling their Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen review on Amazon for the price of $1.18. According to the Editor in Chief of the magazine, and author of the review, he’d rather not charge at all. According to Wes, “problem one is pricing. I wanted to sell reviews at 10p (5c) a pop.” This begs the question: why go through the hassle of over-charging now-customers, giving Amazon a cut, and not giving the guy who provided the artwork for the front cover a penny? In other words, why not simply add a donate button to the page which you can still find on the site.
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t hyperlinked it. I actually tried. I can’t find it. If I ‘Google’ “videogamesinteractive dark arisen review,” I get reviews for the title, but nothing from www.videogamesinteractive.com. I went onto the site earlier, and couldn’t find it – but as I look now, I see it’s finally on the front page. However, when I look at the site, there are no categories as far as I can see. It’s difficult to navigate. What’s my point?
My point is that Wesley Copeland is clearly a very hard working man who’s put his heart and soul into Videogamesinteractive.com, but the sites outreach is still relatively poor. The Alexa traffic rank is 1,885,856. In contrast, we are a similarly small site, with what I personally consider to be a troubled out-reach. Our rank is 264,702. A much larger site, say, Videogamer.com has a rank of 18,678, and that’s still a much smaller site than something like IGN.
This isn’t an article about a freelance or wage journalist not being paid by his Editor, it’s an article about a magazine owner, unable to secure revenue, using their battle in his own defense.
Everyone has a right to monetize, but there seems to be a disproportionate reaction to what is essentially an internal problem. You can’t run a site off ad revenue if your advertising prospects are low. In other words, it’s a case of “the system is broken because it isn’t working for me.”
Now, I sound like I’m picking on Videogamesinteractive.com. I’m not at all, I’m a fan of the site, and I’ve not seen a guy work that hard in the industry for quite some time, but let’s look at his blog post regarding his reasoning once more.
“I format someone’s review, then they get 90% of the profits. Instead of people getting paid directly for work while a smug site owner makes a wad of cash[…]”
“So you’re Pay-Per-Wes now? That’s evil!” I don’t like charging, but I also don’t like how only a select group of industry tossers make money.”
“No, you can’t get a review by me for free. If you want my review or want to support what I’m creating for myself and other non-mainstream journos, you gots to pay.”
VGI are planning to cut their online reviews down, selling only the full ones on Amazon, which they already admitted is overcharging consumers – albeit unfortunately, in their opinion
“We’ll still have sections online for our readers to read for free, but if you want the full, in-depth version, you can download it via Amazon.”
Once again, VGI has an Alexa of almost two million. Everyone has the right to monetize their work, and my problem isn’t with the method they’ve chosen to do this – it’s with the tone of the article criticizing an industry I’m a part of. I don’t think Editors and journalists are a bunch of smug money-hording business bullies, but I do think that this is a very competitive industry that is out to make money. I don’t think it’s appropriate to, on your site, go on the record calling everyone a bunch of “tossers” simply because your out-reach remains too low to soak up enough advertising prospects. That’s essentially what I see happening here.
Should you sell your reviews as eBooks?
Sure, why not? But not under the guise that it’s the only way to make money, using the excuses seen above. If you really want 10p per review, then add a Paypal donation plugin popup that opens when you try to read the review.
This is the most important thing, though: everyone deserves to be paid for their work, but if you’re self employed, or own your own site, it’s your fault if it’s not making enough money, not the fault of the industry. This isn’t a boss not paying his writers, this is an owner not happy with the return of his hard work.
Hard work it is, though, take it from me. Managing, growing, and running a site like these is time consuming and expensive, especially if it’s your main source of income. What we can’t have, though, are people throwing in the towel, blaming everyone else, and calling people “tossers” due to an inability to compete. You don’t have to become the next “IGN” or marketing puppet to compete, you just have to stick with it, grow, and work hard on monetization prospects.
I haven’t earned a penny from my written work, but I’m privileged enough to live just comfortably enough on what would be considered the minimum weekly upkeep costs in Britain. Hopefully with some hard work and altruism, PCGMedia will grow enough to share partnerships with agencies who with to advertise through us. Maybe it’s naive, but I laid the foundations for it to happen, and it’s my duty to keep it growing. Our outreach has grown considerably, and continues to grow, and I empathize immensely with Copeland since I feel we are equally hard working individuals, but I do feel that his blog has the potential to start a “everyone should be paid for their work” discussion, rather than the reality of what it is: “the system is broken, because it isn’t working for me”. I say that with a heavy heart.
Maybe we should try asking for donations before we directly charge our fans. We opened a Cafe Press store to try and cover some overheads, but our brand isn’t yet strong enough to make that a sustainable option. If we keep working at it, though, it might be.
Credit to Justis for the snappy summary title.
UPDATE: Copeland has since contacted me on Twitter, advising me that he does and has indeed earned money from www.videogamesinteractive.com.
Secondly, Copeland turned to Twitter to apologise over the tone of the article, asking his followers if it “sounded bitter.” Based upon feedback, he later reiterated some of his statements, defending journalists rights to be paid.
We feel it’s worth pointing out, however, that Copeland is not a wage journalist – he owns his own site. It’s up to the owners of websites to secure their own revenue. It is a separate fight that shouldn’t be used in defense of punishing readers for what someone might see as systemic industry problems.
His final words are: “And lastly, “Is the system broken because it doesn’t (sic) work for me? No, the system is broken because it doesn’t work for a lot of journalists.” See above. Copeland has since removed the item from the Amazon store, explaining how “paying for something you can find online for free is unethical.”