I hate asking for money. I’m sure PBS and NPR hate it, too. The Center for Inquiry, publishers of Skeptical Inquirer, probably hate having to ask for donations, but that doesn’t stop them from sending me letters every week asking for cash. So, today I’m launching my 2015 fundraising appeal, for reasons I’m going to outline below.
This was a blog post I had hoped not to have to write. As many of you remember, last year I was supposed to release my book Cthulhu in World Mythology through Atomic Overmind, a small publisher specializing in Lovecraftian and gaming books. We had a contract and a revenue sharing agreement, and the publisher had big plans for marketing the volume. However, while the publisher released a PDF of the book, he never released the limited edition hardcover or the paperback as the contract required. The publisher also never paid me a dime in royalties. Over the past year, I have repeatedly tried to communicate with the publisher, and after initially telling me that the company suffered financial problems, he stopped communicating altogether. I have no idea how many PDFs sold, if any, nor have I been able to get an accounting of what went wrong, or the return of my intellectual property.
This was a pretty big blow because that book was projected to have returned some significant royalties, money that I was counting on and thanks to the publisher failing to live up to the contract, will never see. The problems were compounded when I learned that McFarland, my regular publisher, had priced my Jason and the Argonauts book so high that literally—and I am not making this up—only a few dozen bought the book in its first year of release, mostly libraries. I believe something like three people purchased the book who were not libraries. Where previous books, which carried lower prices, saw decent sales and royalties, this one didn’t even make back the money I spent on printer ink, paper, and postage. My other books were, like most, pirated on Chinese-operated book piracy websites, where they have been downloaded thousands, if not tens of thousands, of times. If even a fraction of those downloads were real sales... well, you can imagine how much money has been lost. My book A Hideous Bit of Morbidity was running 40:1 pirated copies to sales when my publisher last sent out cease and desist letters.
While this alone might not have been an insurmountable financial problem, it coincided with several concurrent issues. First, when I am not writing this blog I do freelance writing and editing work. My largest client saw his business collapse, and he cut his editing and writing orders by 80%. So far there isn’t anyone to replace him. As it happens, writing online about ancient mysteries makes a person unattractive to corporations, which are looking for writers who don’t have “opinions.” Worse, trying to get paid for work is now nearly impossible. I have honestly had clients ask me why they should pay when they can just hire a college student to “intern it” for free. This isn’t the case only with corporate communication, but with writing of all kinds. Barbara Ehrenreich recently had an article in the Guardian where she noted that only rich people can now afford to write because the internet and the glut of people willing and happy to write for free for “exposure” has destroyed the market writing of any kind.
In the last year I have had only one publication say that they would pay me for articles. That one was Gaiam, the multimillion-dollar NASDAQ-listed yoga company that employs David Wilcock and George Noory as a streaming video hosts. They didn’t realize who I was and offered $100 per article (up to three per month) to write about how yoga taps into universal consciousness and/or space aliens, for their Gaiam TV holistic “lifestyle” and fringe science website. Virtually every other publication I have been in contact with wanted me to work for them for free, while they, of course, collect ad revenue and subscription fees.
So at this point, I am facing down some immense bills that are coming up over the next few weeks. Quarterly taxes are due, as is the unknowably large school tax bill on my house. Albany, New York, unlike most places, doesn’t allow for installment payments on taxes. The entire bill is due at once, and if you can’t pay, it keeps going up each month until they take your house. Then the property tax bill, equally large, comes up only a couple of months later.
In short, I’m looking at many thousands of dollars in bills against shrinking income that won’t cover them. This leaves me with only a few choices, none of which are particularly good. The best option is to ask you, the readers, how much you value this website and this blog. If you enjoy reading it, I ask that you consider using the PayPal button on the right hand column or below to pledge your support with a donation, however small, to help me afford to work on this website. If everyone who visits my website on just one day gave as little as ten dollars, it would generate a full year’s income for me.
My other options are, in descending order or revenue, to (a) stop writing this blog or significantly reduce its frequency in order to pursue full time work in another field; (b) place significant portions of the content of my website behind a paywall, where far fewer people will read it; or (c) make the site worse by devoting significant space to banner ads, popups, interstitials, and other advertisements and hope someone clicks on them. Since options (b) and (c) are likely to generate a less than 1% click-through rate, they are unlikely to be terribly lucrative.
Consider this: Giorgio Tsoukalos of Ancient Aliens gets paid nearly $10,000 for every speaking engagement he does, according to his booking agent. Skeptic magazine and Skeptical Inquirer, fancying themselves academic journals, pay nothing for articles and ask for donations—and then sell those articles (including mine) on Amazon for cash. I would hate to have to try to monetize my content, and thus lock out the majority of the people who actually benefit from reading it. But the reality is that I can’t work for free.
I hope you will appreciate that I am leveling with you on what it takes to produce my website. I hope you will consider helping to make it possible for me to continue.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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