Writing is my livelihood. It has always been a tough racket. I get a lot of letters from young, struggling writers asking for advice. My main message to them has been that talent counts, but perseverance counts more. You really have to hang in there against pretty tough odds. After all, you’re producing work that nobody asked for.
With the rise of the Internet, writing has gotten to be an even tougher racket for true professionals. It has almost fatally disrupted the economics of what’s called “trade publishing” — the book industry. The chain stores and Amazon didn’t help either. These outfits strong-arm publishers into giving them very deep discounts. And guess what: it comes out of the authors’ royalties. We get screwed on that deal sort of like musicians get screwed with their songs on Spotify downloads.
It’s also well-known that few websites pay writers for content, and even if they do, it’s way less than the old newspapers and magazines did. When I wrote for The New York Times Sunday Magazine twenty-five years ago, they paid a dollar a word. Today, magazines and newspapers are struggling desperately just to stay alive. Meanwhile, writers are lucky to get a dime a word writing for websites — and twenty-five years later that dime won’t buy anything but a cinnamon fireball.
The diminishing returns of technology are killing writing as a professional occupation. Readers are still “consuming” professional writing (for free). Writers are generating more and more work for their followers (for free). So, those of us who really work hard at it (and I do) have to make other arrangements to make a living.
No, I’m Not Getting Rich
I’ve hung in there over a long career and published about twenty books. I’ve seen better times, worse times, and really hard times. My early novels are out-of-print. I pull in about $3,000 a year in total royalties from some of my more recent books. Here’s my latest semi-annual royalty check from Grove Atlantic Books covering The Long Emergency and the first World Made By Hand novel. (Other recent books didn’t “earn out” the modest advances I received years ago.) They pay my “company,” Highbrow Productions, Inc. (I’m the sole employee.) Note, they issue payments six months after they report the earnings.
I used to make more of my annual income off of college lectures. You may have noticed that the rising hysteria on campus against threatening ideas, and the clamor for “safe spaces,” etc., has made it difficult for controversialists such as myself to speak to college audiences. I have no bookings for 2016.
This is not my hobby. This is my vocation. Blogging does not even pay for itself. The basic cost of running Kunstler.com is $200 a month. I write a check out for that every month along with the other bills. The few Google Ad-sense ads that run there don’t cover it. I have the usual load of regular monthly bills for staying alive, too, of course, just like you. You might think that recording a podcast is easy, but editing the darn thing takes a couple of days for each one. I spent an entire week writing the annual forecast last month.
Support Your Blogger
I started blogging in the late 1990s because I write cultural, political, and economic commentary and I had a lot to say between books like The Geography of Nowhere and The City in Mind. This was a really peculiar moment in history. Things were flying apart here in Western Civ. I titled my 2005 book The Long Emergency because it was obvious we were in for a hard ride. My Clusterfuck Nation blog is the unofficial weekly chronicle of that journey — which is picking up speed again even as I write this.
I’ve gotten a lot of personal satisfaction from the simple discipline of having to compose a weekly blog on deadline and I haven’t missed a week since I regularized it to Monday mornings more than ten years ago — I even put it out the week I had open heart surgery in 2013. That’s how much it meant for me to be there for my readers.
After all this time, the blogging scene has begun to sort itself out. It’s pretty clear now who are the voices “out there” who you can depend on to be worth reading and listening to. New voices come along regularly, too, and if they’re any good, they’ll find their audience. The trouble is that hardly anyone’s getting paid for the work that you value. So, Patreon is a way that you can decide to support the bloggers who give you value. Nobody’s strong-arming you to subscribe. Back during the Watergate frolic of 1973, I used to gladly pay 25 cents just to read New York Times columnists James Reston and Anthony Lewis inveigh against Nixon. Back then you could buy 2 cans of Campbell’s tomato soup for 25 cents! With Patreon you can arrange to fund my blog and podcast on a recurring basis. There may be enough of you out there so that five measily bucks a month each will enable me to pay the propane bill and the dentist.
Oh, one final thing: if Hollywood manages to turn my World Made By Hand novels into a TV series or a movie franchise, I’ll discontinue the Patreon program. Promise.