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With the rise of the publishing industry, what we have is an over-concentration of wealth. Our stories are our wealth. Our stories are our human heritage. They teach us about who we are. They have been the vehicles of our generational knowledge, our foundation for how we understand and relate to the world. Just because we pay ten bucks for a movie ticket and popcorn to go get some thrills hasn’t changed that.

M.E. Traylor

Day 2 (yeah, there was a Day 1, didn’t you know?) for M.E. Traylor brings us a guest post on gifting culture and how weblit fits into (or resurrects) this ancient and deeply ingrained human behavior.  It’s pretty damn good, and gives a good look at the value of stories and the place of webfiction, not in the literary world, not in the publishing industry, but in the culture of humanity.  So again, I will stop babbling and cede the floor:

Weblit as Gifting Culture

by M.E. Traylor

When I first started reading weblit other than fanfiction, it kind of knocked my paradigm of publishing on its ass. Not because it was on the internet. The internet was just a flexible, fluid, far-reaching medium. What hit me was that so many authors were giving their stories away, for free. Because they loved it. Because they would rather give, with no expectation of reciprocation, than keep it to themselves and maybe get a contract some day.

There’s a saying where I live, “Giving is receiving.”

Because really, let’s not kid ourselves. Even if no one ever donates a penny, we’re getting something. We get to share. We get to share this story that has consumed our minds and years and passion with the whole damn internet. Someone gives me ten bucks to help keep my site up and for advertising? Great. Someone comments? Fabulous. Someone lurks forever, maybe enjoying though I’ll never know? Wonderful. What I get out of it is pure expression, putting myself and what I have to say out there, and that is dependent on someone else’s approval or reward not at all.

Giving away what we love is not new. In fact, it’s pretty old. Not ancient Greece old. Not dynastic Egypt old. Those civilizations are a flash in the pan of human existence, and we’re pretty much a flash in the pan of the planet. There still exist today cultures where there is no economy as we know it. You don’t buy and sell, you don’t even barter. You give, and you receive, ritually or spontaneously. Hunter-gatherer cultures in particular demonstrate a faith in the gifting process that seems downright naïve to we civilized, enlightened capitalists. It isn’t some idyllic, utopian luxury. It is survival, at is very core. If you don’t share, it demonstrates your non-participation in the survival of the group: You take care of the group, and the group takes care of you.

Giveaways, potlatches, the year of jubilee are all examples of the redistribution of goods so that wealth never became permanently concentrated in one family or with one person. If you don’t have a permanent concentration of wealth, you don’t have hierarchy. Egalitarian doesn’t mean equality. It means fluidity, change.

With the rise of the publishing industry, what we have is an over-concentration of wealth. Our stories are our wealth. Our stories are our human heritage. They teach us about who we are. They have been the vehicles of our generational knowledge, our foundation for how we understand and relate to the world. Just because we pay ten bucks for a movie ticket and popcorn to go get some thrills hasn’t changed that.

Big publishers have become the gatekeepers, the gods who decide who shall and shall not pass. Agents act as emissaries, proxies for the lowly storytellers who anxiously await word if they are worthy. Which means marketable. Not good. The two have been erroneously conflated, and let’s set it straight now: There’s a lot of baaaaaad bestselling, conventionally published stuff out there.

But why do the publishers get to say who is and isn’t worthy? Why do we have to walk through the eye of the needle? Who decided that? Was there a consensus meeting about this? Why was I not invited?

By taking the publisher/editor/agent out of the equation, we are fostering relationships between the storyteller and the people experiencing the story (and really, what’s the difference anyway?). All of a sudden there’s this direct, mutual relationship undiluted by all the layers of legalese and departments. The relationship shifts from author-on-a-pedestal and reader-bowing-at-the-foot to a more even plane, two people sharing an experience of what they love.

Now for some people, that’s a marketing strategy. And some of them are making a damn fine living off it, which is awesome and valid. I’m tempted to go for that structure myself when I start writing stories with more sex appeal. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

From the ages of eight to twenty I lived with an expectation of becoming traditionally published. As I grew up, my focus became less about getting stories published —though ultimately I wanted to become a bestselling author to get my family out of debt— and more about getting the stories out of my head before I went out of my motherloving mind. I need them out of me, into the world, I need to share and give and express and receive. That’s just my experience. I’m not saying it should be anyone else’s. But I want to ask this:

What do we want to create? How do we want to move in the world? What ripples and connections and refractions do we want to make with our actions? Sure, I’m just an individual, and what I say or do might not make that many ripples, but through this funny thing called relationship we become more than individual. We become communities. And if we become a community that gives for the joy of sharing, holy shit, what’s gonna happen?

Just imagine it. Let go of the recession (if you happen to be experiencing one), or the unemployment rate, or the world market and how you can’t be so goddamned naïve to think people can function by just giving things away, or the niggling reminder to pay that bill and wondering who the hell is going to get into office next and what the fuck are they going to do about this mellofahess—and imagine what would change if our lives revolved around giving.

Giving, instead of taking before someone takes it first and there’s none left for you. Giving, and not exchanging tit for tat, you give me this I’ll give you that a cat for a hat.

So what do I want to create? I want to live in a gifting culture. I want to give with no expectation of reciprocation, and yet with the surety that in some form it will always come back to me. I live in an industrialized, capitalist, commercial political state. I work within the boundaries of that every day. And every now and then my old attachment to the “pay me for the service of story I provide you” paradigm tries to claw its way back into favor. And I pet it and say, “I know you’re there, but this is what I’m doing.”

It’s not the only way. It’s not the “right” way. It’s just what a lot of people are doing, freely, joyfully, and I thank every last one of them for opening the door a little wider each time so that I could do it too.

If you want to find out more, there’s a lot of downright mainstream organizations that foster gifting culture. You can:

•    Enjoy and support web-based storytellers like weblit authors, webcomic artists, and podcasters.
•    Use open-source software
•    License your work under a Creative Commons license, and use CC licensed work
•    Listen to and support music artists that give their music away for free at Jamendo
•    Give and receive on Freecycle
•    Host or sleep on someone’s couch for free at Couchsurfing
•    Host or find a host at the Hospitality Club
•    Give away books, DVDs, and CDs at Paperback Swap
•    Swap books at Goodreads
•    Learn about living in community

-M.E. Traylor

If you haven’t gone to Met’s site yet to check out Guts and Sass, why not?  Go.  Don’t worry, I’ll just wait here.  Really, it’s okay… have a look, it won’t bite… much.

7 Responses to “An overconcentration of wealth: Weblit as Gifting Culture-M.E. Traylor”

  1. live60

    Good article. And, before there was weblit, there were guys like me then and now paying to print paperbacks at a non-profit basis just for the lifestyle. People do like to walk away with a book. What my books have done is open doors to better paying jobs and untold other opportunities. Everyone thinks guys like me are crazy, and I think other people are crazy for paying money to chase a little ball all over a golf course. I give up many things to write and publish, such as pay TV, sports, go nowhere friendships and many other things to gain the greater rewards that comes with being a writer. And, did I mention the young and pretty girls it still gets me at age 62. This when all the rockers I know can’t buy a good looking chick like I can get for free. Well, not exactly when one figures eating out, movies, plays, etc.. Right, my ego sneaked in, but if it’s the truth, it’s the truth. I’ve learned not to say no to my angels and to keep them close. Write, have fun and get a real life.

    R.D….

    Reply
    • aeliusblythe

      It is good to know there’s a paper book version of this going on. I think of webfiction whenever I see street artists who give work away for donations. I always wish there were some way writers could do something similar, and I guess you found a way.

      People always assume that you must create something for money. But I create a lot of things without any thought of getting paid. I can make cookies and share them with 10 of my friends without charging money for them. The great thing about the internet is that you can share the cookies with many more people.

      OK, don’t share cookies with too many people, they can have personal info, you know… lol.

      Reply
      • Seayoun

        Just finish reindag Hope is Love. Awesome book I enjoyed from the beginning to the end. I have purchases all of your books available on nook. I look forward to reindag more of your work on Nook or Paperback. Keep up the good work.

        Reply
    • met

      And here I was thinking I could have gone into more depth. :) But I suppose blogs are not for exegeses.

      Reply
      • aeliusblythe

        I could have gone on and on reading about this topic. But alas, blogs, like most things on the internet, are best ingested in small bites rather than gorged on all at once. Wow, I need to stop with the food metaphors, I’m getting hungry.

        But if you ever want to elaborate, the guest-poster door is always open! :-)

        Reply
    • Joseph

      LOVE LOVE your floor! Turned out amazing…I was woendring, is there a gap from the base boards? I wouldlove to pull up our yucky carpet and do this to our floor! It did have hardwood but previous owners pulled it up! Soooo, left with a slab…Great tut too! Very well described! Will keep you posted if I get *brave* (ie:ambitious) enough to try it.

      Reply

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