n.e.w.s. is a collective online platform for the analysis and development of art-related activity, drawing upon contributions from around the globe, bringing together different voices, accents and outlooks from the North, East, West and South. | Read more..

Paid Usership


Contrary to mainstream practice – with its residual romanticism of solitary authorship and single-signature value – we at n.e.w.s. contend that value is always collectively produced through linguistic cooperation (polemics or just idle chatter) – that is, through the collective intellect. Of course people already get paid for online content – but they are often the wrong people, because they are not all the people who worked to produce that content. Our paradoxical objective is to leverage the potential of participative technologies and communities to ensure that user-produced value be remunerated. Because n.e.w.s. is a non-commercial platform, without any institutional structural subsidy, we have been investigating alternative models of exchange and collaboration, retooling our critical lexicon: instead of the seemingly self-evident binaries of producer/consumer, we have opted for the more inclusive and extensive category of usership – of the paid variety.

Over the past twenty years, people working in the cultural sector have come to use the web not only as a means of communication and distribution but as a medium for artistic and curatorial production, such as online contexts for the analysis and development of art-related activities. But it is also the place where people engage in discourse about the nature of those precarious forms of knowledge and labour produced within it. The challenge of facilitating return generated not only from attention getting but also from finding means of ensuring sustainability through potential models of gifting, immaterial labour, surplus capital and niche development could all be plausible models for paid usership.

Gift, Debt and Return: speculations on the cultural economy

Okay, so everybody wants to be paid to use. But the very idea continues to sound pretty counterintuitive even to the most open-minded, and downright heretical to orthodox twentieth-century economics. Let’s quickly run through some of the conceptual underpinnings of the whole notion.

If the value of money—as classical Marxist theory would have it—is derived from ‘labour power’, or even, as some recent strains put it, more broadly from creative action, and if it is only through the institution of the wage that this creative action becomes a commodity, why is it so few of us are getting paid in a Web 2.0 economy? David Graeber has argued that the common distinction between "value" and "values" is based on the commodification of labour: "value" is simply our way of talking about the importance of actions commensurated by money (value being that which money measures), while "values" (where familial, societal, ethical, religious, artistic) are assumed to be that which should not be corrupted by the market. “Values” are valued for their very incommensurability. So where do we place the Internet in that scheme? It is, certainly, a sphere of social relations that is continually adapting and changing, but many of the resulting struggles revolve around the question of what sorts of value and, indeed, values, it embodies. On the other hand, this is, perhaps, only to be expected, as Graeber puts it, ‘if only because the most important political struggles in any society will always be over how value itself is to be defined.’

Notion of the gift in a user-generated economy

Even though we may find it worthwhile to take part in online forums and activities without being paid, one does tend to feel one is giving something away. The notion of the gift, as developed by the sociologist Marcel Mauss, has been interpreted as assuming that gifts are not free, but imply that something needs to be returned or exchanged. In fact, Mauss’ 1924 essay on the gift was, he claimed, really part of a larger project on the ‘origins of the idea of contractual obligation’ and in a way, about the origin of debt and about how social obligations become entangled in things. Mauss even argued that the gift is about detaching pieces of ourselves, our creative energies to create images of community. The Maussian distinction between gift exchange and economic transactions actually works by an analogous logic: The gift is largely concerned with relations between persons; a commodity exchange is equivalence between things. Gift economies, those that have not been remunerated, have always been an inherent part of capitalism – much of capitalism functions, exists, propagates itself because of unpaid labour: slavery, women’s housework labour, child labour as well as intellectual labour by workers in the ‘culture industries’ but this labour disappears from social visibility.

Immaterial labour and valorisation

Immaterial labour theory assumes ‘we’ are engaged in a kind of communistic mutual fashioning where obligations cannot be quantified by definition, just harvested by capitalists, so the ‘law of value’ no longer exists, value can no longer be measured. Since the 1970s this has changed the organisation of production and how intellectual labour results in what Maurizio Lazzarato terms the ‘process of valorisation’. Valorisation is no longer confined to the factory, the value of products is created more and more by all of us, in our supposed leisure time, thus we are all basically working for free. With the advent of computers and the ability to gather data, companies harvest our creative energy to understand and market that information. Thus we are adding to the value of the product for free as we distribute parts of ourselves, spreading our ‘data’. This ‘gift-giving’ of time, energy and knowledge (content) exists in an economy that bids farewell to the client and welcomes instead the user/collaborator (prosumer). Though both gift economies and immaterial labour raise similar questions problematising our assumptions about value in the Internet, they don’t seem to contextualise the looming problem of our society: obligation, debt and remuneration.

Social creativity, data within virtual, debt economies

In social exchange, relations do not have the anonymity of money but rather provide reciprocal returns in broader terms, open-ended networking models and tit-for-tat exchanges between people. This could also be said of n.e.w.s. But how does this affect the classic (Marxist) idea of commodity fetishism, to reveal social relations hidden by things and human creativity? Etymologically ‘data’ is the Latin plural of datum, neuter past participle of dare, ‘to give’, hence ‘something given’. With the advancement of computers we use ‘databases’ that are able to collect, store, use all forms with data acquisition, data analysis, data farming. Data mining is the art of finding hidden patterns or anomalies that are used in profiling, and applied to fields of consumer analysis, marketing and surveillance. If we ‘give’ data freely, as we give our time, remit our rights of privacy and right to remuneration, how can we create other systems of negotiation and payment?

The expansion of credit money and giving ‘data’, produces an implicit tautology. Computers, which keep track of the complex lines of transaction that were invisible when done with hard, material currency, simultaneously also provide complex ways of hiding abstract securities, collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that have accrued so much that this amount of debt is larger than ‘real’ economies.

Virtual labour and virtual economies

Remuneration for labour or contributions (user-generated content) on the web is based on gift-economies, debt economies and mostly, attention economics (visibility). This distribution of attention is reflected in theories such as Chris Anderson’s ‘Long Tail’, which proposes that instead of economy and culture focusing on the mass market, where hits are related to popularity, the niche market will enable a longer (tail) of supply. New distribution mechanisms, from digital downloading to peer-to-peer (P2P) markets such as e-bay, mediators taking a tiny cut of vast numbers of transactions, offer more return. But where will the borders reside of speed, access and censorship and what sort of power relations will determine them?

Virtual labour and virtual economies are made possible by exchanges of value on the Internet. Derivatives, mortgage-backed securities and other synthetic constructions are the replacement models for classic ‘wage labour’ and are based on debt securitization. How can financial obligation become an infinitely expanding promise of future profits without false value? Is the origin of this value really in the unpaid labour of the Internet? Can the ‘Free’ in Anderson’s book be maintained beyond ‘freemium’ models? Or will we all need to survive off of our freemium activities in order to generate more content to contribute to the critical mass? In attempting to understand the link between new forms of virtual labour and virtual money, might we need to look at them not only from actions of ‘gifting’ but from the perspective of obligation, debt and remuneration?

From pay-for-use to paid-to-use

n.e.w.s. is currently finishing a book, to be published in 2013, dealing amongst other things with remunerated usership (online and off line) as an innovative way of equitably redistributing community-produced value. We would like to invite you to contribute to this forum, remunerated in some way of course, terms negotiated. How would you like to be paid? How much? Such questions are by no means facetious; they are potentially revolutionary and invite carefully reasoned, radical responses. Ultimately we hope to eventually be able to finance readership – yes, dear readers, dear users, we think we should all be paid for reading, writing and using – but first we need to come up with some kind of sustainable model for paid usership. And who better to help with that than all of us? :)


n.e.w.s. @ Plausible Artworlds

From [Basekamp Events] n.e.w.s. paid usership - Mar 30 2010

n.e.w.s. itself is an online platform for the analysis of art-related activity, putting the emphasis on rethinking art’s economic underpinnings, focusing on the relationships between the attention economics of the mainstream and the smaller-scale shadow economies being experimented with. Recently, the group has initiated an open forum on the question of “remunerated usership” – and it is this aspect of the group’s work that will be at the heart of tonight’s discussion. Since its inception in 2008, n.e.w.s. has sought to maintain a model of payment (or partial payment) for putting content online, contending that value is always collectively produced through linguistic cooperation (polemics or just idle chatter) – that is, through the collective intellect. “People already get paid for online content,” they argue in the introduction to the forum, “but they are often the wrong people, because they are not all the people who worked to produce that content.” The forum’s objective is to discuss and evaluate the pros and cons of a paying people to use the internet, perhaps taking to heart Jean-Luc Godard’s remark in Six fois deux that television viewers ought to be paid to watch TV. Is it possible to leverage the potential of participative technologies and communities to ensure that user-produced value be remunerated? The very question is paradoxical inasmuch as n.e.w.s. itself is a non-commercial platform, without any institutional structural subsidy to pay its users, obliging the collective to both explore and test drive alternative models of exchange and collaboration – including gift economics.
Though fascinating, and perhaps economically coherent, the whole idea of moving from pay-for-use to paid-to-use seems to fly in the face of common sense. But could it be that for this very reason that it may point to a key component of a more plausible artworld?


n.e.w.s. at Basekamp: Plausible Artworlds

N.e.w.s. took part in 'Plausible Artworlds' weekly Skypes chat organized by Basekamp and Stephen Wright with her 'Paid Usership' ongoing forum. Renée Ridgway kicked off the forum with her midnight contribution from Amsterdam by explaining the original premise of n.e.w.s.: an online platform or community for the production of art-related activities where the contributors are (partially) paid for content! N.e.w.s. is not just running on the attention economy with many mailings (spam) nor Google Ads. From its very inception contributors have been paid for their content (albeit not so much) but still more than the average postman in the Netherlands earns.

Prayas Abhinav Skyped in from Bangalore (3:30 A.M.local time) to discuss how 'usership' is usually measured -through eyeballs. How many viewers visit a site, how much traffic in otherwords? Google calculated the amount of eyeballs before purchasing You Tube for 1,65 billion dollars in 2006, in an all-stock deal. Estimated eyeballs back then: 100 million videos viewed every day and approximately 72 million individual visitors each month. This type of volume does not compare to actual contributions at n.e.w.s. which are not quick You Tube comments or short posts. Usership is participatory and the contributions of users is not distributed equally, some contribute more while others less.

Then there was talk of hidden labour, much like women's domestic labour or slavery is a larger part of our economy yet remains, for the most part, unseen. What kind of models can be put into operation to test out other forms of remuneration? Freemium, is a portmanteau word combining 'free' and 'premium' and usually applied to web-based services where the basics are free and the premium services (special features) are paid for. Not only for the web but many real-time (offline) services are remunerated this way. Many things are given for free because there is a paid income coming from some other source. This is how many artists, writers, academics are able to not only work at their 'jobs' but contribute to blogs, periodicals, discussions, etc. N.e.w.s. for example, was originally financed by incomes from other sources where the initiators were then able to do research and fund-raising in order to launch n.e.w.s.

How does n.e.w.s. work at the moment? Attempts are being made as we write to receive funding from various cultural institutions and sometimes we win prizes (which we then redistribute to other sources or people). In many ways contributors are now paid in shares, in the sense that they became stakeholders at n.e.w.s., which was discussed in greater detail during Unspeakably More. This sometimes takes the form of travel costs (flights, hotels, meals) or support through futures (upcoming forums or space for research at n.e.w.s.or even attention!). Though the latter is not what n.e.w.s. is based on. Rather the discussion revolves around the production of value with stakeholders, and an in-house team, along with various changing guests who produce the content for the platform. Though not as organized as online MMORPG's, World of Warcraft where simultaneous conversion leads to obtaining weapons or swords and bonus points, many discussions at n.e.w.s. result not only during online forums but offline gatherings, in different parts of the world.

Questions from the audience concerning the age-old time and money relationship surfaced. Time is something that can be remunerated in various ways, and in artistic economies and the web, attention plays a large part of payment. If you ask what is most valuable to people nowadays in our overload of attention it seems to be time, and the most common way, in many non-wage sectors at least, is to be paid with attention as return. Furthermore, what is seen as an investment of time is relative to those long term bets. People seem to want to contribute to those things in the spotlight, having already built up a reputation economy while passing over unseen or 'off-the-radar' projects which will not 'pay' them for their time nor serve their desire for attention or recognition.

Stephen Wright in Paris brought up the future of Web 3.0 and the debate over control of public time and space. Artists who are not visible are producing value even though they are not seen or recognized. How is value produced? Through usership, where users produce value. Much akin to Godard and his statement that the viewer should be paid to watch TV, 30 years later it is engaging with reading content-that's the value. Everything is becoming privatized and not collectively distributed, a similar problem as the banking 'crisis'. Risk is social, or public and profit is private. Attention and fame are private while ideas and sharing is community. Comments from the live audience imply that paying everyone is a stupid idea? Well, no with remunerated usership people who in the words of Ranciere contribute 'their capacities' are the grounds of a new economic model. Value does not need to always be reduced to symbolic 'cultural' capital as it is always produced by labour power. Value is not reduced by the general equivalent which is counter intuitive, rather we need to oppose capital.

The local Basekamp audience responded with 'what is it that we actually desire?' What do we want, especially concerning matters of art? n.e.w.s. retorted:'why should not written content, even in Web 2.0 blogs be financed?' Is not essay writing better than art production? It can be seen as the self-reflexive end, and in many instances, artistic. Why not be paid for what could be redistributed in that way?

Which brought us eventually to the question of how could passive readership be remunerated? What about Broken Webs, imagining an Internet for Introverts where the figure of the lurker is dominant? Would all of those who are reading be paid as well? If so, how and in which way? Could we come up with a model for Paid Lurkership, assuming that loitering creates value through its contribution of inspiration. Google works on the model of clicking on Ads, people are paid to browse the web and are 'paid to click', thereby generating income. N.e.w.s. banner ads don't yet produce income, rather they link to articles or posts on the site that maybe inspire instead of irritate and then it's well worth the read. Lurkers might become readers and readers might become users. Especially if there is some type of monetary reward for paid usership.


$£'s advert

This - http://arsvirtuafoundation.org/research/2010/10/27/the-future-of-money/ - might interest in context of this discussion. T


Re: Paid Usership

A text which might offer a response