Delicious Extruded Media Product

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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August 20, 2013

Corn field...or content farm? You decide!

Corn field…or content farm? You decide!

Yesterday, Justin Landon posted an excellent article about Suvudu Universe and some of the problems with this particular model of content generation. I’ll wait while you all go read it.

Okay, up to speed?

As I was reading his article, I couldn’t help but think of content aggregators like The Huffington Post as well as other, similar, sites like Buzzfeed (I mean, I adore Dolly Parton but this is kind of ridiculous). And that’s not even going into the inversion of  the definition of content aggregator–eons ago in internet time, an aggregator was something that collected RSS feeds, something you curated for yourself; not something used to generate page views.

The way Suvudu Universe seems to work is extraordinarily similar to HuffPo and its ilk. Similar harvesting of content from elsewhere. Similar lack of compensation. Dubious business models that, as a dear friend says, resemble nothing more than extruded media product created by bots.

HuffPo (theoretically) makes money off all the pageviews that your blog post generated for their advertisers. You aren’t getting a cut of that advertising revenue or being paid directly for your contributions. At best, you’re getting exposure. Which doesn’t pay the bills.

This is bullshit–especially when it comes to original content.

As Landon correctly points out, the reprint market for non-fiction related to the speculative fiction field is vanishingly small–I can only think of two markets off the top of my head: Strange Horizons and the Speculative Fiction: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary essay collection. Obviously, there are other collections of essays being published as well, but those tend to be centered around specific topics and, if not pop-culture focused, rather academic in nature.

There are some markets for original non-fiction, but even then–they’re limited and very specific in what they want, if it’s even possible to figure out what they do want (I can’t seem to find any guidelines for Tor.com on non-fiction other than an email address, although their fiction guidelines are quite comprehensive). And then there are markets that don’t accept unsolicited non-fiction submissions or queries at all. So the only space most non-fiction writers have is spaces they own.

I am aware that this sounds like so much whining. It’s not. I enjoy writing commentary and reviews and I was well aware that the markets were limited when I got into this–I’ve been blogging in one form or another since 2000 and I know that it’s precious few people who get to make a living at it. I have absolutely no delusions that I am one of those people.

At the same time, though, I do not want my words–my work–to be devalued. And devaluation is precisely what sites like Suvudu Universe promise.

When Random House tried this nonsense with fiction–the terrible contracts for their digital-first imprintswriters’ associations and their members spoke up and were able to use their considerable leverage to convince them to offer (slightly) better terms. As critics and reviewers (and bloggers!), we have no association to join and no leverage and without the voices of other writers, we will not get better terms.

I haven’t really seen anyone other than Justin Landon talking about Suvudu Universe and their exploitative terms in details since they launched this “service” at the beginning of the month and I think it’s important that more people talk about it.

We hear so much about fiction writers being taken advantage of by vanity or scam publishers–where are the people speaking up about the advantage being taken of non-fiction writers by Suvudu Universe?

I’ve struggled long and hard to claim the word writer for myself–and part of that is an acknowledgement that this is work and that work should be fairly compensated. And I am the one who gets to decide what fair is–not content aggregators like Suvudu Universe.

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