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Here’s What ‘Free’ Art Actually Costs

Doing the math on likes and shares

Should art be free? As more and more people use the internet to champion their creative work and amass “tribes” of fans, the expectation of free that internet culture perpetuates risks hurting the creator. It always feels good to be recognized, appreciated, and adored for your creativity and to have hundreds, thousands, millions of people sharing your work and liking it. But, even when a creator does manage to accumulate attention, it doesn’t necessarily equate to earnings.

Compliments do not pay rent. Attention does not keep the electricity company from wanting payment. And likes—unless they’re sponsored—do not put food on the table. As a writer and designer, I have collected 70,000 followers across my social channels. People would assume I’m flushed with cash, but the equation doesn’t often go in that direction. I make a comfortable living, but that’s a result of working hard for my clients and has little to do with my social media following. Just because you have followers does not mean you’re making money—and if you want to make money, you have to sell something to your followers. I sell online workshops, and I want to sell a product line, but I couldn’t live entirely off my writing at this point, and I am fortunate to have other consistent sources of income.

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