Who profits from your LOLs?

2 04 2008

Icanhascheezburger, of course.

Don’t get me wrong. I tune in every day, just like the other ten thousand readers, to be tickled and amused by Icanhascheezburger’s particular brand of comedic wit. Even though they sell advertising space and merchandise. Perhaps foolishly I convinced myself that the cash coming in from those things was going toward paying WordPress for things such as dedicated domain name, extra bandwidth, and so on.

And fair’s far, Icanhascheezburger make no pretence. They make it quite clear that you, the reader, puts all the effort in. You create their content, you post it, and you vote on other people’s posted content to see which fortunate LOLer makes it to the hallowed halls of the front page.

But now Icanhascheezburger has landed itself a book deal, with an undisclosed advance (likely to be in six figures). And it’s done it with content created not by the site’s owners and managers, but by it’s readers. That’s you. And if you’re lucky, your LOLcat may appear in the book, which you can pay an as-yet unknown amount to buy a copy of.

Blogs becoming books is nothing new, of course. In the past we’ve had Belle de Jour (leading to The Secret Diary of a Call girl), Random Acts of Reality (Blood, Sweat and Tea), and the wildly successful Freakonomics (spawning not only a book of the same name, but a promotion to becoming an NY Times blog). And in the same press release we hear of the fantastically funny Stuff White People Like also getting a book deal (with a definite six-figure advance attached).

All those blogs have something Icanhascheezburger does not, though. They generated their own content. Belle de Jour was created as an expose (fictional or not, I’m not here to debate that) of a London call-girl, by a single writer purporting to be reporting her own experiences. Random Acts of Reality features the daily exploits of a London E.M.T. and exposes all facets of life in an Ambulance in one of the world’s largest cities. Stuff White People Like is a regular dose of mockery by white people for anyone with a sense of humour about the weirdness of Western society, again written by the site’s creators and owners.

It’s one thing to provide content for someone else’s site for free, if that site isn’t profiting from your generosity and creativity. But once they start making money from your work, you should get paid. It’s that simple.

Of course, I could be wrong. ICHC could be tracking down each and every succesful contributor right now and offering them a cut of the profits.

Yep. I’m sure that’s what they’re doing.

Right now.

Definately not laughing all the way to the bank.

Nope.

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4 responses

2 04 2008
Ryan

Freakonomics was definitely a book first, and a blog afterwards. Strong post otherwise, though.

2 04 2008
Trudi Topham

My bad. Freakonomics initially came out of an article Stephen Dubner wrote about Steven Levitt for the New York Times, which led to the two collaborating on the book, which then spawned the blog.

Well spotted, sir 😀

2 04 2008
Tom Reynolds

Good post (and thanks for the mention)

Once more it’s in the small text of the usage of the site…

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to Pet Holdings, you hereby grant Pet Holdings a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Websites (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

I think that it’s one of those things that people are going to be more wary of in the future – if they care.

Being honest I think that most people create LOLcats because it’s fun and because they want the site to succeed. Poll the people who generated the content and they’ll probably not care that they aren’t getting any money out of the deal (especially if they look at the amounts that are paid). Heck they may even buy the book in order to ‘reward’ the site that they have adopted as part of their community.

It’s a funny old thing the internet, especially the use of user generated content and it does turn around previously held ideas. Have people complained about the money that they make from their auxillary products like the t-shirts?

3 04 2008
Trudi Topham

Hi Tom,

I also think people create LOLcats because it’s fun. And while that disclaimer is in place, many people are under the impression that ICHC is a little site run by a bunch of friends for a bit of fun, when in actuality there is a company behind it and that company’s goal is to make money (just like every company’s – I’m not saying that in itself is a bad thing).

The world is full of creative people who succeed in finding a rewarding outlet for their work. This is simply a cautionary tale to those creatives who seek to make a living from whatever it is that they do.

My blog is predominantly aimed at offering advice to writers, but visual artists are equally vulnerable, and for those particular readers this should serve as a gentle reminder: Creating content for the internet is all fine and dandy. Doing it for free is also absolutely fine (I’d be a hypocrite if I said otherwise). But if you ever intend your creations to become one of the few blog-to-print success stories, put your work in a place where you have control, and where, should anything come of it, you are the one that six-figure advance will go to.

I’m all for throwing money at creative people to encourage them to make more of what I like. I’m not so keen on giving money to people who are exploiting talent and good will to turn a profit.

So beware, kind reader. Posting your work to a community site (ICHC is simply the example here, but there are plenty of places which look attractive, as they promise far greater exposure for far less effort) may mean handing rights over to an unknown party who, should the community really take off, could be making hundreds of thousands of pounds from your generosity.

As for the t-shirts and other merchandise? I’ve seen no complaint, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any (or indeed that there are). I think it’s dubious practice, but that’s just me 😉

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