Bemusings (Bemoanings) Of A Failed Writer
I was talking to one of my students last weekend (I teach adults English in Japan) and he was telling me that he wanted to set up a blog to make some extra money on the side. Knowing that there is no money in writing but wanting to be nice, I chuckled and asked him how he expected to monetize it.
In broken yet understandable English he explained to me that he was going to set up a free blog, get a Google AdSense account and write about whatever topics were most popular at the time. Having had a Google AdSense account at one point (and never making money from it) I wished him luck.
Yesterday the student came back and I asked him how his blog was doing.
“Oh, not bad” he said without looking up from his notes, “I got a few thousand hits the first few days.”
“Excuse me what?” I said, half-suspecting he was confusing his numbers again and actually meant that he got a few hundred visitors.
“My first article got a couple thousand hits, I hope the next one gets more,” he confirmed.
I put the lesson on the back-burner for a moment, I needed to know more. I pressed him to explain exactly what he did. Still without thinking much of it nor looking up at me he casually said that he went to Google Trends, found a popular topic, and wrote a quick article about it. In no time he was pulling in the hits.
“But what did you write about?” I asked, knowing this guy’s interests are limited to oblique science journals and personal training.
“I wrote about the VW crisis,” he explained. “I went online, grabbed a few articles, reworded them into one article and put it on my site.”
“Well, did you cite your sources?” I asked, my fuming hatred for society and new media reaching a crescendo.
“No. I didn’t cut and paste. I reworded so I don’t have to,” he, rather incorrectly, stated.
I informed him that he did in fact have to cite his sources, and that not doing so is plagiarism and a violation of Google AdSense policy. He didn’t seem to care.
I knew my “career” as a journalist had burst a long time ago and that any chance to make it as a writer had long since passed. But this still stung, and it reaffirmed two sad truths I’ve long suspected.
One is that original content is dead. Ninety percent of what we read online is zombified news, articles taken from a cornucopia of other sites, cut up, re-arranged so it’s not technically plagiarism anymore, and then awoken like Frankenstein’s monster, ready to attack us with clickbait headlines and meme-driven content about “one trick you won’t believe.” But whatever, I’m not the first person to bemoan such a thing, and long drawn out thinkpieces about the death of original content are as easy to find as Buzzfeed Top 10 Lists on Facebook.
The second truth it painfully exposed me to, and another that I long expected, is that no one gives a shit about anything I write about. This student, whose English knowledge is more than a little bit lacking, could cobble together a story about VW based entirely on existing content and completely devoid of original thought, and he got more hits in two days than either of my sites will in one month.
And he’ll probably get some modicum of money for it too because why the fuck not.
Recently I wrote a guide of sorts to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s studio albums. It was something I felt compelled to write, as I thought it would help spread information about a band who to this date is disgustingly underrepresented in Western media. I spent about a week on it, writing and editing it when I could get the chance between classes and on my few days off. I put a lot of work into it. I’m pretty proud of it.
As of this writing less than 300 people have clicked on it. God know how many people actually read it when they found out it had words and wasn’t just a list.
A few weeks ago I went to the Mario 30th Anniversary Celebration Festival. As far as I know I was the only English speaking writer in attendance. I took exclusive photos of the event, which included a presentation by Mario creator Shigero Miyamoto. To the best of my knowledge, my article is the only English language in-depth coverage of the event.
It has less than 100 hits.
And I hype my shit the best I can. I go on Twitter and send links out. I share it on Facebook (despite how much I utterly loathe Facebook). I do my best to get the word out. But nope. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. I certainly didn’t expect either post to set the world aflame, but I would’ve thought that both of them combined might outperformed a plagiarized hack job written solely for hits by someone who doesn’t even care about the topic and is doing it only for the money.
I’ve never thought the things I write about (obscure music, how prog rock can affect my mental disorders) would garner me fame or fortune. Ever since I more or less gave up on magazine writing I knew that my predilection for prose would be a hobby at most. But, y’know, it’d be nice to be a niche interest to more than a handful of people sometimes.
Do I have a point in writing this? I don’t know. Probably not. I’m not begging for attention, I’m really not. I’m just trying to figure out why more people who share my interests don’t seek out original content anymore.
To the few dedicated readers I have out there, thanks. I’ll probably write about Silverchair sometime next month. Because someone has to give forgotten grunge bands the retrospective they certainly don’t deserve, and it might as well be me.