​Network literature creators: contract workers in the new era?

Online literature creators: contract workers in the new era? Dai Siyu, School of Humanities, Xi’an Jiaotong University In the eyes of many people, online literature is a big cake. As of 2019, the number of readers

Online literature creators: contract workers in the new era?

Dai Siyu, School of Humanities, Xi’an Jiaotong University

In the eyes of many people, online literature is a big cake. As of 2019, the number of readers of online literature has exceeded 455 million, accounting for 53.2% of the total netizens [1]; the “IP” adaptation boom has emerged, and film and television dramas, games, and peripheral products have been launched one after another. As a result, online literature creators also seem to be an easy and profitable business. Just like the regulars on the “Great God” income list, as long as you tap the keyboard, you can make money every day.

Behind the brilliance, online literature creators are not easy. In 2017, the number of creators of online literature has reached 14 million, and the total number of various online literature works has reached 16.47 million (types)[2]. There are only a few authors who have become famous, and more authors are more like those with extremely low incomes. physical labor. There are two main sources of income for authors: copyright operation and reading income. For ordinary authors, selling copyright is a long way off. The reading revenue is divided into subscriptions and rewards.

The reward income is unstable, and subscriptions account for the absolute main body of the income of ordinary authors. On the Qidian Chinese website under “Yuewen”, you need to pay 5 cents to read a 1,000-word novel, and only 3 cents if you are a senior VIP [3], and many senior readers are senior VIP users. Assuming that an author updates 3,000 words in a chapter of a novel, and takes 2-3 hours to update 2 chapters every day, then each reader who reads today’s update will generate a profit of 1.8 cents. The subscription sharing system implemented by Qidian Chinese.com is 50%, so the author can only get 9 cents. Assuming that the author updates every day and the number of subscribers is stable at 1,000 (for many authors, “thousand subscriptions” is a threshold), according to this algorithm, the monthly subscription income is only about 2,700 yuan, which is not even as good as the vast majority of manual labor. income.

One-time passion cannot last for many years. This meager income is the reason why many authors start to create, and it is also the reason why many authors do not give up creation. Subsidizing the family, gaining respect, supporting the sick… The authors of online literature come from all sectors of society, and the vast majority of creators need to rely on income to support their livelihood and self-identity.

That doesn’t mean these creators are money-sniffs. The number of subscriptions in the author’s background also shows the reader’s recognition of the novel. In the context of rampant piracy, the valuable paying reader group chooses to support the genuine version, which is the greatest encouragement and recognition for the author, and also the most direct way of interacting with the author. They understand the survival pressure of creators, and they are willing to pay the price of a bottle of Coke per month for higher-quality, more mature, and relatively more aesthetically valuable works. In an era when the audience of traditional literature is decreasing day by day, the interactivity, intertextuality and hypertext nature of online literature make it a new possibility for the future literary ecology; in fact, from the payment system of online literature After maturity, from 2008 to 2018, the level of popular online literature works has undergone earth-shaking changes as a whole, a large number of new story types have been produced, and the aesthetic level has also changed from the former “underworld” and “Long Aotian” to a diversified relative. Mature aesthetics, such as ” Slaying the World ” , ” Gu Dao Changsheng ” , ” Gourmet Supplier ” , etc., are slow-moving masterpieces that tell stories with heart, and are widely recognized by readers.

This booming situation came to an abrupt end in April 2020.

On April 27, China Literature Group officially announced the change of coach, and the Tencent team airborne management. Almost at the same time, the author broke the news on the “Dragon’s Sky” forum that the new standard contract received had the following contents:

The author is hired by China Literature to create works, and the rights belong to China Literature until 50 years after the author’s death; China Literature can publish works for free, and the author must not have any objection; the copyright of the work belongs to China Literature, and can be used and operated at will There is no labor relationship between the author and China Literature, which is not protected by labor law, and does not enjoy any rights such as wages, benefits, security, etc.; all written works of the author during the contract period belong to China Literature; the author’s publication of works on other platforms is a breach of contract , the income is owned by Yuewen; Yuewen has priority over the author’s next work; the income that Yuewen needs to pay to the author is the net income after advertising fees minus operating costs; Yuewen can change the work at will, and the author must not have any Objection, etc. [4].

If such a contract is valid, it means:

The author is a “gunman” hired by the reading platform for free, and the copyright (copyright) belongs to the reading platform. Although the inspiration, outline, and content are written by the author word by word, and have nothing to do with the platform, this work is legal in the sense of It belongs to the reading platform completely, and the platform does not need to pay any price.

The platform can grant copyright to Tencent-based media platforms such as Tencent Animation at a nominal price such as 1 yuan (or completely free) without paying the author a reasonable share.

After signing the contract, the author cannot leave the reading platform, and unless he ceases to create permanently, all the proceeds will be compensated for the platform. During the contract period (usually a long-term contract of five years or more), all creations of the author – including non-network literature, such as academic papers, traditional literary creations and commercial publication creations, patents, etc., although not published on the reading platform , according to the definition of ” written works ” in Article 3 of the Copyright Law , they also belong to the reading platform. That is to say, assuming that a college student author gives up online literature creation, the master’s thesis, doctoral thesis, journal papers, patents, etc. he publishes legally belong to the reading platform [5].

The platform can directly kick the author out of the game without any reason, and assign the gun to the author’s work.

The author must cooperate with the platform for publicity, rights protection, etc. The publicity costs are borne by the author, and the rights protection benefits belong to the platform.

As long as the platform is willing, the author’s work can be set as completely free at any time, so that the author does not have any income and can legally manipulate the author.

At this level of price, the visible income that the author can receive is the net income of advertising fees minus “operating costs”, but neither is transparent, and the amount is completely determined by the platform – that is, as long as the platform is willing, even if It can be done without paying a penny; even as long as the platform is willing, the author can still owe money, just as the famous author “Dream into God Machine” stated: “It is legal to engage you, once you and the platform have an affair Contradiction, this sword will work.”[6]

Such contractual terms allow online literature creators to pin their hopes on the conscience of the platform. At about the same time, the authors discovered something quite darkly humorous.

He had created popular works such as, ” High- Quality Han Shi “, ” Ya Sao  , and one of the representatives of the new generation of historical online novel authors, “Three Thieves”, died of illness in 2014, and his wife and daughter relied on the income of his works during his lifetime. maintain lifehood. In 2019, the reading platform suddenly banned the vast majority of the works of “Three Idiots of Thieves”. In April 2020, the banned works of “Thief Road Three Idiots” suddenly appeared on the WeChat Reading platform (Yuewen and WeChat Reading both belong to Tencent, and WeChat Reading is authorized by the Reading Library), which has been confirmed by many authors to be free. [7].

In the current context, “contracted labor” was originally a historical term that was shelved, but recently it has been brought up again by online literature creators.

Xia Yan’s ” Body- Body Worker ” describes the tragic situation in which Japanese female workers in the Hua Spinning Factory were forced and deceived to sign a contract and sold their personal freedom during the contract period to the contractor for a small amount of “Body-Body Fee”. They all obey the foreman, and are not allowed to go home or go to other factories. The treatment is extremely poor, and all wages belong to the foreman.

Of course, they also signed a “sell contract”, so some people may think that this is their voluntary, self-inflicted responsibility, and abiding by the agreement is the embodiment of the spirit of the contract:

“The person who set up the voluntary book, ×××, because of the difficulties at home in the past, brought the girl ×× voluntary package and the name of the recruiter to the Shanghai Spinning Factory to work. According to the words in the book, the package was 30 yuan in the ocean. At the end of the three-year period, this payment will be paid at the rate of 10 yuan in March each year. After entering the factory, follow the lessons of the recruiters and must not violate the rules. No involvement, if there is a headache or a cold, the recruiter will be responsible. Within three years, the female worker will make up her clothes, and the recruiter will recognize it. If there is a stoppage, they will make up as much as possible. The deadline is × year × month × day. , I have been recruiting employees for a few months. I fear that there is no evidence in the future, so I will admit it immediately.”

As of May 3, 2020, after a few days of silent fermentation, the reading platform issued the following response. Cheng Wu, CEO of China Literature Group, published an open letter titled ” Faces Will Change, Dreams Will Not – To Online Literature Writers ” , pointing out that the new contract was drawn up by the old team, calling on authors to trust the platform, expressing “greater support and investment to bring What comes is development and evolution, not overthrowing” “Hello everyone, the ecology is good” [8]. Regarding the issue of the new contract terms, there is currently no specific response from the Yuewen platform, claiming that it is a “contract launched by Yuewen in September 2019”, not a new contract[9]. , discussing issues of concern to everyone, such as business models, writer ecology, and writer contracts.

The group of creators did not buy this response, and the voice of resistance was growing stronger day by day. Well-known authors including “Dream Machine”, “I Eat Tomatoes”, “Cyberworm Potatoes”, “Ji Cha” and “Wandering Toad” have voiced their support, and most reader groups have also voiced their opposition and submitted comments for the revision of the Copyright Law . It is worth noting that workers in other industries also expressed support for the resistance of online text creators. This is a rare “out of the circle” phenomenon.

In fact, no matter what the “truth” of the incident is, whether the person who drafted the new contract belongs to the old team or the new team, and how the responsibilities should be divided, is not what matters to the public, nor is it even the situation of the online literature creator group, but That’s what a contract like this can do. This is undoubtedly a bad sign: in the future, content creators may become slaves to a certain platform. Although all the fruits of labor are created by the content creators, all this will be legally grabbed by the platform, and even the leftovers will be taken away by the platform. Do not stay.

Creators have nowhere to go. In the context of digital capitalism, the process of interaction between authors and readers through the platform actually produces “general data” for the intermediary platform, that is, the selection results of author groups when they create, and the results of readers’ search and reading. . On the surface, the author puts the work on a certain platform for readers to read, and the platform only provides a venue and an intermediary; but when the platform gradually becomes larger and has a leading position in the industry, it has mastered so much general data, in turn It clamps down on writers and readers, leaving them virtually no choice but to be tethered to the platform. Creators can only get the qualification to be “watched” on the platform, and readers can only “see” on such a platform, and the platform can arbitrarily “see” creators and readers, through algorithms, recommendations, exposure rates. Strategies to select and shape their tendencies, preferences, writing and reading genres (just as psychic genres of online literature were almost completely banned overnight), and then covertly control the minds of the audience. Considering the simultaneous control of different media platforms (online literature, games, animation, film and television dramas, etc.) by the same power-capital, such concerns are probably not unfounded.

Professors Zhang Zheng and Wu Fuzhong from Tsinghua University pointed out, “Depending on the essential characteristics of digital infrastructure and networks, the platform can achieve more complex coordination and lean production, thereby establishing its own monopoly position.” The creators A lot of opportunity costs have been invested, the benefits are unpredictable, unsafe, lack of welfare, and panic all day long, “belonging to the unstable proletariat (Precariat) in political economy, also translated as ‘the precarious family'” [10]. Nick Srnicek , the author of Platform Capitalism cited in this study, has expressed his concerns about platforms, taking Facebook and Amazon as examples, pointing out that although these platforms provide some illusions of publicity, but they almost certainly tend to abuse their power. ( Interview with Tobias Haberkorn, Los Angeles Review of Books)

As a kind of mass media, online literature has provided many netizens, especially young people, with their imagination of the world. A variety of narratives intersect with each other, a hundred flowers bloom, voices are noisy, and the overall situation is positive. Wu Wenhui, a former executive of China Literature Group, once pointed out, “If a work is full of eye-catching and scaring things, readers will feel very happy, but they will also feel that this thing is worthless, just look at it, no It is worth paying for, but a good story is worth paying for. Therefore, although some of the content that appears on our platform is somewhat different from traditional literature on the surface, in the final analysis it is still in line with traditional Chinese culture and values. , and will strengthen traditional family concepts and moral concepts. Content that violates basic morality will naturally be rejected by users.”[11] This kind of public life narrative based on mutual visibility is defeated by the counter-narrative of “free traffic” , just as the creator’s natural belief in the “feeding from labor” narrative is dispelled by the counter-narrative of “squeezing the author”. An author said: “How cheap do you think the author is, do you think that being free will make the author’s life better?” It is precisely based on understanding this logic that a large number of readers will support the author, because: only let the chicken live Go down, the chicken can lay the egg.

Assuming the worst possible outcome for the creators of online literature, this becomes a Zizek-like symptom: it not only subverts its own foundation, but puts the platform in a position where it is “natural” to exploit creators, creating The creators do not have the right to refuse this kind of betrayal (otherwise they would not be able to exist as creators in the new media context), which also makes all content creators and all workers fall into potential fear: such a situation is possible in all industries. Replicated, when the platform has a dominant or monopoly position, it can in turn arbitrarily enslave content creators and laborers by relying on general data, and they have nowhere to go. When a creator finds that other creators are trapped in a ring world, if he tries to get out of the ring world, he becomes a disenfranchised “naked life” and is no longer regarded as a “person” (unable to Continue to survive in this capacity), just as most of the creators who ran away from reading have disappeared. This kind of situation has happened in some comic magazines and the takeaway industry. Is the online literature industry the next one? No one can predict.

Assuming one of these platforms wins outright, creators lose almost all rights to their work. This is the worst possible future. The platform can arbitrarily intervene in creation and dispose of revenue, and content creators can almost foresee a large loss, leaving only mechanical works that are copied in batches, and works that the platform is “satisfied” with. This means that capital can manipulate and influence almost everything that people see, hear, and think through the dominance of the platform and the linkage of multiple platforms, and set the agenda, while the unorganized audience has almost no ability to resist and Possibilities, they can’t even realize it; the few who can realize it will fall into a spiral of silence, and even if they want to express, they will become a “tick” that leaves the ring world, completely biopoliticized, and can’t even fight for exposure The treatment of being “watched”. And if you want to become a content creator, you have no choice but this platform. At that time, most people will be intoxicated, and smart and conscientious people will remain silent, because the possibility of content creation has been stifled in such an ecology.

By then, there will only be two lines to recite:

Sometimes I sit alone in the cornfield and recite Chinese poetry for my brothers

no eyes and no lips

——Hai Zi , ” The Maid in May “

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