Culture & Community
Oct 8 2021 · 16 min read
“I’m really against the idea of selling merchandise… going full-on with the merch seems like a really bad slippery slope. Once we start running a business or other revenue stream (however not profitable it may be), everything gets complicated. Really complicated.
Sure it might be a cool idea if there was SCP-related merchandise or something with the SCP logo (or otherwise) on it but setting up a shop seems like a step in the wrong direction in the long term. I often see too many groups, communities, sites, individuals, etc. start putting up donation buttons and whatnot to start making money and eventually it consumes them. It becomes the backbone of major decisions and occasionally (read: frequently) becomes the main source of drama and disaster… next thing you know, we’d be making regular posts about donating regularly or urging people to buy from the shop to fund our enterprises like every other webcomic/gaming forum/private MMO server.
I’d think it’d be cool too if I had something like a lab coat with the SCP logo on it or something but I make sure that all that wishful thinking stays as wishful thinking. I know that once money starts getting involved for the site, it’d be hard to divest ourselves from the ENTERPRISE angle, even if we try to play the “only up to make ends meet” card. In the end, we’re still selling out.” — SophosBlitz, O5 Command, 2011
This small piece came as a result of me reading — or rather, being linked — the article SCP-6740 by djkaktus. The article itself, while possessing an interesting idea/concept, is, in my opinion, quite lackluster in its execution, with the exception of a rather well-made poem at the end. I won’t talk about the animated theme — a theme which my PC took a while to load — , as I don’t find that it helped or assisted the reading experience in any capacity. However, this isn’t a piece really about the article itself, but rather the author post in the discussion. The start of the post was rather mundane; “thanks to X and Y” and all that. The part I want to focus on is the end:
Lastly, I want to thank my supporters on Patreon for their support as well! I’m not allowed to link it here, but if you want to support the things I’m working on here, you can go to that website and then just type the website name and a slash and then my name, full stop. Thanks again!
This paragraph was followed by quite a long list of Patreons of different ranks and names:
Being in the comment section of a non-project page, this is technically against current site rules.See, it’s been a while since I’ve read newer SCPs — often sticking to oldies and obscure entries that I’m recommended by a friend — so seeing this left me a bit… shocked. For starters, and as stated by the author himself, you aren’t allowed to promote your Patreon on these parts of the site. This, however, doesn’t stop him from doing basically just that. And, being who he is, I doubt anything at all will be made about it. A long list of shareholders plastered in the back of a recently-made product. At least, that’s what I see this article as.
This is likely going to be a heavily unpopular opinion, and forgive my language, but I fucking hate what Patreon and similar sites have done to creative media as a whole. At least, to some extent.
“So, I am pretty adamantly against allowing anyone to solicit money on or through the site, and I’d like us to enshrine in our policy a blanket ban against doing such. There’s a lot of ways it could go wrong, we don’t need it, and it destroys one of the things I’ve loved about this place.” — Adam Smascher, 2017
Let’s create an scenario in our minds, one made from situations, people, and events I assume most of you are familiar with, and that may sound like a retelling to some:
You find a small YouTube channel. It covers a niche topic you enjoy and it’s overall decent in terms of production. The host of the channel looks like an honest guy, and seems to enjoy what he is doing. Over time, the channel begins to garner the attention of the public, perhaps thanks to a video getting extremely popular due to algorithm magic. You can clearly see the content of the host; his niche channel garnering far more attention than he had ever hoped for. Then, he decides to take the plunge; make YT his “full-time job”.
At first, this seems like a logical step forwards. He likes doing what he does, and he gets money out of it; a win/win scenario for everyone. He makes a humble Patreon — perhaps even without tiers — for his most loyal fans to support him; nothing seems out of the ordinary, nothing seems wrong. Then, very, very slowly — perhaps slow enough that you don’t notice it until it’s too late — the host begins to advertise more. Maybe it’s a small recommendation to an online subscription website, or a one-time-purchase product marginally related to his content: OK, that’s fine, good for him, some may even enjoy it! Then, that small ad segment becomes longer each video, sometimes not even at the start, but in the middle of his content. This can be way worse if his videos are short, since most ads require the host to make 3–4 minute shillings to get cash. You can sometimes end up with 1/3 of the video being taken up by ear-plugs or shitty Chinese mobile games.
“Nobody on the SCP Foundation site may make money on their articles or fanart. No disconnected donation pages towards gofundme pages or whatever. This is a site as a hobby and for the sake of writing first. If people want to be paid for writing they can get published in a periodical or whatever.” — Dexanote, 2017
Then, you finally start to notice his channel, and content, change; it isn’t quite as “niche” as it used to be. The topics, if they have stayed the same, are becoming more “appealing” or “accessible” to the wider audience; this is not your small corner of the internet anymore. You notice his humble personality change over time, he becomes more serious, perhaps looks a bit stressed sometimes, even angry, when a video doesn’t get as many views as he would like. Perhaps, he sounds annoyed at the fact that 75% of his viewers aren’t subscribed to his channel, and that they haven’t “smashed that notification bell.” He advertises himself and other products further. His content now seems second-hand; his “franchise” comes first.
Then, in one fated video, you see him grinning oddly after one of his 4-minute ads. From below the desk, he pulls out a decently-sized plushie. It is, while fairly cartoonish, a plushie of himself. No, I won’t mention the meme, but you can figure out the joke by yourself. He has opened a merch store (links below on the description alongside his other social media and websites — don’t forget to use his promo code “C04RN” too). He sells his face on t-shirts, mugs with his channel logo, toys made for grown-up men, and maybe, maybe, something marginally related to the topics he used to cover.
You receive a notification one day of his newest upload: it’s a fairly interesting topic, maybe you’ll enjoy it. You open up the video, remembering the humble man you initially subscribed to, hoping to see the passion that led him to where he is shine once again. You wait around 15 to 20 seconds to skip the first two ads. You then see his well-edited intro; a sharp contrast to the crappy 2010-like one he used to have. You see him sitting in “one of those rooms”, the ones with the spiky foam covering the walls to better the audio. You know the one. He starts off the video by introducing the topic — good! But, before really starting to talk, he makes an ad segment. It’s about some shitty scam RPG mobile game you’ve heard a million times, from a script you already know by heart.
He then gives a shout-out to his best Patreons, all neatly ordered to show who’s paying the most. He shills the links for his social media (Twitter, Instagram, Discord), and then, if the fates really hate you, he may even talk about other ways to support his channel: buy him a coffee, buy some merch, or check out a third-party cash-locked project he started with a fellow creator in Nebula or something. Then, he starts another unskippable ad, followed by a dumbed-down version of the topic you’d hoped he would cover. Instead of his usual demeanor, he talks to you like a child — not to blame him, of course, as it is likely what his major demographic is now. You close the video, and unsubscribe.
A shame, but it happens to the best. In fact, it almost always does.
“I would also like to agree that such links shouldn’t be permitted on normal SCP or tale pages (since begging for money on every damn page would get tiring)” — Randomini, 2017
This applies to all forms of media: videos, writing, games, just name it! Victims of this regression are not really making their passion for fun anymore. It has become a calculated business that’s made compromises with its initial ideals and visions. You don’t make content with the hopes of covering an obscure topic you enjoy, or experimenting, you make content in the hopes it will reach a wider audience. After all, that means more money for you. It’s your job, after all.
They become sellouts. Their content no longer dictated by their heart, but by their wallets and the general census the community has on them. They are the ones paying for his food and his expensive mics, and you shouldn’t forget that they can leave you as easily as they followed you. They don’t owe you anything. But you owe them everything.
If the deal is not bilateral, then, you may choose to squeeze as much as you can from your faceless fans. The once-humble Patreon meant for charitable support become stores; exclusive content, shout-outs, Q&As, privileges in the community. And, in the case of djkaktus’ Patreon, even the option to self-insert in one of his works should you be willing to spend more than $20 dollars a month. A fascinating combination between F.O.M.O. and a false sense of intimacy with the author. Quite devilish, if I have to say so myself! This may sound an exaggeration, and it may be one, but I believe these people have essentially done the modern equivalent of selling their souls to the devil. Allow me to expand on that…
They don’t see this as a hobby; they see it as a source of income and fame — and endless well of ego and capital. They don’t see their works as artistic material, but rather products meant to attract the lowest common denominator. Of course, you may think that’s what professional writers do already, right? Isn’t the point of this to sell your work? Hmmmmm, not really. I like to believe people don’t make books and other forms of art with the sole purpose of it being sold to as many people as possible — we all know what happens when that’s the case: capeshit, YA Dystopian books, James Patterson, clickbait for children, you already know the deal. An artist makes their art first, then does their best to make it reach people so they can enjoy it; money being a nice bonus to help them continue doing it. But lets be rational for a second, and agree that SCPs, no matter the length they have, not even tales, are nowhere near full-on books like American Gods. They are literary snacks, as a way to put it. Even the average long article isn’t even 20 pages long.
So, where am I getting at? What does this rant about Youtube and Patreon have to do with someone shilling in the discussion section of their article? My point is that people like this have rejected the artistic side of their hobbies and instead turned it all into marketing. Both for money and fame, as previously stated. The more people that read your snack literature, the more people will know you, the more people will donate to your Patreon, the more your fellow authors will “respect” you out of your success.
In the end, and I don’t care to sound like the raging anarchist I can be, it all comes back to the root of evil: the willingness to sacrifice anything and everything for money. It’s the cash, the dough, the bread, the honey that draws them in, draws them to poison their hobby for money. It’s what draws them to begging; promoting scams and shitty products on their videos, to their viewers — their loyal fans. (Some respectful payback, huh?) After all, sponsors pay the juiciest of channels up to $3,000 per shill. It’s the cash combined with fame that draws them to sell their face in t-shirts, or literally turn themselves into marketable plushies (YES, I made the joke).
They sell their soul, what made them popular and loved in the first place, for earthly gains of fame and fortune. I don’t think everyone who advertises themselves or tries to gain money is evil, of course not, but at one point one needs to stop and think to themselves: what the fuck happened between their humble beginning and early supporters, to selling scams to their viewers, selling idols of themselves online, and changing their whole personality to fit the new persona they have created as a result of their success?
And boy-oh-boy, do some people go overboard with the last point. We are all too familiar with examples of people becoming completely different beings once they’ve had a taste of the fame — sometimes just attention — and cash. Nikocado Avocado is an example I always like to reference. A man unrecognizable from his former self. A man unironically killing himself, although very slowly, just to attain a crumb of the ambrosia that is internet popularity. And there are far worse exponents of such condition — people willing to scam children and the desperate to swim in the green once they’ve ruined them financially— but I lack the words to list them all here.
Going deeper into the rabbit hole, this downwards spiral of creators and their attitude within a community — the elements that allow things such as the aforementioned author post to occur and it have no mention to those who are supposed to shepherd and protect the site, despite it being squarely against established rules — all relate to an article a friend sent me a while ago. It discusses the nature of online communities and subcultures in our day and age. More than anything, it talks about the process of their death. I think everyone should read it, specially those involved in the Confic community (SCP, RPC, Wayward, Wanderer’s Library, etc): https://meaningness.com/geeks-mops-sociopaths
In short, the article talks about the 3 types of users in a given community:
At the heart of a subculture are the Geeks (divided into Creators and Fanatics). The Creators, as the name implies, are the ones who create the “New Thing” that the subculture is based on. For example, the SCP-173 post in /x/ and the small, but quite eager, community that formed around it. People began trying to make their own 173’s, they began making the structure of what would eventually become SCP in its infant years.
Then we have the Fanatics. They are outsiders that were drawn in to the New Thing by the work of the creators. Fanatics in specific are the “active” type of consumers. They dedicate time to the community, they dedicate money, criticism, adulation, everything you can think of that isn’t directly producing more new content. They both fit in the “Geek” category because they are both, in their own way, equally fascinated and excited about New Thing, and they show that by spending much of their time towards it.
Eventually, and if New Thing can be enjoyed by a wide scope of people, “Mops” will begin flocking in. Unlike Fanatics, Mops are the “passive” type of consumers; think of them as the silent, yet massive reader base of SCP. They kinda participate, but they are mostly around to enjoy New Thing without having to give much in return. Mops are welcomed in because it means that the subculture is indeed good, and more Mops means more people are enjoying the works and support of the Geeks (everyone has an ego, after all). They are the vast majority of the community, and usually provide at LEAST some financial support to the creators. Sometimes, enough to make them work harder and even make it their full-time job.
The name “Mop” comes from the fact that, unlike Creators and Fanatics, which use their time to make more New Thing or organize events and communities around New Thing respectively, they just kinda stand around and “soak up the good stuff”. Mops, while they enjoy New Thing, tend to like other popular things a lot too, and would like if New Thing became less obscure and geeky, and more “diluted” and “accessible” to them. I don’t think I need to make sarcastic comments for you to notice a similar thing happening to SCP in these past few years. The Greeks eventually oblige due to the Mops making up the vast majority of the community, and the ones that usually keep it, or its artists, financially afloat.
"Sociopaths" Every one of those groups produces something. Creators make content, Fanatics make networks and social structures, and Mops make cash and popularity. The former two don’t really know how to exploit any of these forms of capital; they are just here because they enjoy it. Sadly, this is around the time “Sociopaths” (in the more common and modern term rather than actually mentally ill people) begin to join the community. They become friends with the main creators, they begin making stuff just like them, they begin communicating with the Mops. But they do all these things with grater charisma, and often greater success, than the Geeks. They know their way around people, around the heads of the New Thing Community, and know how to exploit every inch of it to their heart’s content. Usually, neither Geeks nor Mops are able to tell them apart from normal users when they begin coming around.
To quote the article directly, as I think it’s put perfectly:
Mops are fooled. They don’t care so much about details, and look to the Sociopaths like Creators, only better. Sociopaths become the coolest kids in the room, out-competing the Creators. At this stage, they take their pick of the best-looking Mops to do things like sleep with. They’ve extracted the cultural capital. The whole thing is rather barbaric. The sociopaths also work out how to monetize Mops — — which the Fanatics were never good at. With better publicity materials, the addition of a light show, and new, more crowd-friendly product, admission fees go up tenfold, and Mops are willing to pay. Somehow, not much of the money goes to Creators. However, more of them do get enough to go full-time, which means there’s more product to sell.
I think some of these things already ring a few bells in some of you. And for others, the name of certain — and sadly, many — members of the SCP community may come in mind when reading.
Eventually, the New Thing isn’t as new or as cool as it used to be. It’s around this type that Sociopaths depart for greener pastures, caring not for the mess they’ve made of the community, and usually leaving the Geeks in despair as they know not how this could’ve ever happened. More often than not, and due to many of the original Geeks leaving — again, few bells ringing — , there isn’t anyone to rebuild the community, and its gravestone falls soundly upon the remains of what used to be a place of enjoyment for many. It’s not really hard to apply everything I’ve just said to the entirety of SCP; the article that sparked this article, its community, its most prominent members, and the state it’s currently in. It’s not hard to see how many works have become part of a brand. How many of them aren’t made with artistic intent first. We need not to look far to see great examples of what I’m referring to. Gone are the days when an author would look upon its fanbase and smile, for they had enjoyed the fruits of their hard work. Now, at best, most of the Great and Mighty wont spend an ounce of their precious time on anyone who isn’t a Patreon Tier “Site Director”. Fans are but numbers, the bigger the number, the bigger the upvote box on the top-right of the page might get. The bigger those two numbers are, the more likely it is someone will “financially support you.”
“I’d be strongly against [alternate voting module with an unobtrusive link in it to the author’s page] for SCP Articles, as it could “contaminate” voting with early knowledge of the author. I, for one like not knowing who wrote an article until I get to the end.” — Mistbourne, 2017
If everything stated here wasn’t grim enough, the solutions proposed by the article are even more so. You see, despite what you may be led to believe, communities need Sociopaths to become anything more than an ultra-niche and gated subculture (unless that’s what you want, of course). However, in order to prevent the eventual Sociopath-fueled death of a subculture, and to still make the subculture grow, Geeks can learn from them in order to be “slightly evil”.
Sadly, the course of fate is not ours to decide, and it’s perhaps too late to stop some things already in motion. The past few years have been, as you may know, quite “shaky” for the community. Only time will tell if articles will slowly become products with links in the description down below, of if someone “slightly evil” may rise to action.
If you liked this piece, remember to support me on Patreon!
“…I wonder if doing all this is going in the right direction. Part of the charm was that we’re an out-of-the-way website with a larger-than-normal following and notoriety. I feel that slapping the logo (I don’t even know who designed it) on cups and t-shirts to increase our reach and exposure to the public might do more harm to the community than good in the long run (more than 5 years, or even one).
The other part is that the wiki reminds me of an open-source project community: A bunch of people gathering round and contributing to bits and parts of a large growing project without expecting anything in return except that people enjoy (and get creeped out by) the material IF they find it and tell others about it by word of mouth (and naturally that the project improves in quality and accessibility). It’s not like we’re a real company or trying to launch writing careers here. Maybe I just don’t like seeing the site changing more than it already has, maybe I think it’s the wrong kind of change.” -SophosBlitz
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