* Reimagining my payment structure to encompass principles of the "Pay-What-You-Want/Can" model;
* Juicy anti-capitalist/-patriarchy rant;
* T&Cs for my little experiment that may or may not be applicable to your idea or project (scroll all the way to the end of this post — hopefully read it first!);
* Let's be fair;
* Let's consider reshaping our ways to model the kind of radical new economy we want to live in (and is beneficial for everybody);
* Get in touch to learn more and/or make a pitch.
* * *
What do Radiohead, Amanda Palmer, and my old favourite restaurant in Melbourne — Lentil as Anything — have in common?
At one time or another in their creation and trade, they have all introduced a "Pay-What-You-Want" scheme as means of distributing products and services to their loving communities.
No set prices. No coercion or scarcity tactics. No pressure.
Just a bottom line of trust.
This scheme — rather than demanding an arbitrary dollar amount (regardless of someone's personal wealth or circumstances) in a cut-and-dry transaction that alleviates parties from any moral obligation to build further connection — allows the customer to experience first, and pay later with an offering that feels especially resonant and realistic to them.
As Amanda Palmer puts it, regarding her practise of releasing music to fans under the PWYW model:
"It's about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough...we see each other, and I think when we really see each other, we want to help each other. I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is how do we make people pay for music? What if we started asking, how do we let people pay for music?"
I visualise this model as a quiet act of revolution, sitting cross-legged on the floor amidst the sweating, screaming, fluorescent-lit Wall Street office that is the western world's pervasive economic system: capitalism.
PWYW is grounded in co-creative value and trust in one another; communal and altruistic by nature.
Whereas capitalism is more like a vigilant game of tit-for-tat between privatised corporations whose success is measured by market domination and wealth accumulation at another's expense; fearful and competitive at its core.
All of us alive today (and reading this) have likely been born into a world in which fear and competition are particles in the air we breathe, as prolific as oxygen. Over time, these particles break us down, break our bodies, as many an airborne disease would.
At this time of writing, I'm personally in recovery from a symptom of capitalism — burnout by chronic productivity — feebly remembering how to lift fingers and feel feelings after being put through the furnace and coughed out the other side a scorched husk; far from the immaculate diamond I have the birthright to be.
I've been forced into a state of deep rest — the enemy of productivity — over a period of close to ten months. My strung-out neural pathways, emptied of their usual busyness and distractions, are now more spacious for fresh ideas to seep through and re-fertilise my mind — much like monsoonal rain births green life into the veins of the Okavango Delta.
One of those ideas swimming laps in my head lately is that of PWYW. Cool, fluid, and refreshing...a salve to my burns.
A Revolutionary Economy
When I first started my business, I had no idea how to price my services. I was new to this game, and scared I wouldn't know how to play — so I turned to "experts". Coaches. Influencers. Institutions. Those who appeared to have the game all figured out, and were thereby living their prosperous, successful, "self-made" career dreams.
These figures had leverage. They had lists of prestigious achievements and sponsorships and affiliations with other wildly outstanding people and access to many thousands of followers around the world, and the little blue ticks next to their social media handles. They're typically people that are listened to and largely respected. They've been deemed "people of worth" by the current metrics we live or die by in our western culture.
Therefore...they must know what they're talking about, right? Otherwise...why is everybody listening?
Through my entrepreneurial quest for perceived worthiness, I was handed a set of sub-commandments of modern economic scripture that promise a way out of living hand-to-mouth by doing what you love ("for an investment of $XYZ, normally valued at $XYZ@#$%!").
That gaslight the absence of funds in your account as your inability to "honour your worth", and cut those out of your clientele who can't cough up the extra dollars.
That turn out to be capitalism disguised as service; virtuous on the surface, though ultimately pumping greater wealth into the infinity pool on the 77th floor owned by the world's most privileged demographics, by denying assistance or grace to those of us closer to the basement.
That prop up entities that are single-handedly, or by affiliation, destroying the environment or decimating local cultures, inflaming body image issues, driving destitution, disparity, and despair amongst vulnerable communities...the list goes on and on.
* * *
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm aware that not all those who make lots of money have ulterior motives.
A counter-argument to mine might suggest that by tactically playing the game and landing yourself in a position of leverage on the board, you can use your hard-earned wisdom and resources to influence positive change in your environment.
This is a valid argument; and if you've figured out how to play to others' advantage as well as your own, then more justly-wielded power to you.
It's just that what often begins as good and honest intentions of helping out our fellow humans gets infiltrated by the malleability of vested self-interest; the MO of capitalism (and let's not forget its bedfellow, that pesky patriarchy). We all have a self-preserving streak, and are all tempted, in some form or another, by the perks and promises of wealth — be that of money, time, beauty, fame, success...and in some extreme cases, literal survival (or what our brains perceive as).
Not to mention; seeing too many highlight reels every day on social media has us duped into believing we're not keeping up with the game. That until we put X amount of money on our products or services and streamline the amount of time we take to create or deliver them (because we also have to cook, eat, wash our dishes, sleep enough hours, exercise, meditate, commute to and from work, clean our houses and clothes, spend meaningful time with friends and family, partake in hobbies, shower every now and then...), we're going to be left behind, cast out from the herd. We're doomed to drift through life with our unique brilliance never being realised. We're banished from the board.
So...why is everybody still listening?
Because — I mean, how terrifying does all the above sound? People can't see the truth of their beautiful essence when they're perpetually operating from a fight-or-flight state of survival; just keeping up with the pack, so desperately wanting to be accepted and hoping things will get better. Or, feeling like they have to compete and do the casting out, to avoid being cast out themselves.
This narrative, and countless variations of it, is a convenient card to play by the same fat cats and corporations slipping our chips under the table while we're not looking, profiting from our doubt and complete exhaustion. They have us trying to buy our way out of suffering they've created, through a game that is fundamentally rigged against a great many of us succeeding — and if we do somehow succeed, it might be because we've had to step on someone else's neck in order to climb another rung of the ladder.
So much of this remains unconscious. I sure as hell never knowingly set out to succeed in my field at other people's expense...and yet, I realise now that, so long as we're all still playing by the rules that be, we're perpetuating a fundamentally unjust social and economical order.
I'm aware that, while I don't consider myself close to the upper rungs of the ladder and into the infinity pool, I've been born into some degree of privilege that entitles me to sit a little higher up than some; to cash in on some perks.
We've all perks to cash in that keep us, fingers tightly coiled, on the ladder...and we're terrified of what should happen, should we be shaken off. We don't look down for fear of falling, and therefore don't see the suffering and stifled pleading of those below us.
I don't know about you, but...personally, I feel a responsibility to find a way to start prising my limbs off the ladder — to stop silently conspiring with others to keep calm and keep our perks while those on the lower rungs get stepped on — in whatever small ways I can, and look toward solutions that see us all standing on more equal ground. To change the rules of the game so that we can all play fairly and fun-ly.
In short: I've had a gutful of this current game.
I'm enraged at cashing my resources into a system that profits only if its players are all operating under the mutual denial of intrinsic worthiness and inclusion; if we're climbing over one another's heads as opposed to rising by lifting each other at the same time.
PWYW (or Pay-As-You-Feel/Pay-What-You-Can) is a model that meets people where they're at — not where you're at. It begets deep and ongoing discussion about what the buyer truly values, what resources they have to offer, what human connection there is between you, about beauty and art and intentions. It honours nuance and boundaries. It doesn't profit from people's fears.
It carries within it a lore that prioritises the sanctity of love, connectedness, and trust above all else; a silent vow that communicates, "I will not judge you by the numbers in your bank account or your personal circumstances. I see you in your creative divinity; I see you in love; I see you in trust; I see you as a kindred spirit that deserves my support in all states and circumstances, and I yours. And I trust this generosity will circle back around and bind us together again and again, as we are all inextricably bound as the same stuff of stardust. Of this earth. Of Source. As so much more than numbers in an unnatural, tyrannical, patriarchal economic market."
* * *
The original meaning of the word economy is derived from Ancient Greek; oikonomia, roughly translating as "proper management of the household."
My business is, in a way, my household. So much of this year (2023) for me has felt like arduous and unrelenting housekeeping.
Coming to terms with what, for reasons beyond my understanding, just...doesn't work or make sense any more; old identities and intentions that feel like poking the discarded skin of a snake, trying to make it come back to life, and finally accepting (with some grief) that they're gone now.
Clearing out a bunch of junk and cobwebs that no longer feel aligned for me and the kind of neighbourhood — and I use this word broadly; literally meaning, like, the world and radical new economy — I want to live in. And it honestly seems as though I'm not remotely alone in this experience.
Pay-What-You-Want/Can, in these troubled and untenable economic times, seems to me the way forward...or at least, my way forward. Something to try; something more inclusive of people born into different privileges and life circumstances; something a little more radical and (in my opinion) far more aligned with the true nature of humans, and the cosmic dust from which we're made:
Empathetic, ever-changing, nuanced, irrational, inexplicable, enamoured with beauty, and hardwired for meaningful connection — not merely that what's fabricated through false needs and fear of being screwed.
My Way Forward + How to Collaborate
In Debt: The First 5,000 Years, author David Graeber proposes a concept of "everyday communism," as defined through detailed analysis of peasant life:
"The peasants' visions of communistic brotherhood did not come out of nowhere. They were rooted in real daily experience: of the maintenance of common fields and forests, of everyday cooperation and neighbourly solidarity. It is out of such homely experience of everyday communism that grand mythic visions are always built. Obviously, rural communities were also divided, squabbling places, since communities always are — but insofar as they are communities at all, they are necessarily founded on a ground of mutual aid...Society was rooted above in the "love and amity" of friends and kin, and it found expression in all those forms of everyday communism (helping neighbours with chores, providing milk or cheese for old widows) that were seen to flow from it.
"Almost everyone follows this principle if they are collaborating on some common project. If someone fixing a broken water pipe says,"Hand me the wrench," his co-worker will not, generally speaking, say, "And what do I get for it?" — even if they are working for ExxonMobil, Burger King, or Goldman Sachs...The reason is simple efficiency (ironically enough, considering the conventional wisdom that "communism just doesn't work"): if you really care about getting something done, the most efficient way to go about it is obviously to allocate tasks by ability and give people whatever they need to do them."
I started my creative business with the intention of giving back to my community; of expressing my appreciation for the wonderful people around me who've injected colour and dynamism and magic into the daily monotony of capitalist life. My craft felt like it could become an expression of "everyday communism," in the way Graeber explains above.
I got a little lost somewhere in the delivery of all that, and want to make good on my intentions. (My skills are the wrench, in the above analogy; as might be yours too, in your own way of allocating them.)
* * *
Now, to my final point:
Along with this experimental system in which my mixed media services are more accessibly offered, comes an acknowledgement that I'll need to be far choosier with potential projects moving forward.
I mentioned earlier I'm recovering from chronic burnout; therefore, my act of rebellion is to shift gears into a non-patriarchal pace. I move slower at the moment than I ever thought possible — except on projects that truly light me up. That are taken on for any other reason but the money (and therefore granted more equitable attention and effort).
Other reasons I can think of are plentiful: to shine a spotlight on pressing issues pertaining to our natural world and collective human experience (I am Synaesthete Media and a photojournalist at my core, after all); to make others' innovative projects and perspectives more available to potential audiences; to strengthen unique connections and friendships; to deepen my own learning and understanding of how something or someone works; to push myself creatively; to see and experience more wonders of the world; to remain open to spontaneity, uncertainty, and nuance; to scratch my own curious itches...you name it.
The world and its people need more help in some areas than others. Therefore, I'm making myself more available to projects pertaining to:
* Environmental and cultural conservation;
* Areas of social inequality that need more voices behind them (women's empowerment, men's healing, unique expressions of sexuality, speciesism, support for First Nations and other people of colour, the differently-abled, and so on);
* Preservation of truth in a society that often sells it to the highest bidder;
* Celebration of the true, artful, and beautiful;
* Anything connected to those non-monetary reasons listed above — or, of course, to do with a radical new economy — and more, which I'm open to hearing about from you.
If you have an idea/perspective/project you want to push out into the world, and need a caring creative to collaborate with — I'm your gal.
Get in touch (with a short explanation of why it's a good fit for anything I've shared here) via my contact form or either of my social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram). Here's a portfolio of my reportage, if you want to see and read more of my storytelling.
I would truly be honoured to hear from you.
The world now, more than ever, needs your unique voice and perspective on the events shaping our new economy — as do I.
* * *
Technical stuff: This whole new set-up is truly an experiment; I've never tried anything quite like this before, except the occasional skills exchange or barter arrangement here and there. There will be kinks, quirks, nuances, and uncertainty to work through; perhaps I'll need to make adjustments down the track, or it won't work out at all. But I'd be frustrated with myself if I didn't at least try. So I thank you for your patience as we nut this out together.
Pay-What-You-Want may not be applicable for every scenario or project. Some positions (for example, contractor on a media team) will need to offer me what's offered to others of comparable experience/skill. Also, please note that some projects are enormously time- and effort-consuming to undertake (for example, wedding videos), and therefore I will need to request a minimum fee to cover my bases (dependent on the size of the project in question).
All jobs will require a small deposit, so that (should the worst-case scenarios happen, which I'm choosing to trust won't happen often) if someone cancels last-minute (or does a runner before making good on any remaining payment), I'm at least basically compensated for my time.
Finally...this whole spiel exists not to exclude anyone, or hang judgement on someone's life choices! I'm sure there are a bunch of you out there who have not only fought through adversity to make the current system work for you, but are giving generously through your success, be that in dollars or knowledge or otherwise. Some of you might like the way the economy is tracking; if so, good for you.
All I want to communicate is that, for me...some parts of the way we live are kinda f*cked. More to the point, there are so many people with the potential to make real waves in the world, and I want to help them catch that surf, catch a break in whatever way I can; not everyone has the resources they need to be heard, and that sucks. We might be missing out on something truly wonderful.