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We have today a follow-up from Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin, on the state of web- and indie creators in the time of lockdown. Without further adieu¹, FSFCPL:

Last time, we saw how COVID-19 is likely going to affect cultural activities related to comics (and, to be fair, to literature in general), but a much more pressing concern is how creators and their natural allies are faring during the lockdown. After seven weeks, we can report on a reasonably good view of the situation.

The lockdown proper has some bearing on creators, to begin with. For instance, Cy reports gaining a coworker on this occasion: her significant other. More dramatic however is the situation of creators with children, who had to keep them at home (all schools and collective nurseries had to close), and yet most (to my knowledge) have powered through, managing to complete deadlines (such as they are these days): Thorn for instance reports completing a book coloring work by 5-minute sessions, the time between interruptions by her children.

But that may be because they had limited choices. While salaried people in France have had access to robust compensation systems (more on that in a bit), independents however were not nearly as well-covered.

Cy reports on the two systems that were meant to help them: the first one targets all independent workers to supply them with a maximum of €1500. However, when launched, it required them to show a loss of income between March 2019 and March 2020, which made no sense for book creators, who for regular royalties are paid once or twice a year (a WTF in itself, but that is how it is), and for extra activities such as illustrations do not necessarily bill regularly through the year: Cy reports going through her archives and billing nothing within March 2019. Even if a later revision of the help system compares March 2020 with an average of the twelve months of 2019, that remains insufficient to change the situation for many creators.

The second one, then, covers more specifically creators; but while meant for all kinds of people who earn money through author royalties, dispatch of this aid was outsourced to a society of writers, the result being (among other restrictions) that only book creators with three published books under their belt, excluding self-published works, are eligible. This obviously excludes all people starting in the industry. Furthermore, as with many systems in France this is modulated depending on the revenue of the whole home, with creators living with a higher-earning partner being excluded in many cases as a result, which Cy denounces as a notorious source of gender inequality.

Lastly, paid leave for child care was offered, but only for workers would could prove they could not work remotely, and creators generally did not qualify, having to work while handling their children as a result².

The indirect effects of the lockdown have taken their toll, too. Many creators perform illustration work, and these days they have trouble getting paid, even for already delivered works, given how their customers tend to be stringy with cash. And new illustration work is hard to come by, since this is often for advertising or such activities that are suddenly deemed superfluous in a crisis.

Creators who have made the jump to self-publishing and crowdfunding have been affected in similar ways, but the crowdfunding side, at least, seems to resist the current slump. Indeed, going by the Tipeee pages of Maliki, Yatuu, and Laurel, patrons have not fled to preserve their own finances. As while these creators no longer show the money total, the respective number of patrons, at least, is not decreasing:

  • Maliki:
    • January: 1120 patrons
    • February: 1079 patrons
    • March: 1131 patrons
    • April: 1155 patrons
  • Yatuu:
    • January: 310 patrons
    • February: 302 patrons
    • March: 317 patrons
    • April: 315 patrons
  • Laurel:
    • January: 197 patrons
    • February: 192 patrons
    • March: 204 patrons
    • April: 202 patrons

(amounts sampled at about 11:55pm the last day of each month, before one-off contributions are reset to zero)

If anything, any variation is better explained by the month-dependent art print than by any effect of the pandemic. That’s likely because workers in France can receive most of their salary even when unable to work through a system of «partial unemployment» where they remain with their current employer, but paid with an unemployment insurance-like system; as for workers who could have worked, if not for the children they now had to care for, a different system again supplied for most of their salary.

This is not to say nothing changed for crowdfunded creators: both Yatuu and Maliki have reported delaying the sending of rewards so as to limit their exposure (Yatuu lives in the Paris area) and avoid burdening the postal system with non-time-sensitive work.

In the same way, many creators and publishers such as Lapin) (which has been able to keep operating, albeit on an individual scale) have adopted an additional delivery option called send it post-lockdown, with logo designed by Cy, thereby allowing customers to supply them with much-needed cash ahead of when the product would eventually be delivered.

Finally, it is harder to asses the health of once-off crowdfunding, as I have fewer data points to judge from, but anecdotally I have not heard of crowdfunding campaigns being delayed (the lack of funding threats on our postal service does not hurt, either), and for what it’s worth Laurier’s campaign), started right in the middle of the lockdown, has funded without too much trouble.

Still, while I am cautiously optimistic, it is probably too early to call the lockdown as having been successfully weathered: we can probably expect damaging impacts that will only have been realized after the fact.

Thanks, as always, to FSFCPL for his insights and digging. We should contrast the relatively stable crowdfunding in France with the uncertainty that killed off Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett’s interview series (at least until he judges the time is right for another shot at it), and caused more than one no-brainer sure thing to delay, seeking a bit more certainty. Americans are, for all our foundational myth of rugged self-sufficiency, a deeply fearful people, no place more than at the top of society where the fear of losing even a miniscule percent of vast wealth causes all courses of action beyond capital preservation to die on the vine. We really need to do something about that.

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¹ Err, so to speak.

² Editor’s note: I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or depressing that other countries are just as fucked up at providing for artists and freelancers as the US. Is anywhere other than Germany not screwing this particular pooch?

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