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Payments for Web Art

Should Web Art be free or should it be paid for?

To read an article on the subject, written for the trAce organisation by Edward Picot, click here.

To find out the opinions of some web artists themselves, read on.

I recently posted an announcement in various forums about my nonlinear short story, The Recycling Bins, which I was offering for sale on a pay-to-read basis at a fee of $0.25 (US), via the BitPass micropayments system.

To me, asking payment for online work seems perfectly natural, but this view obviously isn't shared by all new media artists: indeed, I seem to be in the minority. As a result of my announcement I was asked to write an article on the subject for trAce, and to prepare this article I contacted a number of other writers and artists and asked them for their opinions. Their responses are reproduced in full below. The article for trAce - entitled "To Be or Not To Be Free" - can be viewed here.

If you would like to add an opinion of your own, please feel free to e-mail me (edwardpicot at You don't have to be a writer or an artist to take part.

Andy Deck, new media artist:

Hi Edward,

The micropayment issue is certainly an interesting one. I suspect that eventually I'll end up using something like what you're describing as an optional payment system. I think many people would (metaphorically) toss a tip in a jar if that type of system became common. But I've always been keen to see the Internet work for people who can barely afford connectivity fees and computers, so I would be sorry to see the micropayment mechanism become mandatory on large portions of the Web. Ultimately I am concerned about what could happen if we start down that road. Commercial content providers could begin demanding micropayments in addition to advertising. Widespread adoption of micropayment systems would be a major paradigm shift in the funding of online content, and although a stream of revenue would be a welcome development for independent artists and writers, I can't say that I look forward to the proliferation of mandatory fees and 'premium content.'

Andy Deck

Alan Sondheim, poet and web artist:

Hi, and thanks for this.

I think for me it has to do with duplication/configuration. I feel okay for charging for a dvd - it's made for offline use - even the Sampler dvd+ is made for that. (I hope it arrives soon!) On the other hand, the web is based on open source, open distribution, and I wouldn't want to charge. One practical reason not to - by keeping it free, one attracts, hopefully, readers who might not otherwise know your material.

If I create a dvd+ or dvd, I'm paying for additional materials (the disks, postage, case, etc.); I'm also paying for software which is relatively expensive (at least for me). But online, publishing online, is mostly free, except for web-hosting, and may of us (well at least me) have found free hosting, which is necessary (I'm unemployed). So I see this, cyberspace so to speak, as open, and would want to keep it that way...

- Alan

David Daniels, poet and artist:

Dear Edward,

I believe each human being should freely choose to do whatever they wish to do.

If people wish to sell their art. They should. If they can.

If people do not wish to sell their art. They shouldn't sell.

My art is available in .pdf form FREE at my website. Why should I wait around for no one to buy it? People from 120 countries have seen my poems since 2000.

I wish you success in whatever you choose to do.

Your Friend,


Kate Pullinger, print and new media writer:

Dear Edward -

My approach to all of this is rather confused and contradictory. I make my living as a writer and so am accustomed to being paid for my work and see not being paid as undervaluing and devaluing what I do. Like you, my print background is the blueprint for my own version of this economy.

However, one of the things I love about the web is the free, non-commercial exchange it can foster. 'Branded' was a piece for the web and, thus, it wouldn't have occured to me to try to find a way to charge for it. And yet, because I worked on that piece during my year-long research fellowship with trAce I was, in effect, being paid to create it. 'The Breathing Wall' was supported by a very generous Arts Council grant - I could never have afforded to work on a piece of that scale without being paid for it. And because 'The Breathing Wall' is a product that you have to send away for - the cd and the headset, or the cd on its own - it seems only natural to try to recoup the costs associated with that. But, again, I would have been happy for the piece to be free if it had been able to reside on the web.

Whether or not I'd be happy to create a piece without grant support, and without charging for it, remains to be seen - I've been lucky enough not to have to make a decision about that yet.

I hope that's useful. If you want me to answer specific questions, just send me an e-mail.

Yours - Kate

PS - If we were actually trying to recoup the costs of BW in real terms, we'd have to charge around £350 per cd!

Matt Fair, audio artist:

Hi Edward:

Thanks for the ideas stimulant.

My position:

We who choose to live in the money system need money for the basics. If we don't have an inheritance, win a lottery, rob a bank, or score the dole, we have, it seems to me, two choices: 1. Sell yourself to someone with money, or 2. Sell your own product.

Faced with those two, I would far prefer the latter. It surprises me that others wouldn't.

I welcome sites with people selling their home-made goods-- the Global Village Craft Fair. McDonald's, Coke etc have their sites-- fine, as long as I can have mine. Isn't there room for everyone?

Happy to have more thoughts if you have some, Edward. Or if I didn't answer some point you made, please remind me. Can't think of a suitable quotation at the moment, but will follow up if one occurs to me or if one comes along.

Take care,


Babel, new media artist:

Dear Edward,

Happy 2005!

Like you, I am definitely in favour of selling new media work, though I would also hate to see non-commercial work disappear or be squeezed out by big publishers or portals. I don't think this is likely - as Randy pointed out, the web has a viral aspect which will always allow work to published for free, if the author/s prefer it that way.

There are a couple of reasons I am in favour. Firstly, the freedom to create the work that I want to create requires some kind of financial stability; and the best kind of stability would be to be paid for the work that I want to create - I'm sure most artists and writers feel the same? So in order to support the activities of new media artists that can't support themselves, someone has to pay - the government or the public - and I think this means entering into a market, and having to market yourself and your work. In this respect selling work to the public seems little different to me than competing for exhibitions, grants and prizes, in that you are competing with other artists for public money, and for the limited viewing time that the public will devote to new media art (and for the prestige that will allow you to show your work to a lot more people, though there is little of this yet in new media art).

Secondly, I think that if more people can make a more viable living through selling or showing digital art, then more people may be encouraged NOT to become programmers, multimedia designers, copy editors, whatever... and instead create digital art, which can only be good thing. I know a lot of talented people who have to use their creative energy on work that means very little to them. Now you can argue that they aren't really artists, because 'real' artists are compelled to do their thing whether they get paid or not, but unfortunately many should-be artists have responsibilities and obligations (not to mention social mores) that require some kind of steady income.



Regina Celia Pinto, Brazilian web artist and proprietress of The Museum of the Essential (and Beyond That):

In fact the category "Net Art"- "Web Art" already occupied extensive territory within the frontiers of art. However there are many people questioning if this category will survive. On the one side, the issue is commercial, I thought; it is about a relatively new art form, that until now had little or no market value. Current society is ruled by the media and by the market. On the other side the problem is the very fast obsolence of the softwares and equipments where we can watch and interact with Net.Art - Web.Art.

Well, for me, both issues are complementary, who will pay for a kind of Art which has not any guarantee of duration and that one can not really hold in his / her hands? But, there are other kinds of art which are ephemeral by nature: Performances and Installations. Artists interested in these communication forms do not stop working with them, even knowing that they are ephemeral and that they will not receive payment for them. So it is not only which is not appropriate for selling. (The question of preservation also is the same to them: Performances, Installations and Net.Art can not be preserved as they appear at the moment of the exhibition...)

As a net.artist, I think that the absence of sale was really what has attracted me to Net.Art. I love the idea of exchange from the first Internet days, the idea that everyone seems to be interested in an alternatively shared and solitary project; in accumulated and redistributed knowledge; in the mutual respect and reciprocal generosity taught by good breeding. That was / that is for me the Internet's best characteristic . However I am conscious that this beauty is dying. Day after day the Internet becomes more and more commercial!

However I am one that prefers believe in a beautiful metaphor: the Internet is only one text / hypertext being written by infinite hands. So, how to sell what belongs to everybody? Perhaps I am just one of the last romantics.

- Regina

  • Editor's note: Regina Celia Pinto has now started her own discussion of this theme in the Arteonline forum, which she moderates: to read more, click here.

Tim Wright, web writer:

Hi Edward

It may surprise you to know that I have some sympathy for the idea that money does sometimes sully the principles behind online works.

For example, if I as the inventor of were to start making vast amounts of money from playing card sales and secondary media rights, it would be a bit unfair on all my contributors without whom Oldton would not exist. It would also undermine the principle of the work that anyone can become a part of Oldton as long as they make a creative contribution (a ‘payment’ if you will).

I would need to share my profits will all of them really – and I certainly couldn’t charge anyone for their participation in my project. In really great interactive works, the audience always adds value to the work – sometimes to a point that you feel it’s them who should be charging the author for turning up and providing the real entertainment!

OK, so I’m being a bit flippant. But I have always been obsessed in my digital writing about the transactions that take place between author and audience that aren’t about money.

With XPT, the company slogan was ‘Keep giving. Keep getting’ (see With IT3C, we wanted to spread ‘Goodwill. Globally.’ developing some form of digital ‘potlatch’ culture. In Mount Kristos, the audience was encouraged to sing for string - the local commodity that could ‘buy’ you friendship, and also be used to measure your head…

In all these cases, the idea was to establish some kind of barter system that wasn’t simply about the rather crass act of ‘shopping’ for culture. I do think that in the future, whilst micropayment systems will take hold, there need to be systems in place that allow payments to be made not just in cash, but also in terms of creative capital, food, merchandise, power, distribution, beans – or string!

Already we see on multidisciplinary new media projects, professional production staff trading skills: you write me this and I’ll design you that. I think this principle could be extended in all kinds of crazy and stimulating ways so that audiences don’t see ‘professional’ creativity any more as something they pay for in cash and then passively consume.

Having said all that, I am someone who has now spent 10 years living off earnings that come directly from writing in new media environments (I don’t supplement it with teaching, journalism, print/TV work or sweeping the streets) and so I obviously do have an interest in generating cash from my works. Generally, my approach has been to try and finds ways that my work can add value for a financial backer in ways that that don’t compromise my personal goals for the creative work.

One example – Online Caroline. This was backed by Freeserve who simply wanted more people to spend more time online through a Freeserve dialup account. By creating Webcam scenes that lasted 3-4 mins each day, we were obviously extending online time and making money for Freeserve. This encouraged them to pay us money to make our project without editorial interference. And for the audience, the whole experience appeared to be free!

So, we learn from this, that there are many more ways of getting paid for your work than simply slapping on an entrance fee or a purchase price – and new media artists should definitely explore them thoroughly, in my view.

Hope this helps



Al Keddie, animator, cartoonist and photographer:

Hi Ed

Thanks for you questions and comments. Its an interesting debate and I understand the importance of the argument for the free exchange of ideas and information being the bedrock of the internet. However, you have to ask at what point this free exchange supports or slows the development of online content. For instance, all of my work is produced independently. I receive no public funding and finance myself through other means, the occasional picture sale and the odd website deal, which means I, like most other 'wee' artists, have to work elsewhere. This slows me and the development of my work and ideas down because I am not able at present to do this stuff full time. The way I see it is, if I am involved the development and rendering of ideas into content and if this involves work, then I have an inherent right to ask for payment. Otherwise, how do I live? By supporting myself doing something else? How does this encourage content creation and what status does it infer on the content creators? There's a big difference between exchanging ideas freely and producing online content and I am not saying that every time you start a project you have ask where the money is. Of course not. Artists need to network and support each other through involving and creating projects that push out the boundaries of their work that purely commercial activity rarely does. But the process of artistic creation is key and is very different from its product. If the natural end result of artistic activity produces a content or product that can support artists financially then what's the problem?

I am all for self publishing and the idea of artists retaining the rights to control and receive payment for their work. This is often not easy and often requires means, you know just the basic stuff like, affording a camera, a computer, an internet connection etc. Where does this stuff come from? Working for someone else? Arts Council grants? And while you are doing that, what is happening to the free exchange of ideas and development of stuff? Is that left to people of means because that doesn't seem quite fair.

My thinking on this point has clarified recently probably as a consequence of not enjoying the work I have to do in order to support the work I consider important. Therefore, I too will be introducing more pay for content material to my sites over the coming months. Don't get me wrong. this is not some road to Damascus capitalist conversion. I will continue to be involved in the free exchange and development of ideas and content by creating the work I want to (or am driven to) either alone or in collaboration with other artists as I always have. But I will expect more and more that the products of this work will sustain more than the soul. Perhaps its a confidence thing but why should you enjoy the fruits of my labour for free? Sure, you don't have much money, no problem, I need a shelf put up can you come round and sort it in exchange. If you can't then what I'm doing is unsustainable. I'll continue to do it because I 'have' to (ah those old romantic notions of the driven artist) and I'll continue to be exploited because of the low value society places on its artistic creators, that is apart from the stars of the system who make obscene amounts of cash.

No, the internet is a fantastic opportunity for the wee guy and the rest of us to buck the system and breakdown the commercially driven distinctions of value placed on us by our 'masters' (or THEM! the bastards!). I don't want to be rich, but I want to make a living doing what I do best, doing what I take most pride in and doing what often brings out the best in me and whats wrong with that? You'll still see comics, films, photographs and anything else I fancy making from time to time more or less for free but spare a thought for how the work is made and if you truly believe in the free exchange of ideas and information then you'll dip into your pocket and pay for it.

I hope this is okay and not too much of a polemic but its an emotive topic for me right now as I have just quit the job that has sustained me till now with a thought to going at this stuff full time.

all the best


© Edward Picot, January 2005

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