The Value of the Archive
I’ve blocked out a lot of my final few years with The A.V Club, just as I’ve blocked out many of the most traumatic moments in a childhood rich with trauma. Or maybe I haven’t. How would I know, really? I can’t remember all of the things that I’ve forgotten.
But there are moments that stick out. I remember, for example, there being a lot of meetings towards the end of my time at The A.V Club. A lot of meetings. The meetings blurred together into one colossal, unnecessary waste of time and energy. The purpose of these meetings was generally for the business side to explain to The A.V Club why they were implementing some new policy that made our jobs less creatively satisfying and fun and free but promised to bring in revenue for the site and send page-views soaring.
I hated those meetings. They’re a big part of the reason I left the site. I gave my soul and time and energy to The Onion and The A.V Club so that I could write about things I felt passionately about alongside people I respected and adored, not so that I could sit through an endless series of depressing meetings about how the ever-changing needs of pop culture media was making our jobs and lives worse and more mercenary on a daily basis.
I will never forget a meeting where a coworker asked The Onion’s President, an old school Milwaukee newspaperman who, to be honest, was a bit of a tool, whether The A.V Club’s archive had value for the company.
Of course “value” has a number of different meanings. To the business side of The Onion, The A.V Club had value in the sense that it could be used to sell advertising, sponsorships and sponsored posts.
So perhaps it was not surprising that the tone-deaf, deeply clueless former President of the Onion answered my former editor’s question about whether or not The A.V Club’s archive had value with a characteristically rambling, nonsensical answer to the effect that no, because there was no clear way to monetize the A.V Club’s archive, then it did not, in the eyes of The Onion, have value.
If the president were a more emotionally intuitive or intelligent man he would have understood that the question was only partially about the financial value of the site’s voluminous supply of reviews, interviews and features. He would have said that of course The A.V Club’s archive had tremendous value, and that our enormous value to the company could not be reduced to numbers or page-views or profits or losses.
But he did not say that because, to the business side of The Onion, our “value” was one hundred percent linked to page-views and revenue and profits. They did not value us creatively because you cannot sell qualities like respect and quality and integrity but you sure as shit can sell advertising around popular, super-commercial and viral content.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve made the archive an essential component of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. I’ve got two separate features devoted to my archive both within and without the Happy Place. I have Exploiting the Archives to promote work I’ve done outside of the website and every Monday I add a “Golden Oldie” from the website as Exploiting our Archives.
That’s because at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, the value of my writing is only partially linked to my ability to monetize it. Don’t get me wrong: running a business has forced me to be pragmatic. This site’s value is partially monetary in nature. It has to do with my ability to make a living primarily through this site, and introduce new features to increase revenue, like Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. But the site’s value also has a lot more to do with me loving what I do and the audience that I write for, and feeling like I’m realizing my creative destiny by writing about movies and politics and depression and parenthood for y’all.
You can’t put a price on that, but I’m sure if I still worked in the big leagues of pop-culture media they’d probably go ahead and find a way to do so anyway, and the price would be insultingly, dispiritingly low.
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