Naked I came into the world and naked I shall go.
There’s a wave of content creators leaving Buzzfeed. We know this because an increasing number of video makers are documenting their decision to move on from the high volume, low quality digital publisher. And they’re doing it on video. The “Why I left” videos have a couple recurring themes: Buzzfeed apparently trains its staff to believe they are “the best of best,” the creators want even more creative opportunities, many of them don’t really like being tied down to their employer, and not owning your work is a surprising bummer. As in, please pay me but I also want to do outside stuff and have equity in my $150 videos.
“It was dying. Shaking. Crying. It was such a hard decision,” said one woman.
“I was a social video strategist, and eventually a SENIOR social video strategist. (Action breaks for cat walking in, apparently unscripted). Anyway, like I was saying….eventually you know I got a little tired. I wasn’t looking for a way out. Popsugar recruited me. Like I said. Everyone gets close to each other. God bless the producers they work so hard. It felt like leaving college.”
As Variety points out, “for media companies, talent comings-and-goings are certainly nothing new. What’s different about BuzzFeed is that it grooms its video producers to make identity-based content, so their instincts are to document their career change — in a public forum. They’re also more likely than, say, former Saturday Night Live cast members to attempt to leverage the fan base they’ve amassed at BuzzFeed for their own digital content.”
A good number of the “Why I Left Buzzfeed” videos contain people in their twenties talking about wanting more opportunity, and wanting to blaze their own path. It’s cool to see the ambition.
“Buzzfeed is the best job I’ll ever have, but it’s not the place you want to go if you’re the next Scorsese or want to direct ‘Pirates of the Caribbean Seven,’ which I will do,” said one dude with a total deadpan. The Disney pirates franchise and the great Scorsese canon are apparently equivalent. They are also good proxies for greater success, in general. The alternative being continued employment at Buzzfeed working hard to hire actors from Craigslist to bake brownies on camera or talk about “Tips for Same-Sex Sex, If You’re Trying It For The First Time.”
“But I am grateful for the opportunity.” So there is gratitude.
“At Buzzfeed you’re on top of the world you go anywhere you want…it’s your choice. Buzzfeed feels like a secret club. You are told you are the best of the best. Brightest the brightest. A lot of of my job was brainstorming.”
Self-confidence rocks. Good for companies such as Buzzfeed for convincing people in their 20s to work for low wages in exchange for “being part of something bigger.” Turducken recipes performed to deadmau5 are the new Greenpeace.
A bit of context might be helpful. Most of Buzzfeed‘s product is videos made for a few hundred dollars, relentlessly optimized for sharing, as opposed to, say, creative bravery. The topics are hardly weighty. The company founder’s created a lot of value by figuring out a genre and then running with it. Kudos to them. While the company may call its video output/operation “Films” or a “Studio” it’s not really been able to move up the video food chain when it comes to creating higher quality product or getting paid more for its massive traffic. NBC is a major investor. Where are the premium programs? Turns out there is little premium for cheap stuff, no matter how fun. Porn is fun for some people, but no one pays any more. Food porn is fun too. If you can reach lots of folks you can get paid, just not very much per eyeball.
Back to the creators. A number of folks who felt the need to tell the world why they are leaving Buzzfeed said they wanted to do their own projects. What’s really cool about the world now is that it is possible these days to make a modest living, or even a great one, by dint of one’s own creative output. YouTube and social platforms have obviously reduced the friction of distribution to almost zero. Which has opened up the video business to millions more participants, creating a totally liquid market for people who want to make things.
Perhaps the depressing part in all these “Why I Left” videos is not a lot of the video makers seem to grasp that it’s a liquid market for their talents. Even if you’re really, really good there are literally thousands of people who can do the same stuff.