What Would Happen To Wine If Everyone Wanted Free Grape Juice

Hat tip to Adam Thurman for distributing the link to an interesting piece about devaluing artistic content by Todd Henry. Henry wonders about the fate of artists when increasingly the view seems to be that content should be free.

“This means that artists have to shift their business models to give away (or make available for cheap) their main art, and instead focus on selling scarce peripherals. Authors sell lectures. No longer able to make a living from recording, bands sell tickets to concerts and survive off of merchandise sales. Content creators give away their content in order to gain eyeballs and ears,…

The problem is…some people are just great at being artists. They aren’t great at business models, distribution or line extensions. They just want to make great, valuable art and sell it at a fair price. What do these people do?

Would we have had The Beatles if they’d been told, “Never mind spending years in the studio crafting your records. Those things are just promotional fodder to sell these snazzy Sgt. Pepper t-shirts and posters. You should focus instead on how you’re going to monetize.”

I am currently exploring bringing a show, which heretofore has only existed on YouTube, to our stage. The creative team is actually excited that they might not have to cover most of their expenses out of pocket for once.

Until Todd Henry pointed out that increasingly it is ancillary products rather than the artistic product supporting the creation, it never occurred to me what a bizarre situation it is. These guys from the YouTube show I am talking to mentioned the same thing–T shirt sales helped defray some of their expenses.

But there are a million stories in the naked cit.. -erm, YouTube and not everyone is going to be paid for them. We already know that places like YouTube are eroding the concept that you should have to pay for content. People will clearly continue to create content and try to support it however they can. I don’t think an effort to inspire a shift in attitude is going to gain much traction.

Though who knows, I hear Comcast cable is trying to get people used to the idea of paying for bandwidth consumption. As much as I am resistant to the idea, it could change attitudes about paying for content as well.

To extend the question Todd asks about killing the golden goose, I wonder how many creatives will persist until their abilities mature if few are willing to pay for the content. That might be the real long term threat.

The guys I am trying to present are young and their show is fun. But what happens in a few years when they settle down and look to raise a family and they decide they don’t have time to create content alongside their regular job and family? The fact artists have never been paid well has always been a problem, but if even the possibility of a pittance wanes then unremunerated recognition becomes the only motivator to create.

Artists and other creative types need time to allow their skills to develop. Ira Glass said as much in the speech I linked to last week. As a country, we need creatives to mature into their abilities rather than quit early on.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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