Saturday, 22 September 2012

All art is doomed. DOOMED!

Caitlin Moran has apparently written a Times column talking in apocalyptic terms about the culture of free downloads. I haven't read the column because it's behind The Times paywall, but her summary went: "This generation set fire to its culture. It downloaded the future for free", so I'm guessing it's based on the points she made in a talk I found transcribed here.
"If you look at all the things that became free when we went on line – music became free, music industry is now decimated, 40% drop in revenue since 1999. All the magazines – the circulation dropped, magazines go out of business left right and centre. Melody Maker’s closed, The Face, circulation plummeted since it went free online.
But the only people who are supposed to work for free, or giving their stuff away, are artists. It’s what the working classes used to do: you’d form a band, become a journalist, you’d work your way up through the style press, that’s how you’d get a fix in the media and made your way in the world if you were working class and didn’t have any qualifications.
Now you’ve got to the point where the only way you can get a job in the media is by working free as an intern which makes it again the privilege of the middle classes. Working class people can’t afford to form bands; they can’t afford to go and be journalists and try their arm working on the music press. You download this stuff for free, but you actually eat the culture that your children want to take part in.
"The essential logic of things being free, no-one’s explained to me how that’s going to work, and the answer is, it doesn’t work. Everything’s going out of business, everyone’s losing money hand over fist, everything’s disappearing.”

Now obviously a lot of this is true. Newspapers and magazines are suffering, and the music industry is making less money than it was, and a lot of people have adopted the belief that all their entertainment should be free because they can get it for free – which certainly presents difficulties for anyone producing entertainment or art (but hey, nobody ever said being an artist would or should be easy).

But is everything really disappearing? Are working class people really not making music, and are there fewer people writing or painting or filmmaking now than there were before the internet? And has there ever really been a time when the media wasn't dominated by the middle class? I doubt it.

So I think Moran may be laying on the doom a bit thick. It may be that proportionally fewer people are now able to make a living out of their art. Or it may be, thanks to online advertising and self-publishing and making music available for donations, that a greater number of people are actually getting by doing what they love than was possible pre-internet. It may be that there are now fewer barriers to pursuing an artistic career than there were previously, now that worldwide distribution is available for next to nothing.

I don't know – I wouldn't even begin to know how to find the statistics. But I suspect that the truth is that there's now way more competition, and what you can expect to earn as an artist has gone down. That rather than relying on an established publisher or record company to discover you, you now have to build an audience on your own. And that if you're one of the very lucky few who is a big star in TV or music or journalism, getting paid your fee and then also a slice of the DVD royalties, that you'll just have to learn to live on the fee or the royalties alone*.

EDIT to remove some rudeness.

As always, there are a hundred aspects of this subject I will have overlooked and/or may be wrong about, so please debate this in the comments. My opinions can actually be changed, believe it or not.

*Plus whatever lucrative advertising deal your agent has found you.

This just in (facts!):

And this is a more personal piece by a professional writer who also writes for free:


Failure is always and option said...

Hi Graham,

Your instincts are absolutely spot-on.

For statistics, you may wish to start here:

"The amount of content that they're all producing is growing at an astounding rate (which again, is the most important thing). But revenue, too, is growing. Equally important is that rather than consumers just wanting to get stuff for free, they have continually spent a greater portion of their income on entertainment -- with the percentage increasing by 15% from 2000 to 2008."

Traditional media companies are struggling, because they're failing to adapt and artists know they no longer need them to reach an audience.

Mike Booth said...

Wow. So she's actually factually wrong?

Giribala said...

Agree with you! Art is not doomed, neither is the superstar artists' extravagant lifestyle. Many movie stars and singers already own unimaginable fortune.
And the newcomers and the amateur artists will keep on sharing their art for free :-)

Paul Bassett Davies said...

I'm with you on this. I think it's all too easy for people (and celebrities) who are used to being paid for their work to get all principled about how nobody should work for nothing. These days nearly all but the most fortunate writers need to promote their work in one way or another, and if that means doing some unpaid work, that's what we do. Here's a link to a HuffPost blog I wrote about this subject. I hope you don't mind me including it, but it makes a couple of points that add to the debate. And it's partly funny:
All the best. Paul.

Mark said...

Are you aware of "phenomena" like Minecraft?

It has made MILLIONS for its creator, almost totally outside of mainstream attention.

I just think that if an artist is looking for opportunities, there are plenty to be found, and there is no need to resort to traditional channels. The traditional channels are still there, with less weight than they have had in the past, but there's no questioning they are still there - they are still available.

The doom and gloom Caitlin Moran expresses does not resonate and is not reflective of reality in the 21st century. Sure, there has been a lot of (bad) consolidation of mainstream, consumer-friendly, and mass-market artistry. But you know what? That has only spurred the "indie" mentality - blowback if you will - and it is no less lucrative thanks in large part to internet-based commerce.

I think I'm done here.

Mike Booth said...

Thanks Paul, I'll add the link and tweet it too. It is very funny. I laughed, out loud!

Mike Booth said...

And yes, Giribala and Mark, guess we're all in agreement so far. Shame, I was hoping someone would tell me I'm at least a little bit wrong.

Andrew Bossom said...

When people complain that, say, YouTube has blocked their video because some big conglomerate has filed a copyright claim against it, my answer is to say: Why are you putting that stuff in your video in the first place? The artist you chose is rolling in it and doesn't deserve they "publicity" you say you're giving them, and the record label is making obscene profits. There are so many other artists around who really could use the publicty, who would love you to use their music, and who make great music because they love music and not because it was a wise career choice.

The answer I usually get boils down to this: All those independent artists are crap, even though I've never listened to any of it, and all that insipid popular stuff is awesome, as proved by the fact that it's popular.

I think this is the problem really. People want very slick and very expensive marketing firms to tell them which overhyped and overproduced rubbish they should be listening to, but they don't want to have to pay for any of it. I see it more as a have-your-cake-and-eat-it phenomenon.

Mike Booth said...

I'm all for slick expensive movies and television shows and it would be terrible if all those died out because people are downloading them instead of paying, but I don't think that's going to happen. In fact legitimate producers are missing out on masses of revenue because of their refusal or inability to make all content international.

I'd gladly pay for the BBC and various US cable channels if I could get them online, but the territory restrictions make that impossible.

The actor I briefly tangled with on Twitter said there should be more paywalls, and I'd agree with that as long as a space always remains where people can publish their work for free. What I fear is that, in the name of anti-piracy, corporations will eventually buy up the web completely and turn it into just another version of television.

Lester Usapdin said...

What they should worry about is how will they make their stuffs original and interesting to the majority of people and not just how much money they will going to earn.

ian brown said...

Before the invention of recording mediums actors had to perform the same plays night after night and musicians had to tour dingy clubs. Then technology kicked in and they could record a performance once and distribute it through physical product to millions and everyone involved took a slice and became rich. I,like most of my generation, heard every song first on the radio, saw every film first on TV and by all reasonable thinking this was effectively free but the bi product was these things resonated in our consciences, we went on to consume product and revenues were extracted from us from concert tickets, album sales or nostalgic DVD purchases. The downside was we had to trawl decrepit record shops to track down obscure things we had heard, that outside a small window of theatrical release we never got to see films that were quirky or cult, that if someone gushed about something they saw on TV, if we'd missed it, we'd missed it and the moment had passed. Now I can recall everything at the touch of a button,I can play almost any piece of music ever recorded, I can find almost any memory of my childhood if that memory was a TV show. Sure people who contributed to making all this stuff are less rich but once I
have seen or heard something that work is no longer in the control of those who have made it. Technology has given you the world as your audience in an instance. If I was either an artist our a business man I would settle for that no matter what the downsides.

Graham said...

It's a complex one and I don't think there's any 'one size fits all' answer.
Why should someone writing a hit song in the 60s still generate an income today, perhaps for the grandchild of the writer, as the extension of copyright intends? Especially when many of my favourite 60s recording artists - mainly black - never got royalties and were paid a flat session fee?
I've nothing against actors who've received an expensive private education being successful - Damien Lewis, Dominic West, Benedict Cumberbatch et al but I worry that they may soon be the only people who can afford to become actors and we'll miss out on the Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, Richard Wilson types who used to make such a contribution.
The rise of the ebook does look like it will have a dramatic effect on publishing, probably leading to a reduction in the standard of editing in books but on the other hand it's hard to argue that the traditional publisher model did a perfect job as 'gatekeepers' - as many, many great books were rejected multiple times it's likely that many others were never published while much trash was.
It's against the tradition of 'below the line' not to have one, single, categoric solution but, for example, I'm not convinced Paul McCartney needs his copyright extended, I do think we need grants to ensure some non-wealthy people can become actors and self-publishing has good and bad aspects.

organicprankster said...

I wonder if the bloke who painted that (frankly, to these eyes, y'know, I'm no expert but... not very good) horse at Lascaux charged people entry fees and got pissed off if someone sneaked a peek from the back of the cave.

"You might as well be stealing food directly from my table."

"We haven't got tables yet. No carpentry, see. Besides, I wasn't going to pay to look at it anyway, so technically you haven't lost a sale."

"Bit glib."

george monsoon said...

Creation and publication of artwork and animation has never been easier.

You just have a lot of competition.
I think this is a good thing because there is some amazing original work coming through and getting out to the masses. These individuals deserve to go far and probably will.

Your pages get thousands of hits. The facebook one got well over a million hits.

Why you are not being snapped up by one of the TV networks is baffling??

The bottom line has not changed. If you are good, you will become popular. If you are popular you will be noticed and probably hired.

PompiPompi said...

Well, all art is not doomed. First of all, nobody said you need to make money out of your art. You can always create art in your spare time.

The internet does provide more opportunities to people who don't have a budget or a publisher deal. It has things like twitter and youtube and etc...

However, in some way, "the internet" is not that much different than older more traditional media.

You still need to rely on "key people" to help you get discovered in the internet. There are the same type of roles on the internet as much as on the traditional media.
There are press people, and people who drive traffic.

I am not sure you can build up a fan base for your work nowadays without getting mentioned by anyone on the press or have your story picked up by someone.

The chances for it to happen are a lot higher than with traditional media though.