Since I appreciate art in many forms, I’ve also been interested in the economics of producing and distributing it. In the last decade, delivery and viewing art in digital form has transformed the landscape.
One of the clearest changes has been the fall of the big distributors and the rise of direct interaction of artists with their audience. The profit has gone out of recording and distribution of music because of streaming services. Movie theaters and big studios now join or cut deals with the many streaming channels that aggregate viewers. Newspapers, publishers, galleries have all similarly collapsed and consolidated, limiting traditional outlets for artists to sell their work for reasonable returns on their time.
Over the summer I read The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Techby William Deresiewicz, a survey across media of how difficult it is for artists to provide for themselves and their families with this loss of intermediaries that often functioned as a supportive ecology for the arts. Publishers and newspapers needed writers and essayists, so enough money went out to ensure a decent pool of talent to create content. At the end of the book, there’s a discussion of how artists are now directly addressing their audiences, but sees the shift of burden from intermediary to artist as a burden for the artist that limits their time and motivation to create.
From my point of view, I treasure some of the artists I follow closely and am more than happy to provide some direct support. I always bring up Craig Mod in this context only because I watched his turn from freelancer to online creative as it happened. For example, Craig invited his supporters into his home to watch him pack for his upcoming walk. You see, Craig’s art is walking, producing books, podcasts, essays and photos along the way.
Folks with money and internet platforms (Instagram, Pinterest, etc) have noticed and we now have a name for direct to consumer art transactions. It’s The Creator Economy. I’ve seen repeated use of this phrase
To understand this gap, it’s important to reiterate that music streaming is not part of the “creator economy” by most definitions of the latter term. As I’ve written in the past, some of the core tenets of the creator economy (or “passion economy,” as some investors formerly called it) include defying commodification, enabling direct support from fans or followers and giving creators the ability to charge a price that matches the value they provide, not just the cost of bringing their products to market.
Sounds cliché, I know. But looking back at industry discussions in the last year, it’s been practically impossible to avoid the term “creator” — which could be loosely defined as anyone who creates something online that someone, somewhere, finds valuable and wants to pay for — as the universal signifier of what’s to come, culturally, technologically and financially.
Anecdotally, the FedEx shop near my home has seen a huge increase in creatives at home during the pandemic using them to ship out goods to their patrons.
The business around digital talent has gotten so big that it’s spawned a new phrase, “the creator economy,” that has become one of the business buzzwords of the year. Look no further than the rise of Substack, Patreon, OnlyFans, all of which are giving journalists, podcasters and sex workers the chance to replicate the business models of YouTubers.
It’s now more clear to me that the extra burden that’s been imposed on artists with the loss of traditional intermediaries won’t be empty for long. A new breed of convenience intermediaries are rapidly rising to fill the gap. It really is like watching an ecology adapt in real time. An external event- digitalization causes the near extinction of some key participants in the ecology. Things move out of balance for a while and other populations may suffer, but the system destabilizes with new or newly adapted organisms that fill the empty niche.
One more thought. Is programming another one of these arts? Have app stores also been one of these extinction events as boxed software died. Maybe we didn’t notice because the app stores and software payment services were part of the disruption that killed typical software distribution of expensive, big products.
Just like so many more of us are photographers and musician because the tools are so good and so easily obtained, I think more of us are leaning programming- at least automation and complex No-Code apps.
Chrys Bader had an interesting take on the rise of software tinkering: HyperCard and what it means for the future of No-Code
My theory here is that the more people become software developers, the more the knowledge permeates culture, and the more the number of hobbyists and tinkerers grows. That means our competence in technology becomes more sophisticated as a society.
Apps get smarter and software development moves toward creating the tools used to create the art. Even if those tools are only tools for thought.