The emergence of free access media platforms in the early 2000s was nothing short of revolutionary. No longer did your opinion, output or artistic talent require moderation, curation, an editor or record label. Musicians, artists, poets and writers began creating content at a rate that nobody could have expected. Before long developers had provided efficient and immediate access to the worlds creativity. YouTube made distributing content as easy as making it then clicking a button, iTunes allowed musicians to self publish and blogging platforms allowed writers to share their stories with anyone who cared to read them. A golden age of creativity some would say, an irreversible damage to the industry? Unimaginable. The question I intend to pose, has the unimaginable slowly become the truth?
An import factor to consider when evaluating the need for financial redistribution in the arts is how much do financial incentives apply to the creative world. As an example let's compare two options.
1. A thousand songs are produced for the public by a hundred musicians with meager financial gains for the content creators.
2. A hundred songs are produced by ten musicians though content creators can gain a subsistence wage from doing so.
I would argue the latter is more viable for any kind of acceleration or momentum to continue within the arts. As people are strongly discouraged from pursuing any kind of creative output for monetary purposes the stream of available talent in the arts will slowly start to diminish. Even if the wish to create content remains, those who would potentially create it spend large portions of their time performing other roles to gain a living, drastically reducing their creative output. This is while the platforms publishing content gain billions of dollars a year for the core function of hosting and moderation. While platforms such as YouTube and iTunes offer musicians a great chance to get heard the ability for those who do to earn a subsistence wage from viewership is most often a distant pipe dream. Of course this has always been the case with creative industries, only a small handful survive, but given the passion users have for the content we’re receiving the ability for content creators to receive meaningful financial gains must be reviewed.
The fact that channels can afford to host content at an incredibly low cost further diminishes the financial prospects for the artist, as recorded media has become the hardest place for most artists to make a living. This then pushes artists back towards the traditional arts oligopolies such as Warner and Universal in the hopes of getting stadium shows and merchandising deals which, while netting the publisher large amounts, will often return a small margin to the artist. After those offering merchandising, distribution and publishing networks take 50% (on average) the music is then promoted and channeled to platforms such as Itune’s who take 30%. Average profits, after iTunes and labels have taken their cut, is is around $1 from a $10 sale (Investinganswers.com, 2011). Artist’s often accept such deals due to the oligopolistic nature of digital platforms. This market concentration will likely increase as main providers such as Spotify and iTunes suffer little meaningful competition from smaller platforms who don’t have the scale or advertising budget to compete. Even if competition were to increase, the expected cost of content has been reduced so drastically by larger players that unless a shift in consumer expectations were to occur monetary distribution would likely stay the same.
Another major issue for the true democratization of media is the capability of major platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube to promote or hinder the content of its users. There are two key factors to this that I intend to outline.
Firstly the rule book for appropriate content is usually written by the platform; this means that content disagreeing with or challenging the host platform (or its view of the world) can be intentionally hindered. An example of this is YouTube’s ability to demonetize channels based on viewership, subscriber base and content-specific restrictions. Those with under 1,000 subscribers and less than 4,000 viewership hours a year are now unable to receive any financial return from their content (Support.google.com, 2018). This is no new occurrence, YouTube had previously set guidelines requiring 10,000 hours of life-time viewership, but this restriction feels like a direct attempt to gain fiscally from content that cannot gain in return. Another more authoritarian (and often faulty) mechanism within YouTube’s policy is the demonetization of content that does not fit within its community guidelines. This has historically included producers such as the David Rubin Show and YouTube celebrity Felix 'PewDiePie' Kjellberg (McGirt, 2017) along with right-wing political channels and provocative content providers. Surely those discussing controversial content shouldn't be demonized or fiscally punished for their political views, especially considering the claimed intention of free speech and democratized content for the community. If such content is deemed inappropriate for the platform it should either be removed or flagged as explicit, not used for the companies benefit.
The second issue is the revoking of net neutrality in America by the Federal Communications Commission (Shepardson, 2018). This allows internet providers to delay or accelerate the internet speed and download limit of sites based on content, favour or other aims of the broadband provider in question. Couple this with the immense power of large digital platforms to communicate or collaborate with providers and you have a recipe for an authoritarian internet. This could be done by allowing major platforms to flourish while simultaneously implementing reduced broadband speeds that would destroy or hinder those unable to reach an agreement with providers. Tipping the balance of power in favor of major players is common throughout the business world, but this shouldn't be able to affect how we choose to view content and what content we are able to engage with.
There are and always will be downsides to the democratization of any system or structure. By replacing “elites” we allow a broader variety of inputs often presented with less concern for image and reasoning. This means that content previously considered too offensive for mainstream channels can be pushed out by individuals, something that can be deemed as potentially harmful. Despite this the benefits of
democratic, free, media platforms are numerous. As the relics of the past are replaced by the desires of the present it can seem saddening, this being said democratized content allows the invisible hand of market forces to perform its job in the creative fields. If we wish to retain the artifacts of bygone eras our only choice is to support and provision funding for those whose content is unable to be supported by viewership. I would argue these superfluous funding initiatives must be dismantled and in doing so allow consumers to decide the content they want to fund and therefore continue.
As content provision moves away from curated platforms the release of offensive and mundane opinions shall be accentuated. This being said our new-found freedom is also a much needed insight into what we have learned to value overtime. As the classical arts are drowned out by new forms of media the production of quality content has become somewhat diluted. Despite the perceived loss of cultural artifacts, the creation of a new generation of culture has been expedited by platforms that enable users to release and view content at their own discretion. While the establishment may look in shock as Beethoven viewership is overtaken by Gangnam-style, a closer look exposes the value of youths rebellion and its attempt to create a world of its own. In a landscape dominated by big business, baby boomers and private interest accepting the next generations right to shape its own cultural tapestry is of paramount importance and in doing so we must accept any potential losses.
The main point I’ve attempted to convey within this article is not that of an abused creative or an evil platform. My intention was rather to argue that things have largely stayed the same in terms of financial distribution within the arts. Simultaneously we have been given the tools needed for the biggest shift in monetary distribution in media since the invention of the record or the creation of the paintbrush. Unless we want the next George Orwell, Elton John or Picasso ending up as a finance manager or IT consultant creating the opportunities for growth and monetary gains within the arts is a must. This should be done while respecting the ability of the market to govern the fields in which funding should be allocated. To allow the next generation of artists to thrive we as users of media and content should be pushing institutions to allow a fairer distribution of the wealth and monetized ad-viewership we offer them. In doing so we can encourage the next generation of artists to keep on creating, making and accelerating the content we love to see.