Over the last few days the email inbox has been filling up with references to, or comments on, a piece written by David Byrne in The Guardian. The headline pulled no punches. "The internet will suck all creative content out of the world", Byrne contends in the piece. As we approach the 14th anniversary of peer-to-peer file sharing services such as Napster, we have unprecedented access -- legal and illegal -- to pretty much every piece of content that can be digitized. We also have a music industry that is worth approximately half of what it was in 2000. In the place of the old system of labels with A&R departments and marketing priorities, physical products in record stores, and radio stations with playlists, we have streaming services such as Rdio, Pandora, Spotify, and Rhapsody, and online retail outlets such as iTunes and Amazon. Those are the legal options. We also have the less than legal options, such as Pirate Bay, MegaUpload (RIP), and similar torrent sites, which are so popular they're said to be responsible for 40% of the Internet's traffic. Maybe that makes it less surprising to learn that as recently as 2009, 95% of music downloaded was done so illegally. The only thing that stemmed the tide, it turns out, was the rise of legal streaming services. The problem there is that they pay out miniscule sums to artists, fractions of pennies per stream, and hence all the debate. On the other hand, we went from zero to something; cold comfort perhaps, but at least it's a little bit of something.
From David Byrne's article:
As people know I spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of Internet economics, I received numerous emails on the Byrne article, and with the permission of those with whom I exchanged comments, I include them here (in other words, I'm not wiki-leaking).
First, from the producer of a successfully syndicated reality TV show. He sent me the link to the article and I wrote:
Having talked to people about this topic over the years I'm more interested than ever in collecting more viewpoints, or data points, as researchers like to call them. Whether you're a musician or fan or just a vaguely interested civilian, do chime in. I think the situation we have, whether it's a question of music or podcasting or blogging or whatever the creative pursuit may be, is one in which so many people want in and it's never been easier to get in. That's both the reality and the problem. Or is it a problem? Will that which has some inherent quality make its way through the flotsam? And/or are we looking at a situation in which value has been radically rearranged...so that what has been considered the locus of value for hundred of years i.e. the piece of work and the right to reproduce it, has been replaced in this next phase of evolution by distribution and aggregation functions? Just as sites like Craigslist have had their effect on the business models of newspapers, perhaps the creative industries are being similarly, permanently, reconfigured, with the closest thing to an 'answer' being crowdfunding one year, some sort of group investor model the next, maybe throw in some patrons of the arts. More questions than answers, for sure, but to blame the Internet and think that we're somehow going to be able to go back to how things were seems like a waste of everyone's creative talents.