A few weeks back, we took a close look at the idea of a “Creative Apocalypse” (or lack thereof), prompted by a New York Times article which pulled together a variety of superstar data points and concluded that artists are doing just fine, thank you very much.
This set off a firestorm of discussion and rebuttal, mostly anecdotal, from creators and artists who face a daily struggle to balance business, administration and, you know, actually spending time developing their craft.
Two corresponding themes emerged from that debate: 1) the contrast between the highest level acts making money in this new creative environment and those below though who are still struggling, and 2) the inadequacy, not to mention confirmation bias, that comes of carefully selected data points being used to describe every level of a sector as large as the creative economy.
“No one disputes that online businesses offer much more variety than their analog counterparts,” says Anita Elberse in her book ‘Blockbusters’, which explains why The Long Tail theory failed to pan out for creators along the spectrum. It speaks to the positive side of streaming that comes with legal services. That innovation is the next evolution of many creative sectors, as we’ve said in the past.
Even so, that doesn’t mean that everyone is able to manage that explosion in content availability, find what they want and pay for it in a way they want to. Elberse continues to say, “if anything, the impact of digital technology is creating bigger brands and bigger superstars.”
This is excellent news for the major players in the business – and those who are able to cut through the noise to make it up there with them – but fails to take into account the middle and independent creators, whose work is still greatly admired by a niche set of fans. Unfortunately, they are disproportionately impacted by the prominence of piracy sites, which only serves to compound the effect of squeezing out this middle class of creators, who had previously been able to rely on copyright law curbing infringement of their work.
While it should not be tolerated at any level, superstars and blockbuster releases are better able to soak up some of the losses that copyright infringement inflicts upon them. Independent creators and those represented by mid-level intermediaries have a much tougher time making a living wage in the current creative climate, which while perhaps not an apocalypse, can certainly be characterized as a seismic shift in the way creators are compensated.
Such innovation is to be applauded and encouraged, but must still sit within the confines of intellectual property law designed to protect work that, when posted online, can be all too easily seized. When others profit from such content theft it is even more galling, and proof that the system is not working as intended to protect our country’s creative talent.
Creative Future CEO Ruth Vitale does an excellent job of providing a counterpoint to the Creative Apocalypse piece in her post The Paradox of Journalism as Data Analysis. By taking anecdotes from mid-level or lower creators, fittingly sourced from comments on the very article she critiques, Vitale explains that the experience of creators “on the ground” is very different to the rosy reality painted in the original article.
To repeat, this is because the data speaks to the success of blockbusters and superstar acts, while the creative masses speak for themselves.
As they do so they unfortunately find that the disruption to their trade by digital innovation, and the relative lag in copyright law to protect their work in this new environment, is far more damaging than the cherry-picked data suggest.
Of course, a boom in the availability of data is another double-edged sword born of the digital age. If you’ve ever heard a business executive try to succinctly describe “Big Data,” you understand the extent to which the supply of new data points has far outstripped our ability to filter and digest them.
Data only becomes information, for now at least, when a human intervenes to analyze and draw conclusions based upon it. The true state of creativity in the digital age is about much more than just the numbers at the top. In the case of the creative apocalypse that the New York Times writer sought to dispel, more discussion and fewer data points would seem to be in order.