Study Reinforces How Much The Internet Has Enabled Content Creators To Make Money

from the everyone-creates dept

A year ago, we wrote about a wonderful study that showed how the internet and its various platforms were (contrary to the stories that the legacy entertainment industries keep spreading) enabling more content creators to make more money than ever before. That study, by the Re:Create Coalition has just published an updated version of that study, again showing how important the internet has been in enabling creative people to make money from their creations.

Somewhat hilariously, some of the "complaints" I've seen from legacy copyright industry lobbyists is that it shows a fairly small amount of earnings per individual. But that's actually the whole point. The study itself is not about major stars. It is focused directly on small independents who previously would have made absolutely nothing:

This study also focuses on independent creators, distinct from mainstream artists such as Ariana Grande or Dwayne Johnson who generate substantial income flows from their Instagram brand sponsorships, YouTube revenue-sharing and other means.

This is a point that has been frustrating for quite some time that I think is worth calling out specifically. One argument I've seen made repeatedly is that the long tail distribution of earning power for content creators is meaningless, since for so many along the curve the total earnings are so low. Indeed, some will argue, the average earnings looks much lower than under the "old" system. But that's lying with statistics -- namely by excluding all of the zeros. That is: under the old system, if a gatekeeper didn't let you in, your expected earnings from your creativity was literally $0. You could not make any money. There was no way to even enter the system if you weren't anointed (in exchange for usually giving up your copyright and nearly all earnings). But those who point to the old system cut all of those $0 earners out of the equation when they add up the "average earnings." If you add them back in, you find that the curve is much more democratized. It is possible that some at the upper ends earn less (though I'm not sure there's evidence of that), but all of the people who previously earned $0 under the old system can earn something under the new system.

Here's a quick and dirty graph to show what I mean, comparing revenue streams under the new v. the old system. It's one thing to say that under the old system successful artists made a lot of money -- but that only works if you pull out of the average everyone who was blocked out of the system, thereby stacking the deck by changing the denominator in the equation. If you add back in all of those "zeros under the old system" suddenly the equation changes:

And, indeed, that's what this latest study appears to show. There are lots of creative types down the long tail who are making some money -- almost all of which is only enabled by these new platforms. And that raises some significant policy level questions. Is the goal of US copyright policy to encourage lots of people to make new works, including providing some remuneration to lots of those creators, or is it to enable a few gatekeepers to pick and choose the winners under their elitist rules, and block everyone else out. I'd argue that these platforms have done much more for creativity in democratizing the opportunity for almost any creator to make some money, than they have in supposedly "destroying" the ability for legacy gatekeepers to retain their old business model.

And, of course, as I noted last year, this study's findings are clearly on the conservative side, in large part because they leave out many of the top platforms used by creators today, including Kickstarter, Patreon, IndieGogo, BandCamp, Spotify, Apple, and more (it only looks at Amazon publishing, eBay, Etsy, Instagram, Shapeways, Tumblr, Twitch, WordPress and YouTube). Given how much some of the "missing" platforms are now considered the go to starting places for independent artists, it seems likely that the "undercounting" here is significant, which drives the "traditionalists'" narrative even more off the rails.

The internet has been an amazing platform for creators to make money -- and that includes millions of people who probably wouldn't have made any money in the past. The gatekeepers, such as the RIAA labels and its lobbyists, will sneer at the small sums, but really all they're doing is reinforcing their gatekeeper mentality. If someone isn't making a lot of money from this new system, clearly (to them) it's because they're "no good." But, that kinda proves the point: nothing in copyright law or the intention of copyright was for solely supporting the absolute best creators as chosen by gatekeepers.

So, from a policy standpoint, are we trying to enable everyone to be creative -- and maybe make some money from their creativity -- or are we trying to set up gatekeepers who pick and choose a few small winners and send everyone else home. Perhaps there's a legitimate policy argument for the latter position, but it's a pretty blatant lie that those pushing for such a world are "supporting creators." They are not. They are supporting a small class of creators -- but mainly they are supporting the gatekeepers. A policy that truly encourages overall creativity is one that creates platforms that enable anyone to create, to share, to distribute and to make some money from their creations (if they want to try to do so, and there's a reasonable market for it).

Filed Under: copyright, creativity, earnings, independent artists, internet, platforms, recreate


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 6:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    If you could play an instrument remotely well, you could expect to make some spare change by playing on a busy corner for an hour.

    That assumes someone that is extroverted enough to do that. Suffer from stage fright, and there is no chance of them doing that.

    Author? Someone will buy your writing for a pittance

    Most, if not all publishers have piles of unsolicited manuscripts, most of which are discarded unseen just to keep the size of the pile reasonable. Heck, J.K Rowling almost failed to get published, and that is with the aid of an agent. From Wikipedia

    The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript.[26] A year later she was finally given the green light (and a £1,500 advance) by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London.The decision to publish Rowling's book owes much to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury's chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father and immediately demanded the next. Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children's books.

    (The last seems a little pessimistic for what became the best selling book series in history).

    Film maker? People were always doing super-low-budget films on camcorders, and gathering tiny audiences at no-name art theaters.

    A few people could do that, now there are enough people making videos to push about 600 hours of video a minute to YouTube. There are not enough theatres in the world to handle that amount of production.

    The thing is pre-Internet, you has to be able to deal with strangers face to face to be able to make any money at all, without being taken on by a gatekeeper. Post Internet, you can sign up to one of many sites, and publish without speaking to another person. Also, any feedback comes in a form that you can turn away from if it is becoming too much.

    So, pre Internet, the extrovert end of the creator spectrum could possible make some money, but the majority submitted to gate keepers and were ignored.

    What is possibly more influential, is that by publishing on the Internet, people can get feedback on their first efforts, and guidance from more experienced people, so as to develop their talents as creators.


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