A few years back, we did a deep dive into the actual
numbers for how the entertainment industry had been faring in the post-Napster era, and found that, contrary to the doom and gloom stories the legacy entertainment industry has been stating, the sky was rising, not falling
. Since then, we've continued to release updated versions
of our Sky is Rising reports, which continue to show the same basic thing: more creative output than ever before in history, more people creating content than ever before in history, more people making money as content creators than ever before in history and more money being spent on content than ever before in history.
In other words, the whole idea that the internet and file sharing somehow killed the entertainment industry is complete bunk
It appears that people are finally starting to notice.
Steven Johnson, who has written some fantastic books over the years (and built a few startups) has a thorough and detailed piece in this weekend's NY Times magazine, basically making the exact same point that we made in our Sky is Rising reports, going through a lot of the same data. He calls it "The Creative Apocalypse that Wasn't
(which is perhaps more catchy than our title). The short version: things are really, really good for creative content. He starts with musicians:
What do these data sets have to tell us about musicians in particular? According to the O.E.S., in 1999 there were nearly 53,000 Americans who considered their primary occupation to be that of a musician, a music director or a composer; in 2014, more than 60,000 people were employed writing, singing or playing music. That’s a rise of 15 percent, compared with overall job-market growth during that period of about 6 percent. The number of self-employed musicians grew at an even faster rate: There were 45 percent more independent musicians in 2014 than in 2001. (Self-employed writers, by contrast, grew by 20 percent over that period.)
Of course, Baudelaire would have filed his tax forms as self-employed, too; that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also destitute. Could the surge in musicians be accompanied by a parallel expansion in the number of broke musicians? The income data suggests that this just isn’t true. According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-Napster era — not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves. Somehow the turbulence of the last 15 years seems to have created an economy in which more people than ever are writing and performing songs for a living.
And, as we saw in our report, it's not just in music that this is happening.
The O.E.S. numbers show that writers and actors each saw their income increase by about 50 percent, well above the national average. According to the Association of American Publishers, total revenues in the fiction and nonfiction book industry were up 17 percent from 2008 to 2014, following the introduction of the Kindle in late 2007. Global television revenues have been projected to grow by 24 percent from 2012 to 2017. For actors and directors and screenwriters, the explosion of long-form television narratives has created a huge number of job opportunities. (Economic Modeling Specialists International reports that the number of self-employed actors has grown by 45 percent since 2001.) If you were a television actor looking for work on a multiseason drama or comedy in 2001, there were only a handful of potential employers: the big four networks and HBO and Showtime. Today there are Netflix, Amazon, AMC, Syfy, FX and many others.
Ah, but some will respond, all this new content is mostly crap. Well, there have been some attempts to look into that as well, which found the opposite
. The flood of content has actually created more absolute great content (and, yes, more crappy content with it, but it's easy to ignore). In other words, more content across the spectrum, catering to more tastes. Johnson's research found something similar. He points out that basically everyone agrees that TV is better now than in the past, so there's little argument there. And he presents some evidence of great new films, though they're often financed through different and independent means, rather than the big Hollywood studios.
How about books? The one thing that he finds is that the data there is mixed, but he finds it noteworthy that while big chain bookstores have been falling by the wayside, indie bookstores are thriving.
This would be even more troubling if independent bookstores — traditional champions of the literary novel and thoughtful nonfiction — were on life support. But contrary to all expectations, these stores have been thriving. After hitting a low in 2007, decimated not only by the Internet but also by the rise of big-box chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores have been growing at a steady clip, with their number up 35 percent (from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,227 in 2015); by many reports, 2014 was their most financially successful year in recent memory. Indie bookstores account for only about 10 percent of overall book sales, but they have a vastly disproportionate impact on the sale of the creative midlist books that are so vital to the health of the culture.
Johnson concludes the piece by looking at why
this has happened, and why the fear mongering and doom and gloom of the RIAAs, MPAAs, Authors Guilds of the world, and the politicians who often repeat their talking points, were all completely wrong. He points out that while content may now be easier for users to access, that also means people get exposed to a lot more -- and there are many new ways to pay for it as well.
Also, perhaps more importantly, without the need to hand over so much money to gatekeepers (who like to take pretty much everything), the ability to go direct, and leverage various platforms, means that even if a particular artist is grossing less revenue, they're keeping more. And, further, as the tools of production have gotten cheaper, the upfront capital costs of creating, promoting and distributing content has dropped massively.
It's a worthwhile read, though it won't be surprising if you've read our reports. However, hopefully, with this appearing in the NY Times, it means this concept is finally going mainstream.