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A Bright Future for Cultural Production

· March 17, 2017

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Farhad Manjoo’s recent New York Times article, How the Internet Is Saving Culture, Not Killing It, presents an impressive perspective on how online platforms are sustaining commercial content and cultural production.  

It’s well-established that the Internet has enabled extraordinary creativity, and provided numerous new means for creators to get paid.  DisCo has explored the wide variety of ways that creative people and small businesses make money, and how new online subscription models reduce piracy.  Internet-based services have held their own by artistic standards as well.  Over the years, we’ve also seen substantial research debunking the notion that the sky is falling.  Yet these impressive developments often run up against an ill-informed but entrenched conventional wisdom weighed down with pessimism.  When the N.Y. Times had covered the changing industry of commercial creativity in the past, for example, even very positive findings were characterized as “maybe not an apocalypse.”

Manjoo’s article breaks from this tired trend, citing a host of encouraging data.  This data demolishes the notion that the Internet is undermining cultural production.  In fact, it’s likely to save cultural production as we know it.  He observes:  

In the last few years, and with greater intensity in the last 12 months, people started paying for online content. They are doing so at an accelerating pace, and on a dependable, recurring schedule, often through subscriptions. And they’re paying for everything.

Manjoo recounts a striking rise in subscription-based media platforms, for movies, television, music, and other forms of media, and the tens of millions of subscribers they continue to acquire.  The numbers are staggering: Netflix added seven million new subscribers last quarter, and is nearing 94 million subscribers.  Spotify went from 30 million to 50 million subscribers last year.  Apple Music, one of the newer entrants in the digital music marketplace, has acquired 20 million subscribers in about a year and a half.  And this doesn’t even include the spate of new entrants in premium services, like Pandora Premium and a host of premium OTT streaming bundles aimed at cord cutters.  And it isn’t just entertainment content — pointing to the N.Y. Times’ own balance sheet, Manjoo points out that people “are even paying for news.”

The article also identifies growth in other, newer monetization phenomena, such as users subscribing to individual creators via the site Patreon, and supporting artists directly through sales from other social media channels.  Sites like Patreon allow fans to provide ongoing economic support to their favorite creators, regularly contributing money for each new video, for example.  These recurring contributions add up, and Manjoo notes that several dozen creators made more than six figures last year from Patreon donations alone.  Combined with the trend of rising subscriptions for major outlets of premium content production, these developments paint a picture of a bright future for cultural production.

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.