Last week we ran the story about the Whitey email to Betty TV and it got a lot of interest, let me tell you how much. On a Pro Tools launch day this site will get around 20,000 visitors, on the day we ran the Whitey email story the site got 38,000 visitors. You may be asking the question what was it about that story that seemed to resonant with the creative community?
The answer is a simple one, the current state of the creative industry makes a tiny number of people very rich and most of us poor. In most cases the creative effort, investment and high risk lies with those making the content and the low risk but massive gains lie with those distributing it. So the people with the ideas who are writing and recording the songs or making the movies that drive the digital economy, get hardly anything for the content that makes it possible in the first place.
I’m not the first person to say this, people a lot brighter than me, such as Jaron Lanier have been saying the same thing for some time, the current model is wrong for one simple reason - it’s not fair. I’m certainly not starting this debate, however many of the article written talk about the problem, few offer solutions.
I don’t have the answers but like many others having this discussion I think I know where we have to start looking. I would dare to say that any serious and lasting plan for the digital economy has to have FAIRNESS at the centre of the agenda.
It is ironic that in the 21st century, where we are technologically advanced enough to create a digital distribution economy, that the economic model currently resembles something from the middle ages; a few kings living in palaces built on efforts of massive group of the poor. If we are going to build a digital economy of any lasting significance then it has to give a more even distribution of wealth and for want of a less ambiguous term, a digital middle class (Lanier’s words, not mine). Of course there is no such thing as a perfect system, but there is such thing as a one system being fairer than the other.
There is an inevitably about a broken system that at some point the peasants rise up and revolt. Last week Whitey made a clarion call based on the same issues, give a person a fair price for their labour, otherwise a time comes when not one but most of the creative community say ‘enough!’ by my reckoning that time may not be that far off. What many of those currently running the system know is that the creative community is largely made up of those wanting to be heard, wanting to be seen and needing a break. They play on that insecurity and promise fame and recognition and a big slice of cake - often we are lucky if we get to lick the knife. In the words of David Lowry “Not only is the new boss worse than the old boss. The new boss creeps me out.”
Some of you reading this might think I’m some hippy trying to establish a digital co-operative, a kind of digital communism. Not at all, I’m a capitalist entrepreneur, but you don’t have to be a selfish bastard with no moral compass to succeed, despite much of the evidence we see to the contrary in the news every day. We’ve seen what happens when a few super rich get to make all the decisions from the worldwide banking crisis, we certainly don’t need the same people running the creative economy.
Some may ask what does this have to do with Pro Tools? Everything for professionals, we make investments and we need to see a return for them - otherwise we are on a road to ruin. Avid have realised this and plan to make an impact with Avid Everywhere, they know that if professionals can’t make money from their content then they stop buying the stuff to make the content, either by choice or because they go out of business. Their plan is a bold one, if they can make it work beyond the world of media companies and extend it to media creators of every size then we have the beginings of a solution, it is my understanding that there is a willingness within Avid to see it have this reach.
The future of the digital economy stands at a significant crossroads, we have the technology to make a better system work, just as we have enough wealth and food on the planet so that no one should go hungry. As is always the case, the most important part of the equation is daring to think differently, the political will to make things better, if not for everyone, then for most.
It is my belief that whoever does that will own the digital future, it’s time for corporations to start using the F word. Discuss.