The New Media and Arts Landscape

The Internet has caused a shift in infrastructure that is affecting all media based industries which also includes many of the arts. We have seen similar shifts in the economic landscape of the past. Many professions simply disappeared as technology changed. Indeed, some arts and crafts have fallen to less expensive means of production. It is unfortunate in many cases that we lost generations of skills that we will never see again in our lifetimes.

Not all crafts have fallen into obsolescence. Many arts and crafts continue in different forms. I believe the media and the associated media based arts remain an important part of our society and will continue for a long time. However, I suspect it will continue in a different form than what baby boomers knew as children. It will take a while for completion of this cycle, but I think it is starting to take some shape.

Media publishing businesses have lost a lot of market share in recent years. Traditional media is banking on products such as the new Apple iPad to help prevent an additional loss of revenue. This will perhaps help to gain a foothold at the more profitable end of the distribution curve, but the damage has already been done. While traditional publications may not be restored to the pinnacle of their previous existence, they will find ways to hold onto existing market share as the new models emerge to challenge the old. Like many good investors, traditional media will accept new trends and eventually embrace the new models. They will end up somewhere in the middle of the current landscape. Nonetheless, it will look very different.

Meanwhile, there is the issue of ownership and publishing rights. It is unfortunate that all forms of intellectual property are being attacked by an apparent group that demands free content. The premise for these folks is that advertising will pay for all forms of content in the future. However, I submit that free content cannot be sustained over time. Advertising is not the only revenue stream that supports original content. A variety of content may exist purely on advertising, but there will remain an interest in the arts of writing, music, film and television. There is demand for creativity and it will not go away. People don’t want watered down versions of art for the sake of advertising dollars and it will never fly on the level that free content types are claiming.

There is also a middle ground being created by the movement of traditional media towards the more profitable ends of the distribution curves. This middle ground is an interesting development as a lot of creative talent exists just under the radar of the “big guys”. What will happen to this talent? If we are to believe those who populate the blogosphere, then we will accept either a much smaller population existing among the “haves” and everyone else producing content for free. This, of course, is nonsense. People are much more resourceful than to accept a polar distribution of wealth into groups of either “haves” or “have nots”. That is, people will find ways to make a living. This makes the most sense for those artists who are now unincorporated as a result of the battle waged over media.

This battleground is polarized into traditional publishing and the “free content” crowd. The middle ground, at this point, seems to have little or no voice. The middle ground, however, represents the majority of those affected. That is, folks who create art do not want to see their art cheapened by the idea that it must be free yet they are facing fewer opportunities to participate in the traditional markets. Of course, the artists in the unincorporated majority should have a choice. Part of this choice should include the freedom to create and find markets, even when those markets are not traditional.

All of this would be fine until we enter another element of uncertainty. That element is our legislative process. The good news is that our American legislative process tends to find a comfortable middle ground for the various factions that exist in our country. That is, over a period of time, we generally settle into something reasonable. In this case, the legislators are being inundated by messages from various groups claiming to have a stake in this battle. There are the publishers who have the means to place lobbyists in the right places along the corridors of our nation’s capital. Then on the other side, there are the so called free market advocates calling for free content.

I must question the motivations of the latter group as they seem to have little stake in the issue. It is not always clear who is speaking and who they represent.

Ultimately, I believe we should not be too concerned for the unincorporated artists who exist just under the radar. Why not? The reason is globalization. Our country cannot afford to adopt protectionist strategies specifically for any profession or industry. If we do, we are closing the doors to an increasingly enabled worldwide population of potential consumers and providers. The United States was once the king of all consumers and we had our way about most professions and industries. This is no longer true. The power is consumerism and the whole world is now involved. We are no longer operating in a vacuum. Therefore, legislators would be very smart to avoid the overall affect of creating artificial markets through protection from the outside as well as from within. If not, the United States will lose additional global market share. Stated differently, we’ve already lost most of our domestic manufacturing base. If we lose media and the arts then we have lost the primary industries for which we were once known around the world. Why would we lose media and the arts? Because competition is now on a global level and participation is no longer provided solely through traditional infrastructure. The good news is the big guys have the competitive advantage, so they should be able to compete for these markets. I believe it is in their best interest to create a new level of opportunity in an open environment that may serve as a place for professional development.

Otherwise, I think we should protect intellectual property based solely on content and repeal Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Furthermore, we should allow for the creation of new markets that are not overly burdened by legal obstacles. This makes the most sense as it allows for small businesses to exist. We need small business to help maintain the economic balance that we have enjoyed for many years. It keeps the big guys honest and allows the little guys to innovate in order to grow. The end result of protecting all of our rights rather than the rights of a few is a dynamic system that favors continuing innovation and capitalization. These are the elements which make up the lifeblood of our economy. The power of innovation and capitalization further serve to maintain order as well as our quality of life.