How some of the creative arts have changed to stay afloat. (via The New York Times Magazine)
From the bird’s-eye perspective, it may not look as though all that much has changed in terms of the livelihoods of the creative class. On the whole, creators seem to be making slightly more money, while growing in number at a steady but not fast pace. I suspect the profound change lies at the boundaries of professionalism. It has never been easier to start making money from creative work, for your passion to undertake that critical leap from pure hobby to part-time income source. Write a novel or record an album, and you can get it online and available for purchase right away, without persuading an editor or an A&R executive that your work is commercially viable. From the consumer’s perspective, blurring the boundaries has an obvious benefit: It widens the pool of potential talent. But it also has an important social merit. Widening the pool means that more people are earning income by doing what they love.
These new careers — collaborating on an indie-movie soundtrack with a musician across the Atlantic, uploading a music video to YouTube that you shot yourself on a smartphone — require a kind of entrepreneurial energy that some creators may lack. The new environment may well select for artists who are particularly adept at inventing new career paths rather than single-mindedly focusing on their craft. There are certainly pockets of the creative world, like those critically acclaimed books dropping off the mainstream best-seller lists, where the story is discouraging. And even the positive trends shouldn’t be interpreted as a mindless defense of the status quo. Most full-time artists barely make enough money to pay the bills, and so if we have levers to pull that will send more income their way — whether these take the form of government grants, Kickstarter campaigns or higher fees for the music we stream — by all means we should pull those levers.
But just because creative workers deserve to make more money, it doesn’t mean that the economic or technological trends are undermining their livelihoods. If anything, the trends are making creative livelihoods more achievable. Contrary to Lars Ulrich’s fear in 2000, the ‘‘diverse voices of the artists’’ are still with us, and they seem to be multiplying. The song remains the same, and there are more of us singing it for a living.
update - another group disputes the article.
Steven Johnson’s article “The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t” frames itself as a data-driven response to concerns about the plight of creative workers in the digital age. But Johnson’s grasp of the limitations of the data he cites seems tenuous, and he ends up relying on some very dubious and all-too-familiar assumptions. In its sweeping dismissal of artists’ various concerns, the article reads as an exercise in gaslighting.
This is extra disheartening, because in our previous experiences with the NYT’s journalists and fact-checkers, we’ve found them to be rigorous and fair. Likewise, we’ve found Johnson’s books and TV work to be entertaining and often insightful.
We’ll focus our criticisms on Johnson’s thoughts about musicians in this piece, but it’s worth noting that friends in other creative industries—film and publishing—have also reached out to us noting similar objections about Johnson’s coverage of their fields.