20 Sep 2010

Artists, Publishers and a New World Order

I made quite a lengthy comment on Facebook regarding the revolution in the creative arts which the rise of digital distribution has instigated. I now reproduce it in full here, as I know that not everyone is on Facebook (yet) and hardly any of those follow me.

The comment was a response to another comment from someone asking how publishers of creative work (books, movies, music, games, etc) should protect 'their' work from being freely distributed. It sarted with someone complaining that the DRM in an eBook that they had obtained for work purposes had installed software without asking and now they couldn't get rid of it. Well here you are:

Tl;dr: Publishers are parasites who used to be symbiotes but the host no longer needs them. They restrict creativity and leech income from creators and use the money they make to lobby for legislation to protect their untenable position.
Long ramble ahead, sorry.
Its not the publishers that should be getting the money in the first place, its the authors/artists/musicians.
The rise of digital technology has rendered the middlemen (publishers, record companies, movie studios) obsolete. They just refuse to accept that and are going out kicking and screaming. The thing the middle men most fear is a world where artists can market their art (be it books, music, movies or games) directly to the consumer and pocket all the proceeds themselves.
I've read opinions from a lot of artists (Neils Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Trent Reznor, and more) in a variety of industries which basically boil down to the fact that the thing they most fear is obscurity rather than not getting paid. Granted most of them have made their money and can probably afford to retire on what they have now, but many of them are still doing what they do because they love doing it and know that others enjoy their work, not for the money.
Look at the maker of Minecraft for example, Notch has been making, marketing and supporting the game as basically a one man show for the past 18 months and now has enough money to start his own development company. No publisher involved.
I would gladly pay money for something if I knew that all of that money was going directly to the people that made it rather than a bunch of corporate leeches who don't know that their time is up.
The more people who are exposed to a work of art, the more people who are likely to pay for it, especially if all the publisher's overheads are removed from the equation. By paying creators directly, creators can charge much less for their work and still make a healthy amount of cash. lower prices mean that more people will be willing to fork out for something (look at the steam sales statistics for the economics of that).
Taking the Minecraft example once again. Notch charges 9.95 for what is basically an alpha build of his game and this guarantees the user access to all future updates. If a big publisher had sunk millions into developing it and marketing it then you'd be paying 4 times as much for a game that would be nothing like Minecraft, because its new and different and not a 'sure thing'. 
Not only do the middlemen live off the work of others, they limit creativity by only publishing things that they know already works. Anything even the slightest bit risky or avant garde doesn't get a look in.
The old order is dead, it just doesn't know it yet and they've got so much money to buy politicians with that its taking a while for people to see through their scam.
So there you have it, my take on where the creative industries are right now and why we're getting lumbered with idiotic legislation like ACTA and The Digital Economy Bill. For the most part the creators don't want to restrict our access to their work, they want their work to be experienced and enjoyed by as many people as possible. Not only do Publishers want to keep taking their cut in a world which no longer has a use for them, they are willing to use the might of the coercive state to do their dirty work.

To that end, if there are any creative types out there who have something interesting that they want to share with the world. Drop me a line on this page and let me know about it. I'll be happy to write a post about it, but only if everything you make from it is going directly in your own pocket, publishers and PR firms need not apply.

M out

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