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Destruction Of The Creative (Middle) Class June 18, 2010

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.

I live in an area where many people make their living with creative work – music, painting, photos, movies, etc. At a recent party on Memorial Day, the relaxed conversation by the pool got a bit more stressed. One person after another told stories which all could be summed up as:

“The price for my work has crashed 90% in the last few years”.

No creative activity was spared and all were represented at the party. Nor did anybody see this as a cyclical issue to do with recession. All of them were preparing for this as the new normal. The culprit of course was the Internet.

Do you remember Richard Florida’s Rise Of The Creative Class? The concept was (is) appealing. No more gatekeepers. Creative folks can meet their customers directly.

But the direct evidence points to something that is more like the hollowing out of the creative middle class. Power law is at work. The best do even better. One person at the party described how he had a turning point in his career, after seeing his income plummet, and how after that business totally took off.

The bottom end makes money for the content aggregators – just ask Demand Media. The work that they offer is a life-saver for those that have nothing else. But they may aspire to that solid middle class of creativity and that may turn into a mirage.

Then I saw this from Jaron Lanier (via AlwaysOnNetwork). This bit resonated:

“If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money.  If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty.  If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless.

“The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract.  The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind.  Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion.  Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”

One example. The folks who make money building and selling gadgets that people use to listen to music, tell the artist who complain about not being able to sell music:

“let them sell T Shirts”

The musicians at this party took the view that they did not get into music to sell friggin T Shirts!

I see the power law in  writing. Great authors do fine. Top quality publications like Economist do fine. At the bottom, content mills like Demand Media do fine. It is all the stuff in the middle that is hurting. In that simple sentence are millions of middle class families.

I buy into what Clay Shirky writes in Congnitive Surplus – if we spend less time watching TV we can share for free what we create for fun. That is fine as long as the lower levels of Maslows Hiearchy of needs are taken care of. But when people don’t know how to pay the mortgage, sharing is a luxury.

The technically creative folks, the ones creating gadgets and sites aggregating “content” seem to be doing well. But when “art” becomes “content”, something is wrong.

Not sure of the answer, but the problem looks real and deep for many.



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