Money and art dilemma- to share or to charge?

December 16, 2011

In his’ Making and Connecting’, Gauntlett hits up against a basic dilemma- how to work with a gift in a market based society. How could a discussion of craft and art not touch this issue?

This upsurge of people making things and sharing them in on and offline communities is distinguished by a strong current of giving and sharing. Think of book drops,art  postcard crossing, many forms of guerilla art, etc. So much of this tendency is a reaction against the present system where the worth of things…(and people!) is determined purely economically.

So how do we reconcile this genuine desire to share our creative efforts outside an economic framework with the just as real need to earn a living?

Free platforms as exploited labour*

*(This subhead is a direct quote from the book).

OK, we have some new channels for sharing our art and ideas- YouTube, Facebook, Flickr etc. These are open platforms where, for no charge, with no credentials, and hardly any conditions, we can put our stuff out there.

Some people claim that You Tube, for example, makes gobs of advertising money off the millions of people posting and viewing videos there. Gauntlett has done some research and writes that it actually costs YouTube more to host the site than they are receiving through ads. (Based on 2009 figures, YouTube makes a bout $1.20 per video on ads per year and spends $3 per video to host the site).

We generally accept that no ads would mean no free sites.

He also says that most of us don’t care about the ‘free labour’ harvested by these sites because we want to share our work and we have ‘no thoughts of economic value’ except being glad that we don’t have to pay to share our creative work online.

Around a campfire

David suggests that the atmosphere in most of the open platform sites is like being around a campfire. Maybe my singing voice is beautiful and I could print out tickets and charge a fee, but that would completely change the underlying agreement of mutual sharing.

OK, fair enough. But then he goes on to rightly say, that in a society where everyone gets paid for what they produce, creative people should also get paid for their efforts. This is where it gets tricky.

Gauntlett cites the  example of the music business to illustrate this point. People seem to feel entitled to download music free of charge while most of the musicians are struggling to survive from their music. Some established bands or star status artists make good money from their products and tours, but they represent only a fraction of the whole profession. As a rule, it is the managers, PR people and other middlemen who are making big bucks off the musicians ‘backs. Gauntlett has a suggestion to remedy this.

Micro-payment system

An easy to use micro-payment system could be set up where web users would pay a little bit for every song download, (or use of a knitting pattern, viewing of an article or video etc.). And this money would go directly to the creator. 

However, elsewhere in the book he also says:

Not every aspect of life has to be monetised even though there is usually someone, somewhere trying to extract economic value from any activity.

These two contradicting concepts don’t cancel each other out, I feel. It is not a black and white issue. They need to be held in tension with each other. Sometimes one is appropriate, sometimes the other is.

The question of paying for art, articles and music on the internet brings up gatekeeping and quality control. I won’t pay $1.20 to watch someone’s video of their singing dog, but someone else will.

Quality control will happen, not from the top down, as it does now, but from the bottom up as it works on open platform sites. The users determine what they want to see.

We all decide together what we value enough to pay for. It is a self-regulating system. It still has some kinks, but we’re definitely on the way to new alternatives of judging, making, sharing, and buying creative products.

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