12.06.2006

The post-profit future

Increasingly I find myself agreeing with the sentiments expressed here, by Yglesias:

Peer-production of digital media probably will produce a fair quantity of awesome popular stuff lurking amidst the vast pool of dreck. And well-designed services will let the awesome stuff rise to the top and the dreck fade to the background, rendering those services awesome and popular. But -- and here's the rub -- having something awesome and popular just may not prove to be especially lucrative. In the past, a popular television show or a popular album or a popular film or a popular distribution channel guaranteed you vast sums of money. In the future, that just may not be the case. The very most popular things will generate some income, enough to live off of and continue financing new projects, but not the sort of gigantic windfalls associated with 20th century media hits. And lots of other things -- including reasonably popular ones -- will only generate trivial levels of income. And they'll continue to be made. Made by people who think its fun, or who derive some benefit from their work other than direct monetary income.
I have several thoughts (outside of "but I bought my house under the old rules!" which is only germane to me and my presumed future seller).

1. This is already happening in network TV as quotes are being cut left and right. BUT I think what will evolve is more of a winner-take-all type of pay structure: creators of shows will hit big, but everyone on staff will work for peanuts. The kind of upper-middle-management, haute-bourgeois lifestyle of the career staffer is what's going to disappear. (Aren't doctors going through the same process?)

2. Network shows, and TV shows in general, will only find an audience if they give the audience something they can't get anywhere else. TV Dramas already do this very well -- you can't duplicate The Sopranos or Heroes in your garage, because you can't aggregate the talent or money needed to bring off the effects (including emotional effects). It's harder for TV comedies. In fact, while writing my pilot I've realized that my competition now is every funny thing ever made. Why should anyone watch my show when they could watch South Park, or Faulty Towers on DVD, or failed demolitions on YouTube, or read Deadspin?

3. The interesting emotional effect of this is to strike fear into the heart of the writer, executive, etc., at precisely the moment when fear will only make the problem worse.

4. Also, I bought my house under the old rules. Dammit.

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