All Content Creators Should Watch Porn

Yeah, that was a shameless use of a headline with a hook; but since you took the bait, here’s the switch. I don’t literally mean to say that all content creators need to watch pornography (that’s up to them), but I do mean that professional content creators might want to look at a business dynamic that has occurred in the porn industry. It’s technically legal. It’s reminiscent of the YouTube business model. And it produces exactly the opposite result creators have hoped would be made possible by the Internet.

Let’s review …

Both content producers and digital-age optimists will repeat the premise that the Internet is a catalyst for democratization. In theory, a creator of anything can manage her own destiny because traditional “gatekeepers” no longer hold the only keys to distribution. And it is true that we can all self-publish just like I’m doing now with this blog. But when produced works are popular enough to be the foundation of a business, the prospect of independent entrepreneurism can become an irrelevant technicality in contrast to the market forces and practices that foster financial success on the Web. I have proposed in other posts that democratization for small and mid-sized producers may be illusory because the same cheap means of distribution available to authors of works also provide the mechanisms for predatory companies to exert monopolistic control over an entire industry. It all begins with piracy driving down value, lowering wages, shrinking markets, and even limiting creativity in certain media and genres.

But what happened to porn?

Needless to say, “free” porn abounds on the Internet, and most of the video content is hosted on sites known generically as “tube sites” for the way they mimic YouTube, including enabling users to upload video clips. (And in this context, we’re only comparing clips uploaded to YouTube by users who do not have rights to the material.) But the similarities between these tube sites and YouTube are not merely technological. Historically, at least some of the material hosted on porn tube sites is there by permission, a collection of older clips that had exhausted their primary release windows and were used to drive traffic, primarily to paid subscription sites. In fact, the presence of ads linking to producer/distributors might give any viewer the impression that the tube site is a by-permission enterprise designed by “the industry” to use limited free clips as loss-leaders to sell subscriptions to newer and “premium” material. And this is true — or truish. Because what isn’t apparent to the user is that the lion’s share of the tube sites and the producing entities behind those banner ads are all owned by just one company, today called MindGeek, previously called Manwin. As porn star, entrepreneur, and occasional writer Stoya explains on her blog, Manwin first consolidated the major tube sites and then …

“ … used their traffic to sell ad space to those same production companies they enabled theft from. Production companies paid a lot for banners. Manwin then began buying the companies they had helped devalue, including Digital Playground—the company I was contracted to for a number of years. I believe the worst sorts of capitalists would consider Manwin’s behavior a win of the highest order.”

Naturally, any site that allows users to upload clips, will “unintentioinally” host infringing material, just like YouTube does millions of times each day. And just like YouTube, these sites remain within legal boundaries thanks to safe harbors in the DMCA and because they will comply with takedown notices (though not necessarily with any haste) sent by rights holders. When discussing this particular dynamic in the non-porn world of content, the debate usually becomes somewhat academic, with one side saying that the DMCA is outdated and useless for rights holders and the other side arguing some variation on the theme that “site owners can’t police the Internet” and the DMCA is sacrosanct because it protects free speech. But setting aside the theoretical legal debate, the business reality enabled by these dynamics created a monopoly. At present, as I understand it, most of the performers and performer/producers in the U.S. porn industry have contracts with this one company. David Auerbach, writing for Slate, says the following:

“MindGeek has become the porn monopoly, putting industry members in the paradoxical position of working for the very company that profits from the piracy of their work. The MindGeek hydra exerts so much force that people in the online-porn industry are scared to talk about it for fear of blacklisting. And MindGeek’s dominance should serve as a cautionary tale of the dangers of consolidating production and distribution in a single monopolistic owner.”

Creators of all stripes should notice that MindGeek, even though it now has an interest in paid subscription sites, does not take down its own tube sites which regularly infringe its own works. And if anyone thinks this is about high-minded populist ideas like “sharing” or “cultural diffusion,” pass me that pipe because this is just hardball business; it’s how monopolies are made. It may seem counter-intuitive to own a distribution franchise that infringes one’s own production franchise, but as the monopoly that owns the whole shebang (wrong word choice here?), MindGeek makes money from all revenue streams and can use “self-piracy” to exert downward pressure on wages or fees paid to contractors producing the work. Put another way, any producer/distributor in such a position can use infringing even its own works as a check valve against market value increasing to the point where it has to pay performers or labor higher wages. It’s a bit like Rockefeller owning the ore mine and the shipping company that carried the ore. To quote Auerbach again:

“ … industry workers have been in the difficult situation of seeing their work pirated on sites owned by the same company that pays them—imagine if Warner Brothers also owned the Pirate Bay.”

One need not expend much imagination there as Internet companies continue to enter the production business. What content creators need to understand is that MindGeek was able to attain its monopoly status by employing very similar tactics used by YouTube. Because in the time it takes a site owner to comply with thousands or even millions of takedowns, two important things are happening: 1) the site owner builds a pile of working capital; and 2) the market value of the material in question is driven down. Thus, thanks to outdated remedies and safe-harbors in the DMCA, a site owner with enough scale and capital is poised to first drive the value of works down and then take the next logical step to become an owner, or the owner, of production. And right there is why a frisson goes up my spine every time some well-meaning indie artist says the Internet is the future of production. “The distributor doesn’t necessarily need to make content that generates adequate money for the content producers, as long as it generates money somehow,” writes David Auerbach. And that is the economic model that becomes an existential threat to creators no matter what other debate we want to have about copyright law, free speech, or certainly how anyone feels about pornography.

Now, because pornography lends itself to being exploited in unique ways (e.g. by spammers), it is necessary to make clear that the manner in which porn tube sites play shell game with DMCA are different and seem to be more complexly insidious than the way YouTube does it. For instance, I spoke to Nate Glass, founder of TakedownPiracy.com, who offers the following example:

“Unlike YouTube, when Mindgeek suspends your account, they don’t remove all of the videos uploaded by that person. They just move all your other videos into their in-house ‘Unknown’ account so the videos can still generate them ad dollars. You can only imagine how inviting this is for spammers who use pirated video to promote their stupid ‘enlarge your penis overnight’ garbage.”

As stated, it is technically true that a creator of works is able to self-produce, self-promote, self-distribute, and generate revenue directly from her/his fans. In theory, this should produce a diversity of works, linking fans with their individual tastes; and as is so often the case, pornography appears to be in the vanguard testing this theory. Recently, Stoya and her partners launched an independent, pay-per-scene, site called TrenchcoatX. Offering specific styles of “curated smut,” as the site says, customers can buy short films or episodes for $3.99 each. By all appearances, TrenchcoatX contains the basic elements of the model people are referring to when they talk about democratization in the digital age. But whether or not this model can compete with free content on actual pirate sites or free content on tube sites that play fast-and-loose with infringement is another matter.

In the blog post cited above, Stoya offers her own perspectives on unlicensed use of her material, saying she’d prefer people use torrents than tube sites and is mostly okay with “sharing” her works if they’re attributed and not monetized. That’s for her to decide just as it is for any owner of any material. I understand where Stoya is coming from, though she may be overlooking the presence of traditional piracy as an underlying force giving the tube sites leverage in the first place. It is exactly the same force that puts Spotify and Pandora in a strong negotiating position when offering abysmal rates to creators of musical works. Ditto YouTube’s Music Key deal.

But this article isn’t about railing against piracy or MindGeek or even YouTube per se. What’s intriguing to me about the porn industry story is that by the early 1990s, it seems the industry had transformed from a highly-exploitative, male-dominated business into a more diverse, entrepreneurial, and woman-shared (if not led) enterprise. And it is certainly interesting, to say nothing of disconcerting, that the only catalyst required to swing the pendulum from entrepreneurial to monopolistic was the so-called democratizing power of the Internet.

© 2015, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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15 comments

  • This analysis definitely lends credence to the argument that copyright violation is a means to monopoly and exclusion, and is a tool of/for power. In much the same way Google/YouTube profits through the relative weakness of individual and institutional rightsholders, it appears the “free porn” industry is similarly working to stamp out weaker players by choking off profit and dominating the market. This would indicate a pattern: Large forces (or those on their way to becoming large) organize to consolidate the labor and rewards of the less powerful leading to dominance and the ability to limit competition. Been reading Tim Wu’s “The Master Switch,” which argues there is a cycle in information industries that starts with an open/all-comers phase, followed by consolidation into closed systems and ultimately monopoly power and suppressive tactics, which is all then up-ended by new disruptive tech, and the cycle begins anew. What happens in between involves the suppression of disruptive innovation and restraints on free expression, typically in the name of upholding “quality.” Implicated in the threat to competition and democratic participation are not the bit players and hobbyists, but the moguls and future moguls who quash them. So, is copyright infringement by relatively powerless individuals significant enough to warrant the kind of attention that the institutional players like the primary champions of the DMCA have lavished on the weak? What really is the point of prosecuting file-sharing college students and fan-fiction writers when the real threat to these interests is monopolist annihilation by Google?

    • Thanks, Mike. I can’t comment on Wu’s book, but it sounds interesting. I will say that I’m skeptical that what we’re seeing is merely cyclical, unless the circuit is wide enough to encompass the turn of the 20th century and the rise of the Robber Barons. I also reject the premise that these technologies successfully disrupted flaws in existing systems without replacing those flaws almost instantly with new and worse flaws. But to your question at the end, I don’t know of any serious efforts in the US to focus on the individual infringer rather than the institutional one. That said, the means by which individuals “share” is via institutional infringers, so it gets a little tricky. The individual is powerless, but not when he “shares” material with the world rather than a handful of his best friends. Still, there is more emphasis on outreach by creators speaking to individuals to educate them on the problems rather than legal efforts to “go after” people. Even in Europe, with various three or six strikes provisions, they’re all based on warnings and threats to slow down Internet service, not prosecute or sue. Which college students or fanfic writers are facing litigation or prosecution right now? I’m not saying there aren’t any; I just don’t know of any cases at the moment.

      • Actually, fanfic has pretty much resolved itself. Authors have made their feelings known and all the prominent fanfic sites have policies that people shouldn’t put up fanfic by authors known to have an issue with it.

        So fanfic is a good example of what can happen when everyone is reasonable and resolves stuff through dialogue rather than litigation.

        A similar process has taken place with the most reputable abandonware sites. World of Spectrum goes out of its way to contact owners. Abandonia operates what is essentially a “take down and stay down” policy and is careful not to put up anything still available in the market. Although that’s more complex, because it’s only the best behaved sites that operate in a similar way to fanfic. There’s a lot that don’t as well.

  • Thanks for this post. I think some people are often too sniffy about looking at porn in the same way as they do other creative sectors. Whereas, actually, it’s a pretty good case study. Because the porn industry tends to be one of the most technologically driven industries, so it’s often a good indicator of developments to come elsewhere.

    Recently, Stoya and her partners launched an independent, pay-per-scene, site called TrenchcoatX. Offering specific styles of “curated smut,” as the site says, customers can buy short films or episodes for $3.99 each. By all appearances, TrenchcoatX contains the basic elements of the model people are referring to when they talk about democratization in the digital age. But whether or not this model can compete with free content on actual pirate sites or free content on tube sites that play fast-and-loose with infringement is another matter.

    In this case, they almost certainly can. Stoya is something of a big name in alt porn circles. She’s the type of performer where the “1000 true fans” model is a very good fit. (It’s not for everybody, but I’m of the view it works for the right kind of creator).

    While I agree with your rejection of techno-utopianism, I think you’re moving too far in the direction of total cynicism here. You’re right that Mindgeek have massive market domination of the major tube sites. However, more generally, the Internet has still led to an explosion in small business and creator owned porn. Suicide Girls are the obvious success story, to the extent you can’t even see them as a small business any more. But there’s other sites that have carved out a niche for themselves. Burning Angel, Geek Goddess etc. And another massive impact the net has had is the rise of sites run and owned by a single performer, frequently using a D2F approach. There’s even a porn version of Kickstarter, in the shape of Offbeatr.

    Some general analogies can be drawn with other sections of the creative sector.

    This may be one of the areas we strongly disagree on, but I’m very much of the view that the Internet has been a net positive for independent artists. Despite the obvious problems, the fact it’s so much easier to distribute work outweighs that over all. Which is why the rare occasions someone threatens to remove their work from online entirely, it’s always to make a point. I’ve not seen a single artist seriously try and shift to only selling physical product, even those most net-critical. (Ok, with the obvious exception of people like painters and sculptors and even they put photos of their work up on the net).

    The market dominance of the big guys doesn’t in any way preclude a healthy niche sector existing. Spotify and YouTube pretty much have the casual listener market sewn up I think. But that doesn’t mean that Jamendo isn’t thriving nor does it stop little bands using Bandcamp to sell their work.

    I think we should differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate competition.

    In porn, the illegitimate competition would obviously be the stuff put up on the major tube sites without the permission of the owner. And that’s very similar in music; it’s piracy, obviously.

    Legitimate competition would be the rise in niche and independent works (both porn and not porn!), including that the creator has choosen to make available for free.

    It’s worth noting that legitimate competition can be as damaging to the professionals as illegitimate competition. The Slate article linked in your post points out that, alongside piracy, the rise in amateur porn absolutely hammered the pro industry. And it what people are talking about when they whine about there being too much music around these days.

    But that is, as I suggest, entirely legitimate competition. It’s why I get twitchy about the “can’t compete with free” mantra. Because what’s going to happen if the illegitimate competition gets nullified and the legitimate competition is still affecting sales? I don’t think it’s overly cautious of me to want to watch people who make that particular argument very carefully.

    Actually, I think cracking down on illegitimate competition would work to the favour of the legitimate small fry in the long term. Because it would mean they were offering free on a much more level playing field. And I haven’t seen much evidence that the big guys can compete with that, on price or on quality. Certainly not in music, which as you know, is mainly what I have direct experience of.

    • Sam —

      Good points as always. I agree that real competition is real competition. And I do think the Internet offers a lot of unprecedented opportunity for independent creators and entrepreneurs of all kind. Still, I think it is interesting to see how a monopoly player comes into being in this market.

    • Sam- “But there’s other sites that have carved out a niche for themselves. Burning Angel, Geek Goddess etc..”

      You’ll excuse me while I go and do some…ahem…”research” 🙂

      Sam- “It’s why I get twitchy about the “can’t compete with free” mantra…”

      I think you’re missing the point of that statement: if I’m selling my wares in the store, you can bet your ass that the guy standing outside the front door giving away the exact same product for ‘free’ will have a very negative effect on my bottom line.

      Many of my peers have packed up and quit the profession entirely (I teeter on the question daily, and if I didn’t feel morally obligated to stick it out I would have left to much greener pastures years ago) because they see the millions upon millions of dl’s on various cyberlockers and p2p sites (which conveniently track popularity..) increasing while their paychecks decrease quarterly so much so that they start having to decide on whether or not to keep their healthcare, vehicle, home, ect… and it’s just not worth it to most.
      The “charting” song becomes ever more meaninless for a songwriter when even the most popular song EVER on these new platforms Doesn’t garner enough cash to pay the rent when a decade ago it would set them up for another year and send their children to school.. no, you just cant compete with “free”, because the cost is too damn high…

      • You’ll excuse me while I go and do some…ahem… ”research” 🙂

        Yeah, I did think that possibly that post was giving just a little too much away about myself. 😉

        I think you’re missing the point of that statement: if I’m selling my wares in the store, you can bet your ass that the guy standing outside the front door giving away the exact same product for ‘free’ will have a very negative effect on my bottom line.

        That’s definitely one of the meanings of the statement. However, I’m afraid I’ve seen just a little too many complaints about how there’s too much amateur content out there ‘swamping’ the market to think that it’s the only way in which its being used. (The DMN comments sections is a pretty good bellwether of this stuff at times).

        Many of my peers have packed up and quit the profession entirely (I teeter on the question daily, and if I didn’t feel morally obligated to stick it out I would have left to much greener pastures years ago) because they see the millions upon millions of dl’s on various cyberlockers and p2p sites (which conveniently track popularity..) increasing while their paychecks decrease quarterly so much so that they start having to decide on whether or not to keep their healthcare, vehicle, home, ect… and it’s just not worth it to most.

        It’s worth noting that a lot of those download figures are actually fake; they’re like that for promotional purposes. I think that’s always worth mentioning as people may be getting a really unrealistic view of the potential market for their work if they take them at face value.

        I’m kinda biased on this issue because most of the modern artists I’m interested in have always been niche/hobbyists/eccentric anyway. So not being able to give up the day job is not a new issue for them, they just work round it.

        It’s worth noting that isn’t just the DIY and indie people either. I know firsthand of a relatively successful early noughties band on Caroline Records (NME front cover, Top of the Pops appearance, two top forty hits) where the lead singer was still working 9-5 and touring on his holidays. Admittedly, he did stick some of the advance up his nose, but not most of it.

        So even if piracy is massively reduced, I’m not convinced that the situation will improve that drastically. Certainly not while the economic climate persists.

    • “I’m very much of the view that the Internet has been a net positive for independent artists. Despite the obvious problems, the fact it’s so much easier to distribute work outweighs that over all.”

      Respectfully, Sam, I’m going to call bullshit on that one.

      The ease of distribution is, likely, one of the big downsides of the situation today, compared to what things were like when I was starting out. It will require a bit of explaining, however, so I’ll start with an anecdote, go over some statistics and finally arrive at the underlying theory.

      Last year, I was a bit surprised to learn that my band has a video ranking in the top 5% of views on YouTube (indirectly, by reading statistics on what percentage of videos has what number of views). What’s that mean for us? Absolutely nothing.

      For a start, having a top 5% YouTube video is worth six bucks plus change (at the rates we’ve been getting). It don’t exactly do much for our profile either – not even as bragging rights. It’s a bit depressing, really.

      The reason I bring it up is that there’s a metric fuckton of content on YouTube and 95% of it is doing worse than we are.

      Now for some statistics. Back in 2010 I wrote about the Nielsen SoundScan numbers for 2009. One of the important points was this: there were nearly 98,000 new releases in 2009 – roughly 83% of which sold less than a hundred copies. At the time, I predicted we will see fewer new releases in the coming years and I would love to verify that prediction, but my Google-fu is weak. If anyone’s up to the challenge, please find me a source for the number of new album releases in the US last year. As far as I can tell, this number isn’t showing up on Nielsen’s MIR highlights these days.

      Those 98k new albums scanned by Nielsen in 2009 were arguably largely the result of increased ease of distribution – this was the time when digital distro via TuneCore and such was the topic du jour, mind. The overwhelming majority of those people could have saved themselves the bother (and fifty bucks), because the whole thing turned out to be a vanity exercise. Increased distribution options and ease of obtaining them simply do not translate into meaningful results in most cases (and we can’t really argue the Pareto principle here, because 100 units shifted is nowhere near a meaningful business result – we’re talking about a couple of per cent by the time we reach that far).

      I’m big on theory, as you know, so what does the theory say? Quite simply that a glut of supply in a time of reduced demand drives prices down – or, in other words, that all producers are worse off in this situation.

      It gets even better (worse): the big guys are actually at an advantage here. The sheer amount of music being put out there means that potential customers (fans) have no way of sorting through it all and making an informed decision. At this point, standing out above the crowd becomes paramount and the big players are in a much stronger position to do so, because they have the promotional budgets and media connections. You might argue that this can be offset by “guerilla marketing” tactics, but – frankly – that’s an illusion. Oversupply gets you here too, I’m afraid. Someone who has been spammed to death by legions of hopefuls with no talent simply isn’t going to be receptive to even well-meant attempts at self-promotion by yet another artist they’ve never heard of. At this point, you really need to have a trusted taste-maker plugging you or you will be dismissed as yet another crappy, self-published act, which are legion.

      I’ve heard the “riches in niches” line before (too many times, to be honest) and I’d like to know: where are those successful niche scenes? Where’s the internet equivalent of the Bay Area metal scene or Seattle? Has the internet given us the equivalent of NWOBHM? I’ve seen people come and go, but nothing to compare with the niche scenes I remember growing up.

      I understand that your focus is more on hobbyists and people who really aren’t gunning for a career in music and – arguably – it’s a good time to be a hobbyist musician. It’s also a good time to be a cat lover. However, I remember a time when garage demos launched careers (not all at once, mind) and I can’t really say that the indie artist these days is better off than several decades ago. In all likelihood they’re actually worse off, but it’s getting harder and harder to find someone able to provide a meaningful comparison.

      • Hey Faza, thanks for your reply. I always welcome well informed disagreement. To pick up on some of your points.

        Last year, I was a bit surprised to learn that my band has a video ranking in the top 5% of views on YouTube (indirectly, by reading statistics on what percentage of videos has what number of views). What’s that mean for us? Absolutely nothing.

        I’d agree that YouTube isn’t driving sales for most bands. I think there’s two main reasons for that. Firstly, the difficultly of taking your content down means a band like yours doesn’t have the option of only uploading a handful of songs and using that as a way of promoting an album. Secondly, the widespread existence of YouTube rippers (which despite their protestations YouTube have done as little as possible to counter) means that people don’t have to buy a track if they want to have it to listen to off YouTube.

        So yeah, YouTube isn’t one of the positive developments I’m talking about. I mean Bandcamp and (to a lesser extend) Soundcloud.

        Increased distribution options and ease of obtaining them simply do not translate into meaningful results in most cases (and we can’t really argue the Pareto principle here, because 100 units shifted is nowhere near a meaningful business result – we’re talking about a couple of per cent by the time we reach that far).

        Sure, but I’m not sure that’s categorically worse. I think we’d probably agree that, pre Internet, very few of those bands who wanted a record deal got one. And of those that did, the vast majority never recouped their advance. Which, to all intents and purposes, means they were working for nothing. So while a band who shifts 100 units at a fiver each is only making £500 (which obviously isn’t much), they’re still £500 better off than most bands were in the old days.

        And they’ve been able to shift those units a lot more easily than when it would have involved carting tapes from gig to gig in a battered transit van.

        I’m big on theory, as you know, so what does the theory say? Quite simply that a glut of supply in a time of reduced demand drives prices down – or, in other words, that all producers are worse off in this situation.

        Sure. I take your point that some musicians (and possibly your band) are going to be worse off in that situation. Which I can understand, but don’t really see as a problem. It comes down to the “legitimate vs illegitimate” competition I mentioned previously. If it’s harder to sell music because people have other music they’d rather buy, I think that’s ok.

        It gets even better (worse): the big guys are actually at an advantage here. The sheer amount of music being put out there means that potential customers (fans) have no way of sorting through it all and making an informed decision. At this point, standing out above the crowd becomes paramount and the big players are in a much stronger position to do so, because they have the promotional budgets and media connections. You might argue that this can be offset by “guerilla marketing” tactics, but – frankly – that’s an illusion.

        Sure, but again, that’s always been the case. And there are at least more tastemakers around now. I don’t miss the days when the New Musical Express could make or break a new band.

        I don’t want to seem flippant about this point though, because I think you have a strong argument. While distribution is not an issue in the way it was, visibility is undoubtedly the big issue facing bands today.

        What I think is a possible counter to that is that bands who are ‘serious’ about making a go of it will start working directly with promo companies. We’re already starting to see that. (I know several DIY artists who are represented by an outside firm on PR). I think it’s likely to increase and we’re going to see more music specific PR firms.

        Which then, again, means that there’s also the advantage where it’s easier to be more targeted in your approach to promo than it used to be. Less press releases to every inkie and more direct relationships with relevant websites.

        I’ve heard the “riches in niches” line before (too many times, to be honest) and I’d like to know: where are those successful niche scenes? Where’s the internet equivalent of the Bay Area metal scene or Seattle? Has the internet given us the equivalent of NWOBHM?

        Note that I don’t think it’s “riches” so much as a tiny number of bands being able to make a living through niches and more being able to get their music listened to by enough people to make a nice supplementary income. One definite loser in the new age is the long term superstar model. I’m not sure we’ll see that again, once the current crop (who mostly trade on the nostalgia market) die out.

        In answer to your challenge, steampunk. Thriving scene, supporting a good number of bands, with its own conventions, publications etc.

        Or for an old scene that’s been given a new lease of life, goth. Just talking about the UK, it’s big enough to support two yearly gothfests at Whitby, plus Infest festival as well. And that’s just the big events, not individual gigs etc.

        It is telling that both those scenes have extremely solid infrastructures in place and those infrastructures are real life as well as digital. That’s probably necessary.

        I understand that your focus is more on hobbyists and people who really aren’t gunning for a career in music and – arguably – it’s a good time to be a hobbyist musician.

        It’s worth noting that the standard definition of hobbyist (people who don’t have a full time career in music) is a very broad category. It includes people making songs to play to ten of their mates. But it would also include The Minutemen and The Broken Family Band (day jobs) and you could even make a case for Crass (weren’t paying for food because they lived in a self-sufficient commune).

        But yes, when I say that the new era has been a net positive for musicians, I don’t mean it has for absolutely everyone. In any new system there are going to be losers as well as winners.

        But, as you suggest, it’s a good time to be a hobbyist musician. And hobbyist musicians have, in my view, always been the majority of musicians. (Including most indie musicians). Which would mean, from a utilitarian perspective, more musicians are better off with things as they are now. Even though I accept that the minority of musicians who did better under the old system are not as well off as they were.

        However, I remember a time when garage demos launched careers (not all at once, mind) and I can’t really say that the indie artist these days is better off than several decades ago.

        That still happens.

        Two case studies.

        If you want to use the old “got a desired record deal” barometer of success, that still happens. Check out the Britpop/rap artist Only Real. His music really isn’t my kind of thing. But his bedroom demos got him an album deal with Virgin EMI.

        For a band that takes a more DIY approach (although they have put out their debut album on Fortuna Pop!), look at the indiepop band Martha. They’re building up an audience steadily and won a BBC6 award a few months ago.

        So there are success stories to tell and that hasn’t changed.

        In all likelihood they’re actually worse off, but it’s getting harder and harder to find someone able to provide a meaningful comparison.

        Yeah, there’s definitely a real lack of hard data. I suspect you’ve looked for it as well. It’s one of the main problems in these kinds of discussions. Because of the lack of any real quantitative research we’re forced to rely primarily on anecdotes, as we’ve both done here.

      • Sam- “Sure, but I’m not sure that’s categorically worse. I think we’d probably agree that, pre Internet, very few of those bands who wanted a record deal got one. And of those that did, the vast majority never recouped their advance. Sure, but I’m not sure that’s categorically worse. I think we’d probably agree that, pre Internet, very few of those bands who wanted a record deal got one. And of those that did, the vast majority never recouped their advance. Which, to all intents and purposes, means they were working for nothing. So while a band who shifts 100 units at a fiver each is only making £500 (which obviously isn’t much), they’re still £500 better off than most bands were in the old days. So while a band who shifts 100 units at a fiver each is only making £500 (which obviously isn’t much), they’re still £500 better off than most bands were in the old days.”

        Seriously, I mean Seriously?¿?
        First off those bands typically got Tens if not Hundreds of thousands of dollars for an advance. ADVANCE MONEY IS THE LABELS RISK. Meaning, if you didn’t recoup, oh well, you’re playing with the house money so to speak, it’s not debt for the band. so “Which, to all intents and purposes, means they were working for nothing.” I can’t even fathom that statement… I personally know artists that never recouped, who lived off advance money for years Did they live high on the hog? no, but try that with 500 dollars, pounds, yen, seashells, etc.

        And you’re wrong that no label meant no musician. I have friends older than dirt that still are session musicians, cover bands, etc. (and even their wages have been dwindling thou you couldn’t squeeze more talent and experience into anyone else before they exploded) and I know lack of a label deal was the birth of the Indie label… DIY existed looong before the internet.. just some weren’t committed if someone else wasn’t flipping the bill..

        Sam- “One definite loser in the new age is the long term superstar model. I’m not sure we’ll see that again, once the current crop (who mostly trade on the nostalgia market) die out.”

        Which is really a shame… it’s precisely because of ‘______’ (name a superstar) that enabled ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and ‘_____’ and …. great music but not pop acts to have a career. no more superstar means no more dreams in the coming generations, no more finance for the gifted kid who deserves a shot, and no more taking a risk on someone that personally moved you because there’s no ROI. Like em or hate em, the majors financed more niche artists than any other system to date, and probably for ever more. I’m not a fan of some specific characters in the label system, but what’s good for the label is also good for the indie, and not necessarily vice versa.. the current climate is actually making the Bigs thrive and the little guy is getting choked out, not the other way around.

  • Who couldn’t predict the tech giants getting into the content game?
    They’ve spent the last fifteen years running around with torches and flamethrowers and now they’re buying at firesale prices… as you said, capitalism at its worst.
    The ironically twisted part that gets me is they’re paying us pennies on the dollar from the same coffer they pilfered from us. “here you go, here’s some change from the dollars I took from your pocket, that makes me the good guy, right?”

  • The link to the Slate article only links to the second page of it, not sure if you meant to do that or not.
    Full article:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/10/mindgeek_porn_monopoly_its_dominance_is_a_cautionary_tale_for_other_industries.html

    The most unpleasant part, IMHO, is in the first half:

    “The decline has continued since then, driving down fees and causing performers to look elsewhere to make ends meet. When [industry blogger Mike] South started in the industry, ‘I could count performers I know who did prostitution on one hand. Now I can count the performers I know who don’t do it on one hand.'”

    Everybody has to play live these days, I guess.

    • Thank you, sf46. Nope. That was a mistake, now corrected. Yes, that quote struck me as well, and your interpretation is spot-on. Had I thought of the darkly humorous “play live” myself, I might have cited the prostitution quote. On the other hand, it’s such a specific and somewhat raw subject on it’s own that I decided not to go there. Thanks for identifying the link error.

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