Are we living through an online renaissance?

By May 17, 2013New Media


Recently on WNYC’s On the Media, hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield posed an interesting question: “In this Golden Age of content, who’s going to pay for all this stuff?” We’ll come back to that question in a moment, but calling the 2010’s a golden age got me thinking, especially in light of my recent posts expressing my fears of “content creep,” that perhaps I, and many others, have been too hard on content. Moreover, it’s not something we should take for granted. As Gladstone and Garfield remind us, along with video, “the Internet offers a breathtaking bounty of games, music, utility, journalism, and random weirdness–almost all of it at a loss.” From “Double Rainbow” on YouTube to the Debussy catalogue on Spotify, it seems the entire cultural enterprise of the Internet is, as Gladstone and Garfield say, underwritten by “volunteers, underpaid-former-well-paid-professionals, and venture capitalists betting on an unknowable future.”

How did things end up this way? In one way we’re all responsible: Internet users are accustomed to getting things instantly and cheaply, if not for free. My Spotify subscription puts me in touch with the complete catalogues of hundreds of thousands of artists for less than $10 a month. Yet for some artists, it’ll take 640,462 plays of a song to earn that much back in streaming royalties! Netflix spent $100 million producing its first original series House of Cards–a budget rarely seen even for a premier cable series, and without the commercial breaks to help foot the bill.

Even just a cursory glance at the Wall Street Journal’s business pages is enough to know there’s a lot of money swirling around the production and marketing of Internet content, but still not nearly enough for each creator to earn their due. The question of who’s going to pay for it is actually pretty scary: it suggests that the Golden Age may soon give way to a Dark Age unless we figure out how to make it sustainable.