June 18, 2001
McCloud's Magic

In his most recent edition of I Can't Stop Thinking, Scott McCloud does the math on micropayments, and leads the cheer to pay artists for their work.

But I wonder if seeing a micropayments as a technological solution to a social problem isn't just a little naive. It's not impossible for artists to get paid directly for their work now, it's just that the idea has been marginalized or shut down by people who make a lot of money by being middle men. Organizing not-for-profit mail-order distribution points for CD's and Comic books where people order through a catalogue or online, and a maximum percentage of the price goes to the artist -- besides what is needed to pay the employees a living wage -- is entirely possible, now. Such a project would require a lot of overhead -- something that artists have a hard time providing. However, the point is, if artists really want to protect their interests and not have to have a corporate-mediated relationship with their audience, they need to be willing to do something about it, and so does their audience. This fact is easily as relevant online as off.

The net can make it easier to set up shop directly to the audience, but if there are millions of dollars at stake, it's not unlikely that the record industries (and others) will find tricks up their sleeve that will leave them with more control of online distribution -- starting with taking chunks of payment to artists right off the top, which Amazon.com is already doing. I'll go so far as to say that as long as a micropayment initiative is for profit (and maybe even if it's not), the more success it demonstrates, the more likely it is to be consolidated, co-opted, or copied by some corporate megalith. Consolidation is demonstrably the rule, rather than the exception in the media biz. I wonder if McCloud's artists' utopia is a little farther off than the nearest technological fix?

The Ralph Nader quote I posted a few days ago is quite relevant:

In the absence of a mobilized constituency, even structural reforms will inevitably fall short of achieving their democratic purposes. Corporate interests will reassert themselves (or new corporate interests will arise) to corrupt even a decentralized media, and eventually chip away at the structural limitations on media concentration.

posted by dru in politicsoftech