Thanks to the Internet, the human race is essentially all globally connected. Information is being shared at a rate and on a scale that no one dreamed possible, and we have virtually endless variety when it comes to online material.
A lot of good has come from the Internet.
However, as we continue to blindly embrace this progress as a good thing, there is a troubling tendency to ignore those being adversely affected by it: namely, artists.
As technology advances at breakneck speeds, so do the means by which we produce and consume information, and the supply of readily available artistic content. The result is that contributions from artistic communities, simply by virtue of being everywhere, are continually devalued.
I'm not speaking strictly about the sheer volume of "art" that the Internet has spawned. Certainly it is detrimental to the arts that any hipster with a blog, a camera phone, and a penchant for eating at restaurants might with some degree of nauseating confidence now refer to herself as an "accomplished writer."
And it is with no small degree of rage that I acknowledge that any nerd with a tripod and a YouTube account might now call himself a "filmmaker." Without a doubt, global access to the Internet has introduced the world to a new understanding of "bad art" (no offence, Zombo.com).
But that's only part of the problem.
By so enthusiastically embracing this newfound ability to share everything, artists' work is being inherently devalued in the rush to simply "get it out there." In fact, as the Internet evolves and continues to provide a plethora of tools and avenues with which an artist might share his or her work, artists are actually getting screwed.
And the worst part is we're doing it to ourselves.
By creating our own Photoshop art to put on our Tumblr sites, designing our own WordPress websites, uploading a new track we just recorded to MySpace (for the six people still using MySpace), and posting our short films to YouTube, artists are essentially flooding the market with our products -- and we're mostly doing it for free.
Indeed, we've entered an era where media providers no longer have to compete with artists to provide content for their outlets, and instead, artists ravenously compete just for the privilege of having their work used for free.
We've happily traded income for some abstract notion that exposure is its own reward, and media companies are cashing in.
The argument can of course be made that increased exposure leads to more opportunity to find paying gigs, but the reality is, with media content increasingly shifting to free, online sources, how many paying gigs are really left for artists and writers?
Witness the long and steady decline of printed news: major newspaper chains are reporting severely declining advertising revenues and it doesn't take a genius to trace these figures back to increasingly popular online news sources.
The need to pay people for their writing is only going to decrease as the amount of intrepid, online, wannabe journos happily hammering away at their keyboards continues to grow. Why pay a journalist to write the story when you can find a kid on the Internet thankful to do the same work just for the opportunity to say, "I've been published!" and share the link on his Facebook page?
This is not to say there are zero paying gigs out there. There are of course some paying jobs on the Internet. With revenue sharing on sites like YouTube, artists actually are being provided with a means to get paid for their work, and some might argue that's access to revenue that they would have never had before. And that's true, to some extent. YouTube's "Partner Program"enables creators and producers of original content to earn money from their videos on YouTube through revenue sharing."
And that's great.
In fact, last year, a study revealed that there are actually 10 independent YouTube users who made over $100,000 from their videos from 2009 to 2010.
But really, when you consider how many people use YouTube, those that make a comfortable living wage from their efforts are still far from being the norm. In fact, 10 people breaking the $100,000 mark seems shockingly low when one considers the following from Mashable.com:
As of February 2011, YouTube has 490 million unique users worldwide per month, who rack up an estimated 92 billion page views each month. We spend around 2.9 billion hours on YouTube in a month -- over 325,000 years. And those stats are just for the main YouTube website -- they don't incorporate embedded videos or video watched on mobile devices.
To try to give you some perspective, (also according to Mashable.com)more content is uploaded to YouTube in a 60 day period than the three major U.S. television networks have created in 60 years,
So should we really be thankful that 10 users of YouTube, a company recently sold to Google for $1.65 billion, make over $100,000?
The truth is that even companies like Google and YouTube that do make some effort to reward their users are handing out a mere pittance compared to what they will ultimately make as a result of the traffic that millions of providers of free content will drive to their sites.
In effect, by continuing to provide our work for free, we allow these companies to continue to drive down the already paltry sums (if any) with which they reward artists, writers, and musicians.
So, if you are an artist, or a writer, or a musician, please think twice before you happily upload your latest masterpiece. Sure, you're anxious to share your passion with the world, but think about who is really benefiting from all your hard work before you click that submit button.
In closing, I would like to thank the Huffington Post Canada for publishing my article. I'll be sure to have another one for you soon.
Follow Ben Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ben_T_Johnson