"Probably the best thing you'll read about the economics of music" Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology Correspondent
Your Art Is Worthless.
Technology advances, supply explodes, demand flatlines and - no matter how hard we wish it were not so - one economic unit of art (one hour of recorded music, one short film, one quirky platformer with unique gameplay mechanics, one book about the economics of art) becomes worthless. These things now have a market value of as close to zero as makes no difference. Digital goods cost nothing to distribute, they cost nothing to manufacture and there is so much art competing for attention that there will always be a free alternative dragging down the price of the work you put into them.This is the world in which artists have to survive.
I’m Simon Indelicate I’m a singer in a little band you’ve probably never heard of. People listen to my records all over the world - I know they do, I’ve seen the google analytics - just not enough of them to support the kind of lifestyle minor indie frontmen used to expect.
So instead of being handed a hilarious wad of cash in the back room of a Camden pub, I’ve had to spend the last decade learning how to survive as an artist in this new economic reality. I’ve learned how to add value to raw data. I’ve learned how Crowdfunding changes previously unbreakable rules of doing business, and - almost by accident - I’ve learned about hard economics.
Now, I’m convinced that if we understand the way that selling art works then we can embrace the worthlessness of our art and see it as a gift that liberates us from the unpleasant industries we used to have no choice but to impotently rage against. If we do, then not only can we survive but we can make more and better art. We can make a new DIY movement.
Your art is worthless, but in this book I’m going to tell you how you can sell it anyway.
It’s going to be a book about economics, punk rock, business studies and existential despair. I’m going to talk to the artists, economists and audiences who are learning how to turn the collapse of the art business into brilliant, vital art that could never have gotten made before.
I’m going to tell you why sticking it to the man is more important and more possible now than it has ever been; and I’m going to tell you how to do it.
Because of the way Unbound works, when you pledge you are not buying a copy of this book - You get a copy, yes, but that’s not what you’re buying. What you are buying is a stake in a future where this book exists - if you don’t pledge, it won’t get written.
And as this is going to be one of the key themes of the book - this is a unique, self-validating crowdfunding campaign. If it gets funded, the book is already proved right. If not, then by definition the book was never going to make sense anyway and we’ll all have learned something valuable.
But do please pledge - I really want to write it, and with your help I think it’s going to be the kind of book that ought to exist.
Music is worthless.
Or, more accurately, 42 minutes of generic recorded music transmitted as data over the internet has a market value as close to nothing as makes no difference.
This is a consequence of two unavoidable facts:
The marginal cost of distributing 42 minutes of generic recorded music is so close to zero that it isn't worth calculating the percentage of costs you'd be paying for anyway (internet access, a computer, power) that are dedicated to enabling it.
The supply of music is so huge and so vastly outstrips the demand for it that the price has collapsed to almost zero.
I don't mean to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but Taylor Swift is wrong. Music may be art, and art may be important but it is NOT rare - and it is not scarce. It is, in fact, an abundant resource with more in common with air than with precious metals. As such, while it may be valuable - like air is valuable - it does not follow at all that it should be paid for.
There are so many bands, releasing so much music, and so much of it for free that you could spend the rest of your life just listening to it without ever having to pay a penny or hear the same song twice. In 2009 it was claimed that there were 5 million musical acts signed up to myspace. 5 MILLION. That's so many. If each of them had only uploaded one three minute demo track for you to stream it would take you more than twenty-eight YEARS to listen to them all. This is not a scarce resource we're talking about.
Of course, before the internet, there was scarcity in the recorded music market - but it wasn't because there weren't people making music: it was because there was only so much space in shops, only so much room on the marketing roster and only so much physical stock of CDs that could be produced.
Music itself was always the abundant resource that amounted to an ingredient of the branded plastic product.
They might not have seen it in those terms but musicians always instinctively knew it. That is the only way to explain the sheer indignities we were willing to go through - prostrating ourselves at the feet of those who controlled the scarcity, the Cowells and Walshes and Watermen, begging. We knew we weren't special or scarce. Special scarce people don't have to beg - they get free burritos, company Teslas and stock options.
The old showbiz whispers about there always being someone coming up behind you ready to take your throne were really unavoidable economic realities. Talent isn't ubiquitous - but it isn't rare either. Loads of people can sing well enough to be megastars. Even more people can sing well enough to front cult indie bands. It's a natural instinct to attribute all failures to bad luck and all successes to hard work and talent - but this way of understanding the world just doesn't account for the facts as they stand.
Imagine you are the greatest indie britrock, jangly rhythm guitarist of all time but you happen to have been born in Eritrea, or in 1905. Tough - there's no way for you to be that from where you are. It's impossible.
Even if there was a small element of meritocracy involved in deciding who does well within the tiny closed system of straight white boys born between 1975 and 1995 on the British mainland - it's insanely lucky to be born into a situation where being a jangly rhythm guitarist in an indie band is even slightly an option.
I'm not very famous or successful - but I am a little bit of both and when I try to pin down what the pivotal moments in achieving anything were down to it's so obvious that it was luck most of all.
Well that didn't go exactly as planned, really. After a year of trying to raise funds for this book, I think we can all agree that it has not been a success.
For those of you who have pledged, I am sorry I couldn't make it happen. This project will be taken down in the next few days and, when it does, the money you pledged will be returned to your Unbound account - you will then be able to request…
These people are helping to fund Your Art is Worthless.