Back in 2003, a famous Canadian recording artist had this to say when he was asked about his prospects in the new digital economy: “We are entering a golden age. A golden age.” This idea was embraced by some artists, the media, pundits, professors and, most importantly, policy-makers around the globe.
Their heady optimism stemmed from the seismic events then unfolding in the online distribution and consumption of creative content. Digital technologies allowed instant global distribution at what was somewhat optimistically touted as no marginal cost, and the iPod had taken mobile digital music into the mainstream.
The artist who praised the unfolding of this golden age believed that the digital era would usher in a utopia for both musicians and the consumer. Artists would gain access on the Internet to a larger audience than ever before and, in return for the collapse of their traditional marketplaces, they would make more money from the sale of concert tickets, merchandise and other sources. This was an epic leap of faith, and virtually everything was riding on one thing – the promise of digital technology.
The passage of time has taught us that we would have benefited from a judicious skepticism; that we should have questioned the extraordinary promises being made and the extravagant assumptions upon which those promises were based.
Nearly 15 years later, we can say with certainty that the promised golden age did not materialize for the creative class. Today, more music is consumed, in more ways and by more people, than ever before. It is streamed for personal use, it plays in the background nearly everywhere, and it provides intensity and emotion to our favourite television shows, movies and video games. And yet, artists today are worse off than they were 20 years ago – perhaps the first creative generation in hundreds of years to experience such a dramatic degradation in their standards of living. This mess has resulted from what we now call the “value gap.”
— The above is taken from an op ed written by Music Canada President and CEO Graham Henderson and published earlier this month in Policy Options, a digital magazine published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.