Cry Me A River: Musician Billy Bragg on the Internet Underwriting Creatives Provide
In our discussions, we largely ignored the elephant in the room: the issue of whether he ought to consider paying some kind of royalties to the artists. After all, wasn’t he using their music to draw members — and advertising — to his business? Social-networking sites like Bebo argue that they have no money to distribute — their value is their membership. Well, last week Michael Birch realized the value of his membership. I’m sure he’ll be rewarding those technicians and accountants who helped him achieve this success. Perhaps he should also consider the contribution of his artists.I agree with Mr. Bragg that there is a significant problem for creatives of all stripes. Also, anyone who's been reading my posts for any period of time knows that I'm not a fan of giving work away, whether for "exposure" or not. (Bragg points out that he gets exposure from radio stations; the difference is that they pay for the use of his music.)
However, the Internet issue is also a thorny one because of "monetization." Companies that own sites must find ways to make money not just from their sales, but from their operations. This is a situation that has many CEOs biting their nails late into the night. On one hand, they pay a whopping amount to acquire the social media sites because they're sure that if they don't, their companies will be left behind. But on the other hand, they can't figure out how to make money online.
I don't mean to point this out by way of excusing the system, but rather as a form of explanation. Many of the now hot Internet sites depended on investors for enough money to operate. When they sell, the investors get the money, and there are still those jobs that were created. But the real elephant in the room is that making money is far more difficult than any of the Internet cheerleaders want to admit.
So, do you give a cut to the musicians, particularly "the fledgling songwriters and musicians posting original material onto the Web tonight" whose "first legal agreement that they enter into as artists will occur when they click to accept the terms and conditions of the site that will host their music"? It would seem fair, but how do you calculate it? What is the value compared to, say, the amalgamation of posts and profiles that draw people to sites?
I don't have an easy answer. If I did, I'd be making a whole lot of money from knowing it. The one thing that is clear is that the start-ups, even as they get big, don't have the cash resources to pay everyone, and the corporations that buy them do so assuming that the business model of free content is going to remain. Otherwise, they would need to see enough cash to pay people.
We can draw a lesson. Your work may be wanted on the Web, but you can't depend on others to make a living for you. You must do that yourself. If you're going to use a site to promote yourself, either be comfortable with the thought that you'll never see a dime, or start developing business models now that will let you make money. Perhaps you need a link to an online store. Maybe you need people to come to your own ad-supported site. But certainly you cannot depend on others to make your business work for you. That is your job.