February 2011 Archives





The small picture of the large space has two main jobs. One job is to be a box, literally to contain the space. The strength of the containment is, if anything, stronger when the box is smaller. The other job is to make the space into a quote. In effect, you have a message in a bottle.

But what will happen is that you look into it and you unpack the space and you unpack the quote and they both get bigger. When they are big enough, you climb into the box.

Across from Hess Collection, Napa California

Copyright 2011 Malcolm Ryder


As explained by Lauren Kirchner in The New Frontier:

"Writers who contribute free content to a website may be individually happy to do so, but collectively, that work contributes to the overall trend of devaluation of writing as a skill and a profession."

The context of that phrase is the discussion about profit-sharing by AOL and The Huffington Post in the article AOL Settled wit Unpaid "Volunteers" for $15 Million, which at first seemed to point out that, so to speak, the owner of the theater gets to set the ticket price -- but on closer reading points out that the holder of the deed to the property that the theater stands on gets to sell the deed to the highest bidder.

Continuing the analogy: performers may feel that the value of the deed was established by their performances. But the more reasonable explanation is that the deed is valuable because of where it sits in relation to other deeds. In the environment of the internet, the "deed" is actually the brand -- and the brand is created by the producer's control of the production values of the website. Because of that, the controlling producer gets the money. 

Hard-working "industrious" artists understandably may lose sight of the difference between the value of their expertise (competency) and the value of their product (commerce). But when not much time is spent generating income with other kinds of labor, artists need their expertise to translate into revenue, so the key is to be competitive on-demand producers. "Professionalism" connotes a reliability in the level of expertise, but that interpretation is missing the point. The most essential aspect of professionalism is competitive production that minimizes the opportunity cost of the seller under buyer-demand. Artists need to find buyers, not vice-versa.

Kirchner sounds an alarm on behalf of working artists who have not identified a buyer or set of buyers that measures up to their own level of production effort. But this does not default their status to being defacto  "investors" in any productions involving them as participants. Even less does it default their market value to the level of their expertise. Warning against contributing work for free does not change the dynamics of competitive production. The internet, in fact, means the very opposite -- namely, that unless a buyer has negotiated exclusive rights to one's product, one is more than ever free to distribute product to a vast range of outlets and prospects. But the problem is not that the product is "contributed" at any one place; the problem is loss of advantages when the contributions are not managed by the contributor as investments.

The web has made it plainly evident that the supply of expertise is enormous in all art, not just writing but even more prominently music and visual art as well. The point of this observation is not about writers catching up with what photographers and musicians already know; instead it is about calling on analysts like Kirchner to evangelize professionalism correctly. The flaw in Kirchner's alarm is that lack of pay does not, despite her claim, devalue skill. And, what makes something a profession is a community of buyers who require that certain standards of production and provision be met and maintained in order to satisfy the buyers' demand. Artists must recognize, as buyers already do, that many professionals are not at a high level of expertise, and also that many experts are not professionals. And they must accept that buyers have different ways of "paying".