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Schubart: Arts and Media

05/31/11 7:55AM By Bill Schubart
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(HOST) Writer and commentator Bill Schubart looks ahead to new cloud distribution systems and wonders how the commercial interests of artists will be protected in this new media world.

(SCHUBART) Many of society's future creative endeavors will have no physical medium.  This raises questions about how those among us who choose some artform as a vocation will make a living.  Let's look at what has happened in just a few decades.

The brave new world of cloud-sourced media will be better for the planet, as it eliminates media manufacturing and preserves resources used to create and transport media.  The book industry traditionally pulps 50% of what it manufactures -- a model of manufacturing inefficiency.  But what will be the impact of all this change on creative endeavor?

Prior to the 20th century, music was performed and enjoyed only in live performance.  Then came the cylinder, 78, 45, LP, and CD.  Of all these, the LP came closest to being a truly collectible medium, as it contained not only music but narrative context and graphics.  The CD narrowed the gap between a collectible and a consumable medium.  MP3 players obviated the need for any medium, and iTunes manages libraries.  The new "cloud" libraries eliminate the need for anything physical, since money itself is now digital.

Before  this century, books and newspapers were acquired and read in bound pages.  Amazon has just announced that its ebook sales have eclipsed its hard copy sales.  These ebook files are already stored in your Kindle or Nook and in the cloud.

Cinema, too, is racing headlong in this direction, despite Hollywood's efforts.

In our house, we're dropping cable, never watch the networks, rarely go to movie theaters, and watch most new and classic films on a high-def stream in the comfort of our own home.  Streaming technology now comes in all new TV sets.

Performance arts like theater, opera, dance, will never disappear; they'll only get more expensive as audiences shrink, often because of that expense.  The fine arts, like sculpture and painting will likewise endure.  In fact, books, LPs and CDs and DVDs won't disappear entirely, as there will always be collectors willing to pay the higher price for a tangible and collectible library.

If the collective creative content of our civilization migrates to cloud libraries, how will the financial interests of anarchic artists prevail against the leviathan commercial interests that will own and control the cloud?  When traditional piracy turns into hacking, as it already has, how will the financial interests of artists also be protected?

The huge cost of media manufacturing, distribution and promotion has been the barrier to entry for artists managing their own content.  As hard media dies out, the role of publishers, music companies and film studios does, too.  Many writers and most musicians now self-publish and can get access to virtual distribution networks like iTunes and Amazon.  But will a beneficial revenue model persist for artists, or will it be subsumed by a monopoly of media giants?

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