If you want ‘new media’ success it helps to already be popular

I recently read an interesting blog post by John Scalzi called “Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter, and Everything” talking about Amanda Palmer (solo artist, formerly of The Dresden Dolls) and her ridicoulosly successful Kickstarter campaign.  She asked for 100k and could very well hit a $900k before it’s over (I promise the rest of this won’t be so link heavy).  It reminded me of Louis C.K. making a million bucks self-distributing his most recent comedy special online which reminded me of NIN’s Creative Commons release of Ghosts.

On one hand someone could look at this and go “Holy cow, it’s so easy for artists these days! Screw the labels/studios/networks/old media dinosaurs!” but they’d be totally off base.  Its not raining money.  Its not super easy.  And it’s disingenuous to trot out the tired, old ‘media sux/new media rox’ routine.

All of these artists spent years, decades even, cultivating massive fan bases.  They also spent years earning large sums of money via ‘old media’ which enables them to take these chances.  Louis C. K. spent $250,000 up front to produce and distribute his comedy special.  How many people have the means to do that?  Trent Reznor probably doesn’t need to earn another dollar ever to live comfortably and Amanda Palmer apparently has enough money to pay out of pocket to record her latest album (at least that’s my take since the Kickstarter campaign is just for promotion and distribution).

They are successfully sticking their toes in new waters, which I think is great, but we can’t look at that success in a vacuum.  That’s not only a disservice to the blood, sweat and tears these people have shed to get to where they are today, but it also gives an inaccurate idea of how well these new business models work.  I’m not saying that things like Kickstarter and online self-distribution aren’t shaking things up and providing opportunities that weren’t there in the past, because they certainly are, but they aren’t the magic keys to success that some people make them out to be.  You can’t just offer a digital download or fire up a Kickstarter campaign and expect the world to beat a path to your door.  Sure, it’s easier now to self-distribute than ever before but it’s not just easier for you it’s easier for everyone.  Something like 60hrs of new content is uploaded onto YouTube every minute.  That’s insane.

‘Back in the day’ the high cost of production was the primary barrier of entry.  But if you could manage to get a record or movie produced odds are you’d be able to sell it.  These days the cost of production has come down so much that there is a an over abundance of media so you have a harder time getting noticed and a harder time selling it.  I often wonder if we’ve just traded one barrier for another without really changing the difficulty of ‘making it’ in this business.


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