Virtual Inconsistency

The concept of digital media is, in theory, incredible. It allows creators to easily distribute art. But I don't think it's working out as well as we as digital natives wanted it to be, and I want to figure out why.

The context is that the world runs on the idea of scarcity, but by nature, art isn't scarce. Maybe the medium itself is, for example, tapes and CDs certainly are, but the main thing you buy that art for isn't the medium, it's the content. So when digital media came around, it's quite revolutionary, because artists can distribute their stuff at a fraction of the cost, or even for free. But then monetising it becomes a lot more difficult.

We're seeing this with news. Online articles are either littered with ads or require a subscription which no one has. Sure, they don't have to pay for the paper and ink, but the reporting, the writing, the researching, all those things took time and effort. Yet you don't have further than Reddit to see people complaining about both ads and paywalls. You can't have the both ways, of course, but we are cheap, and anything virtual feels like something that we shouldn't have to pay for.

Somehow, the music industry figured it out, and it seems like they're the only one who has figured it out. Those "You wouldn't download a car" ads didn't work, but companies soon realised that people are just lazy. They don't want to get out of the house just to put music on their computers, so digital music stores popped up, and practically solved the whole piracy thing. It didn't completely solve it, but at least it's way less prevalent. Then Spotify made it so that pirating and maintaining a song library are no longer worth it. They have DRM, sure, but this shows that people don't necessarily hate DRM because it's there, they hate it because if you buy a good you should own it. Spotify and other services are services, so people are fine not owning them.

Movies and TV shows tried to copy the music industry but messed it up, so it ended up being quite messy. While its history is somewhat similar to music, where they became available on digital storefronts and later on subscription services, the experience is not the same. While Netflix was touted to be the similar to Spotify, Netflix licensed upfront whereas Spotify paid royalty, so it's less of an ongoing relationship. That's mostly why everyone and their dogs pulled out of Netflix and started whatever services they have. It's just not fun to have to pay for thirty services just to get the shows I could've gotten from Netflix a few years ago. That's why a lot of people pirate movies and TV shows but not music. It's nice to be able to pay for every single song on Earth, and less so for a handful of movies and TV shows.

And then there's visual art. There doesn't seem to be an industry of digital visual art, but that's because the artists are mostly independent. These artists on various platforms like Instagram, Pixiv and Twitter can post things for free, and some of them are satisfied as is. But some wants to be compensated, which is absolutely fair. That compensation has to come from somewhere though, and on different platforms, there seems to be different strategies. Some Instagram artists would take sponsors, and all the followers has to do to keep their business afloat is to continue to follow them. This scheme is actually quite good, because the income is coming from the advertisers rather than the follower. They can financially support the artists in a much greater degree. Problems may arise when they get sponsors from questionable organisations, but most of them have done their due diligence before they accept, and they usually aren’t long term collaboration, so cutting ties is as simple as deleting the post. For the audience, it does reduce the experience, and the artist may make extremely different content just to appease the advertisers, but people are fine with it, because it’s free and convenient.

Artists on Twitter and Pixiv would take another approach. They would put out free art on their public accounts, and offer subscriptions or paid art, like art packs and comics. This all sounds great, but because these are independent artists which means they usually have less following, and the number of people who buy or subscribe are only a fraction of the followers, it’s hard to get a lot of revenue this way. And remember how I said Spotify made it so that pirating isn’t worth it, and how viewing art from Instagram artists is free and convenient? It’s the exact opposite here. Pirating is easy because the art is DRM free and can be easily displayed on a website, yet the process to buy the art or subscribe is way more cumbersome than reading it on some pirate comic sites full of ads. Which sucks because some of these artist put just as much effort if not more, yet was compensated less for not selling out. They want their art to be just their art, but it’s hard to keep the price down if they do.

There are a lot more types of digital media that I can rant about, but these are the ones that I’m most familiar with, and looking at these industries, it’s fair to say that a lot of them still hasn’t figured out how to effectively digitalise everything yet. Going digital is definitely a good idea if you haven’t already, but companies and creators still have a long way to go if they want to make things better for them and their audience.

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