There are two factors that make entertainment cost more than it should. One is the expense of having to produce the work as a physical object, and the other is the expense of paying the huge network of middlemen necessary to produce and distribute a physical object.
But the Internet doesnít rely on the distribution of physical objects: it relies on the distribution of information. And because information can now be distributed so easily and cheaply, it is now possible for a creator to deliver their work directly to their audience, without the intervention of middlemen. This is not something that is going to happen should an optimistic future come to pass: it is already widespread.
That said, the question inevitably arises of how (and whether) a creator can be remunerated for their work in this new system. This is not a new dilemma: under the former methods the creator normally would only receive a small portion of the profits generated from the sale of their work: every middleman along the way needed to take their cut. I have argued that a creator may actually come out better by giving their work away for free but then asking for a donation from those that have enjoyed the work. This is better for readers because they donít have to pay for something they havenít enjoyed, and (more importantly) they donít need to subsidize the operation of the middleman network. And this is better for artists because, although many people may read the work without paying, the creator gets to keep the entire share when someone opts to pay. In addition, if the ďgift economyĒ model Iím describing begins to thrive, it will provide a way for artists to be rewarded which does not rely upon the corporate, academic, or single-patron reward systems. Being freed from these (often conservative) systems could potentially trigger an explosion of new and diverse art, the likes of which the Netís current proliferation of forms only begins to hint at.
At least for a year, Iím willing to bet my work on the premise that the gift economy will take care of those who trust in it. It may be a gamble, but a good opportunity often looks, at first, like a gamble.
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