Digital business models are changing: what are artists’ thoughts, hopes and fears in this new world?

The creative world is changing rapidly under the impact of digital technologies. That makes the lack of research into how creators are reacting to and working with new technology all the more urgent. One new report that helps to address that gap in our knowledge is The Networked Shift, available as a free download from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre. Although produced in the UK by Careful Industries, its scope is broader. Its strength is that it draws on recent workshops and interviews with people from across the creative industries to provide an updated snapshot of what is happening among artists and those who work with them. One of the “preoccupations” to emerge from those discussions is the following:

Digital business models are changing the way some sections of the creative industries workforce work, creating new demands of existing support structures including intellectual property, contracts, payment and taxation models, and the role of intermediaries such as agents and managers. Questions of moral and human rights are coming to the fore as AI and automation become more prevalent, while dependence on digital platforms is introducing new forms of uncertainty for some parts of the creative industries.

On the subject of AI, and in contrast with the hyperbolical approach of the copyright industry, there was a welcome pragmatism in artists’ attitudes:

all of our interview subjects interpreted automation as having a much broader definition than these generative tools, discussing the potential for AI to enhance rather than replace human-computer workflows. The outputs generated by AI were regarded as ways of augmenting creative work rather than as a full replacement, and several interviewees shared the fact that they sometimes used automated tools as a way of ‘warming up’ and ‘filling in the gaps, creating previews to visualise things much sooner’

The report also singles out one of the most important trends to emerge in the digital world: the close and often direct relationship between creators and their fans:

The success of a social community is not just its size but the level of engagement shown by its members: Reddit, Discord, and Facebook are bustling with smaller, organic fan communities who enjoy talking to others about their favourite podcasts, games, and serially published ebooks, often in forensic detail. While these smaller fandoms may not realise significant income streams for creators, they can often be relied upon to support hosting and other costs through crowdfunding campaigns, merchandise sales, and tickets sales for live events; this model enables creators to maintain a degree of creative and commercial independence.

Against that background, it’s disappointing that the report doesn’t make the crucial connection between many of the problems and challenges that it identifies for future development, and the outdated and harmful nature of copyright in a digital world. Although the word “copyright” is mentioned eight times, it seems throughout to be accepted as an inevitable part of the future artistic landscape. As readers of Walled Culture the book well know, that’s certainly not the case. Not only is creativity possible without copyright, but it is able to flourish far better without the legal and economic constraints born of copyright’s forlorn obsession with controlling digital copies.

Featured image by Policy & Evidence Centre.

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