Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Heaven will be mostly free, but the ads will be hell.

It took me years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always knew that Indian Princess was not an option and, although born on the same day as George Washington, American Revolutionary Patriot was out as well.

Fast-forward about 35 years to the day I realized I had a modicum of talent as a writer. Jump another four years until my publisher was arm-wrestled into the same reality. So now I write, mostly for large corporations, sometimes for me. But like the worst episode of Lost created just before the writer’s strike – something seems amiss.

I discovered my inner hero at the same time creative arts were being liberated through an Internet free-for-all. Everybody is a princess. Self-made artists and other expressive types can be found warbling on American Idol (the YouTube version) or blogging on the Huffington Post or slinging their digital paint at DeviantART.com

It’s fantastic! It’s a friggin’ party!

And then, like Britney Spears getting married in Las Vegas to her childhood pal (hitched at 5 AM at a wedding warehouse with a drive-up window - $179 for the economy package), creative types woke up to a morning full of regret and recriminations.

Why, oh why, didn’t I sign a pre-nup? How the hell will I pay my CitiBank mortgage? Where’s my retirement fund?

You see, the current trouble with our brave, free online world is that the only people getting paid are the ones who own the virtual wedding spaces - the owners and publishers who charge for the advertising. It’s not the artist, it’s the chapel that, only the night before, looked like so much Vegas fun.

Think about it.

Need a quick quote, training content, or helpful image? Don’t worry, just Google it for free. The same goes for almost anything found online. There’s an almost religious belief that online content should be free. Motherly advice… Apple Pie recipes… Chevrolet. Except for the car - you can't download those just yet. When they figure out how to place enough ads on them, then maybe I will be driving a free, bright green Malibu covered in stickers. Until then, it seems that all artistic work on the web is there for the taking.

In fact, the editor of Wired magazine said in February of this year that music is not meant to be a moneymaking business. Musicians are happy to provide music for nothing because it is a “creative expression”, not work.

Tell that to CitiBank.

Better yet, shouldn’t Microsoft programs be free just because software developers just love to code? Come on Bill – you’ve got it made – you can give it away now!

Sure, creativity may suffer as 14-year old hacks continue to recycle Madonna videos as their own work, but creativity won’t die. I’m not too worried. These types of challenges generally resolve themselves.

Soon, publishers will create ways to remunerate artists while creating a profit. “Live” versions of anything will be free as long as someone advertises. Designers will generate revenue off of the ads. Artists will be able to pay their rent. Glory! It will be heaven.

But in this Heaven, truly great artists will have killer ads.

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