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Monday, February 09, 2009

Big vs. Small: Who's Better Positioned Right Now?

A lot of times when I've written about some interesting little Internet experiment that has generated $50,000 or $100,000 for the creative person behind it, someone will e-mail me to ask, "Yeah, OK, but how does that support the media industry? A movie studio can't pay its security guards for a week on that kind of money."

Good point.

I'm very confident about digital media's ability to support individual creators, doing the kind of work they want to do, often on tightly-constrained budgets. (Constraints = inventiveness, right?)

I'm less confident that it will support the same gargantuan, diversified companies that raked in the big bucks in the days when there were only four TV networks, six movies released every weekend, a dozen important records issued on Tuesday.

This David Carr column from today's NY Times is worth a read, because it highlights this issue: the wind is right now at the little guy's back. The piece focuses on the music industry, but it could very well be about movies or book publishing, or any other media endeavor.

One example it cites of an individual artist figuring out a way to get by in this new environment is Jill Sobule. I've been a fan of hers since the mid-1990s, and I had a chance to interview her for my forthcoming book.

Here's an excerpt from the Times story:

    After listening to her fans, she came up with an updated version of the Medici model. To raise the $75,000 she needed for an album, she set up a Web site — — in which her fans would serve as patrons for her next record in return for various rewards.

    Ten bucks earned them a digital download of the record, $50 an advance copy and a thank you in the liner notes, while $1,000 got them a personalized theme song written by the artist. Three people who paid $5,000 had Ms. Sobule play at their house. The person who gave $10,000 sang on the record.

    If it sounds cheesy, like a virtual Tupperware party, consider that the record was produced by Don Was, who has produced Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. The sessions, recorded in Hollywood at Henson Recording Studios, were available for streaming and comment on Ms. Sobule’s Web site before she chose the final songs. (One listener’s verdict? More cowbell, please.)

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