The persistent myth that artists and creators neither want or need partners in the self empowered digital age seems to have hit a wall. The LA Weekly recently reported on a number of high profile YouTube Artists who have found themselves on the bad end of bad deals with YouTube Producers. Get that. Artists have found themselves on the bad end of deals with business people exploiting them.
Ben Vacas, the creator of Braindeadly posted a video on his YouTube channel explaining the situation to his fans and audience,
“I woke up today hoping to make a video, but I went into a call with Machinima this evening and they said that my contract is completely enforceable. I can’t get out of it,” Vacas tells the camera. “They said I am with them for the rest of my life — that I am with them forever.
How could this happen in this digital age when no one should ever need any help or support from anyone else? So many in the tech blogosphere are constantly on the bullhorn bemouning the evils of record labels and movie studios, so the hypocrisy and irony of this new generation of creators falling prey to the same old types of exploitation is telling.
What’s worse is these artists appear to have entered into the types of agreements that the traditional record and film businesses have long since left behind as those industries matured and the rights of artists have been won in long hard fought battles.
As Chris Castle of Music Tech Policy commented in his post, It’s Called A Union, Numbnuts he sadly points out the obvious that the more things change the more they stay the same. Artists and creators are still prey for those seeking opportunistic exploitation of the creative class.
Well kids, welcome to the new boss. There is a reason why talent and craft unions exist and it’s not to “stifle innovation” of filmmakers any more than copyright exists to “stifle innovation” of musicians, artists, photographers, writers, authors, filmmakers and other creators.
But perhaps it is this more recent story that is more revealing. All Things D wrote this in “YouTube’s Show-Me-The-Money Problem“,
“It’s hard, given YouTube’s low [revenue-sharing] numbers and lack of marketing infrastructure to make the unit economics for premium programming work,” says Steve Raymond, who runs Big Frame, a YouTube network/programmer that says it has generated 3.2 billion views.
So let’s do the math on this. YouTube, which is the great white hope of, and often cited embodiment of the independent new digital culture for creators has bred an environment of draconian contracts for individual creators and at the same time it can not generate enough revenue for it’s most successful producers to maintain a sustainable business model.
How is this “innovation and progress”? Answer, it’s not. Of course readers of this blog will be familiar with David Lowery’s insightful and accurate analysis of the music business “Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss” and now we can see that the same forces are also shaping the new reality for more artists and creators than just musicians.
For all of the hype, it’s really funny what happens when you actually just look at the math. What’s more funny is when some tech blogs make statements like, “First of all, YouTube revenue is incremental revenue on top of other revenue.” Well apparently they haven’t spoken to Big Frame about that, unless of course they are suggesting that Big Frame’s primary business (and the creators that work for them) should have day jobs to supplement their revenue from YouTube. You know, jobs like selling t-shirts and touring…