By Daedalus Howell
Remember when “content was king?” I do—in fact, I remember the very moment I first heard that damnable phrase. It was 1999 and I was sitting across from an entertainment attorney who was working up some contracts for me. He bundled my paperwork into a folder, winked and said, “Content is king.” At $300 an hour, I could see how he came to that conclusion.
And now “content” is so ubiquitous as to be meaningless. Movies, for example, once the pinnacle of the content ecosystem in terms of the relative costs of their achievement, are glutting our broadband. Netflix, for example, went from curating and creating pitch-perfect original programming to a fire hose model to quench a thirst that its recent stock plummet proves was never there. Instead of drowning in a sea of mediocrity, millions of viewers cut bait. This is surely an indication that the content bubble is about to burst. It certainly already has for those in the lower echelons—journos included.
What’s a media maker to do? Evolve. Or more specifically, mutate. Hence, this emergent species known as a “creator,” a creature that has evolved to specifically survive in the piss puddle that is social media. Like the many of us content-making serfs, creators require a corporate platform—a host body, if you will—to survive. However, their relationship isn’t parasitic so much as symbiotic—the host needs the creator to create the content it monetizes. Every post, everywhere, is making someone else money.
Creators are like dolphins born in captivity—cute, slick and can’t survive in the wild. At least us legacy media types can write a cogent paragraph and tape it to a wall somewhere until those too come tumbling down. Of course, there’s little upside to posting broadsides, or frankly anything newsworthy, ever since some paywall-averse idiot in the ’90s thought “information wants to be free” was a business model rather than a slogan.
Thus, we dolphins must be subsidized by big media barons and special interests (which are often one and the same) and hope enough crumbs fall in the tank to sustain us.
The only way a creator can make real money is in the art market, which has its own absurd economics and over-valuations. Hence, as of this moment, I’m pivoting. Instead of a mid-market media maven, I now identify as a conceptual art project. Let’s start: Clip this article and tape it over the hole in the wall we mistook for a window into the future of democratized media. Now that’s rich.