Online Art: Income & Context
Offering creative work for sale online is uncontentious to some, but many new media writers and artists feel very reluctant to charge for online content. Is there an income-generating model geared to art in this context, asks Edward Picot...
by Edward Picot
[Register and post your own comments on this article below...]
Offering creative work for sale online may seem uncontentious to some, but many new media writers and artists feel very reluctant to charge for online content.
One explanation for this reluctance is the widely-held feeling that there is, or ought to be, something different about the Web as compared to other media: thus Alan Sondheim, the poet and web artist, writes:
I feel okay charging for a DVD - it's made for offline use... On the other hand, the web is based on open source, open distribution, and I wouldn't want to charge.Regina Celia Pinto, the Brazilian web artist and proprietress of The Museum of the Essential, puts it as follows -
I love the idea of exchange from the first Internet days, the idea that everyone seems to be interested in accumulated and redistributed knowledge... I am one that prefers to believe in a beautiful metaphor: the Internet is only one text / hypertext being written by infinite hands. So, how to sell what belongs to everybody?Pinto also notes that web art is "a relatively new art form, that until now had little or no market value", and that it is afflicted by "the very fast obsolence of the softwares and equipments" and thus "ephemeral by nature". All these factors make it difficult to sell as a "product". An associated idea is that it seems wrong to charge for work on the Web because, being intangible, it costs next to nothing to produce. There are no manufacturing processes involved, no raw materials, and no storage or transportation costs. On the other hand, one thing which is always required to create an online work is time. During that time the artist will have living expenses, and will have to find money for these expenses elsewhere, if it cannot be generated from the work itself. The new media artist Babel argues as follows:
In order to support the activities of new media artists that can't support themselves, someone has to pay - the government or the public - and I think this means entering into a market, and having to market yourself and your work... Selling work to the public seems little different to me than competing for exhibitions, grants and prizes...But even assuming that web artists do not have idealistic objections to selling their work online, there remains the practical objection that making a charge might reduce audience numbers. The one thing new media artists want above all is an audience for their work, and by offering it free online they are making it available to the widest audience possible. David Daniels, the poet and artist, puts it like this:
My art is available in .pdf form FREE at my website. Why should I wait around for no one to buy it? People from 120 countries have seen my poems since 2000.Payments would also be least palatable to those who were poorest. Andy Deck, media artist and proprietor of Artcontext, expresses this concern:
I've always been keen to see the Internet work for people who can barely afford connectivity fees and computers...Web artists also tend to be reluctant to spend a lot of time and effort setting up payment systems when they could be getting on with something creative instead: and the truth is that setting up a payment system is always a calculated risk. If it doesn't earn anything then it's so much time wasted; but if it actually brings in some income then it might pay for a new computer or some useful software, or it might even put the artist in a position where he or she didn't have to work full-time. And as Babel puts it,
I know a lot of talented people who have to use their creative energy on work that means very little to them.The audio artist Matt Fair agrees:
If we don't have an inheritance, win a lottery, rob a bank, or score the dole, we have, it seems to me, two choices: 1. Sell yourself to someone with money, or 2. Sell your own product. Faced with those two, I would far prefer the latter. It surprises me that others wouldn't.It seems likely that some differences of attitude towards the idea of selling work online can be traced to the different cultures and traditions through which artists have found their way onto the Web. Many people with a background in literature, print and small magazines move online because the Web seems to offer self-publication (and free distribution) on a global scale. Having made the move, they take the idea of selling their work for granted, because that's what they were doing in print. But clearly people from the open-source, "hacker", copyleft tradition see the matter from quite another angle.
Perhaps, however, the different traditions are not as irreconcileable as they may seem. Andy Deck makes an interesting point:
I suspect that eventually I'll end up using... an optional payment system. I think many people would (metaphorically) toss a tip in a jar if that type of system became common.It may be possible, in other words, to simply ask for money instead of demanding it: and on the Web this may actually work better, since it invites your audience to make a contribution without blocking them out if they decline. It would be interesting to conduct some proper research into which system worked better - compulsory payments or optional ones - and it would have an agreeably groovy, open-source feel to it if the optional system turned out to generate more revenue, as well as retaining larger audience figures.
About the author:
Writer and critic Edward Picot runs The Hyperliterature Exchange, the purpose of which is to encourage the sale of hyperliterature - electronic literature, cyberliterature, hypertext, new media literature, nonlinear literature, digital poetry, Flash poetry, etcetera - particularly work self-published by its authors or brought out by small independent publishers, writers' cooperatives and the like. His own work is published on www.edwardpicot.com/