The Value of Art

The Value of Art

Hello Rebels, and welcome back to my life.

One YouTuber I’ve followed for about a year now is Dan Brown, of the channel pogobat (link in the description).

Dan invites his viewers to contribute their own material to a discussion about whatever topic he’s discussing at the moment, and recently I’ve gotten the itch to throw my hat in the ring.

Recently he’s been discussing the creator-consumer social contract and the value of art and I decided to stick my two cents in, hence this video.

We as consumers are really, really bad at estimating the value of art. Part of that is because we don’t think about it enough, but part of it is that it’s a really hard problem to think about.

What metric applies to art’s value? The easiest concrete measurement seems to be the time we spend with it, right, but by that metric we’re way way stupid about what we consider valuable.

We’ll pay five dollars for a book that takes fifteen hours to read, but we’ll also pay thirty bucks to see a movie in theaters for two hours.

If we look at the time the artist spent on the art we have another problem, because some art that takes a really, really long time, is expected to be free.

Photography and visual arts take the artist a long, long time to put together and can effectively be re-experienced an infinite number of times, but almost no one is willing to pay for them.

Visual art is one of the hardest careers to maintain, unless you cheat and go into graphic design instead, which, it could be argued, is questionably art at all.

I don’t mean graphic design isn’t valuable, obviously, but corporate design for logos and such is to true visual art, what copywriting for websites is to writing a novel or book series.

The traditional artistic industries have figured out how to trick consumers into paying top dollar for an EXPERIENCE.

The music industry makes a lot of its money on CONCERTS. The film industry survives at the box office because going to a theater is a bigger EXPERIENCE than Netflix and chill.

And reading a popular New York Times bestselling book gives you not only the EXPERIENCE of the read, but the experience of talking about it with your friends after.

But there is no way to correlate experience with cost, because it’s so subjective.

My three favorite artistic experiences in the last three years are three self-published books that deeply affected me, and which I think about and re-read all the time.

They took the authors years and years to write, but they cost just a few bucks, and I might not have bought them if they were, say, fifteen or twenty dollars.

Yet next month I’m going to pay fifty bucks for my wife and I to go see the new Star Wars film in theaters.

That experience will last only a couple of hours, and yes I will remember it for a long time to come, but that memory will not be as precious or as influential in my life as those three indie books.

Maybe I’m biased in this regard, because I write books for a living, but the written word seems to get the shortest end of the stick in this whole “value of art” equation.

Books are one of the cheapest forms of media, even though they can easily be the most influential. I mean, look at the Bible and The Communist Manifesto or, in fiction, the Lord of the Rings.

This value problem is because books, and especially the traditional publishing industry, has a huge problem selling the book-related experience.

There is no book equivalent of the concert or the movie theater, unless you count book signings or readings, and I don’t know if you’ve ever attended one of those, but frankly they’re really boring except for the precious few seconds where you personally interact with the author.

Meanwhile, traditional publishing is clinging desperately to an antiquated distribution model that is wasteful and expensive and makes profit margins razor thin.

I mean, when he released The Fault in Our Stars, John Green famously signed, like, the entire first printing, so that everyone who pre-ordered the book or got it on release day would get a signed copy. All told it was tens of thousands of books.

And yet I think about only two-thirds of that printing sold, meaning tens of thousands more books with John Green’s autograph were PULPED, which wastes a ton of time and energy and manpower and is also terrible for the environment.

But while some stores were pulping overstock, other stores ran OUT of stock, and so they shipped pre-order customers UNSIGNED copies of the book. Clearly something is wrong here.

And when an author isn’t a John Green or a J.K. Rowling, even MORE of their stock is destroyed. Research some of the numbers about how many traditionally published books get destroyed. They will freak you out.

The only reason they’re not a bigger threat to the rain forests than they are is because that entire industry is struggling in today’s marketplace. I wonder why that could be.

And before anyone says I don’t know what I’m talking about, I actually used to work for a publisher that had multiple New York Times bestsellers and distributed all over the world, but had to recycle less than 5% of its final product, which is FREAKING UNHEARD OF in publishing.

So the book industry is the one I happen to know the most about, but I think it points to the problem in multiple industries, and maybe to the solution.

Part of the problem is our tendency not to think too hard about the value of art, but part of the problem is an industrial inability to communicate that value or, alternatively, find NEW ways to actually increase that value.

And that’s why aggregators are leaping into every type of art, from music to books to film to video games, and finding new ways to distribute and monetize them. And I think YouTube Red is just the latest manifestation of that, and it’s a good one.

Dan, I hope you got to watch this, and if so, thanks. Rebels, thank you as always for watching, and an extra special shoutout to my supporters on Patreon who make my YouTube channel possible. I will see you all tomorrow. Byyye.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

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