June 14

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Content Is Not A Dirty Word (And Companies Still Don’t Know How To Talk To Creators)

Finance, Mental Health, Social Media

Spotify founder Daniel Ek triggered serious backlash when he openly mused on Twitter that, "With the cost of creating content being close to zero, people can share an incredible amount of content." Pretty much immediately, musicians, podcasters, and other companies across the globe jumped on the statement, calling it tone deaf and outright wrong. 

Ek eventually walked back the statement in a later post, calling his definition of content "clumsy" and saying he didn't mean to devalue the effort that goes into creation. But, for an industry that has seen its creators exploited time and again, the damage was done. 

And let's not mince words: Ek was wrong about the price to create content, any way you cut it. At least if we're talking about content with a commercial purpose. But even if what he meant to say is that the affordability of equipment has made content creation easier and more accessible than ever before — and he's absolutely right about that — the same can be said about, well, pretty much everything. Advancements in technology have made everything easier and more prevalent than before. It's not like pointing that out is a particularly breathtaking revelation. 

But some creators also attached their ire to a specific word: content. 

There is a growing resistance, particularly among musicians, to labeling their art "content." And it's causing a lot of people to focus their energy in the wrong places. 

Content Is Not A Dirty Word

Musicians in particular seem to scoff at the notion of their work as "content." Maybe they find it reductive. Or maybe they feel like art is not inherently content. Whatever the case, it's led to a particular corner of the Internet honing in specifically on the word as a synonym for what they find "wrong" with the industry. 

And it's understandable. Most creative people pour thousands of hours and thousands of dollars into their craft before they ever even put something out into the world. Art has tremendous intrinsic value, often times more for the creator than the audience. It's natural to not want to see something you pour your heart and soul into lumped into the same bucket as, uh, this.

But getting caught up in the semantics is kind of stabbing at windmills. It's not like you see a bunch of bakers getting upset when they are called chefs and their croissants are referred to as "food." It's just a hierarchy of classification.

Because whether or not you feel like what you make is content — the commercial world in which it operates very much sees it as content. And acting like your art is "above" other forms of entertainment doesn't really lead to anything productive. 

All Content Has Value

One of the issues with describing the ability to make content for a "near-zero" cost is that it implies it enters the world with a near-zero value. And providing a fair value to content is one of the great struggles for most creators. 

Content creators of all kinds — musicians, podcasters, filmmakers, actors, gamers, digital artists, photographers, athletes, and the dozens of other types of creators — are often made to think that because what they do seems "fun" or they "enjoy" making things, there's no obvious value for it. Especially if they don't already have a powerful brand with lots of fans.

This, of course, ignores all the time creators spend running their business and not creating. But it also takes some bizarre mental gymnastics to justify. A huge part of the global ecosystem relies on advertising. Companies like YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, and more all have value only because people are on there constantly creating new things that other people want to see. And no matter how much data these companies gather on users, they will only stay relevant so long as people are driven to create and post interesting content on these sites. 

All art is content. Maybe all content isn't art (though, like they say, art is subjective). But all content has value. 

The More The Merrier

Another reason some creators may resist the "content" label is that they feel like it lumps them into a vast sea of endless entertainment options. And we've seen some companies slyly reference this, too — Spotify talking about how many tens of thousands of songs are uploaded every day; YouTube's mind-boggling upload rate. 

In a way, it's designed to make creators feel small. To make people think, "Well, if you won't accept these terms, there are thousands lined up behind you who will." It's pretty classic union busting stuff. 

But there's a lot of context needed here.

For starters, a lot of content that gets uploaded has no commercial intent. Coupled with the fact that there are essentially no guardrails to what gets uploaded, it's pretty easy to see how we get such volume. There probably would've been 100 times the CDs available in Tower Records, too, if anybody could've just walked in and left a copy of their demo there for sale.

But what's even more impressive than the amount of content uploaded? The amount consumed. Nearly half the time the average person is awake, in fact.

It's an absolutely vital part of just about everything we do. And from Taylor Swift to Caitlin Clark, we see how individuals have the power to literally form economies and revolutionize organizations. 

So, yeah, there's a lot of content out there. But there's an equally large audience hungry for it, whether it's a silly little video, the perfect print to make their home everything they wanted it to be, or a song that changes their life forever. 

Learning To Sell

Some people and businesses may have a hard time putting a quantifiable value on art. But people know that content has value. They know they need compelling content to sell their products. To provide an optimal experience for their guests. To create positive memories and associations. Or to just help get tasks done. They know they need to buy content.

It's just that artists and creators typically aren't as good as selling as they are at creating. And that's another critical component of embracing your role as a content creator and your art as content. If you struggle with it, though, you're definitely not alone. Selling is hard. Most businesses have different people for different roles — the engineers aren't typically tasked with also selling customers. 

A lot of creators don't have the luxury of having somebody sell on their behalf. But the faster we can establish the mindset that your art is content and your content deserves to be sold, the faster we can embrace the intersection of art and commerce. (And the faster you can afford to hire somebody who likes selling more than you do). 

But the first step is learning not to get caught up in the small fights and squabbles about "art" vs "content." 


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