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Generation Cheapskate: why millennials need to start paying for art

Dan Rice
Dan Rice

If you write novels for a living and distribute your work through a major publishing house, that publishing house will likely give you about a 10 percent cut of the profit from your work. If you are a musician, and distribute your work through a record label, you better get used to touring extensively to sell tickets and merchandise. Because you won’t be making much money off the actual art you produced relative to how much your music is played. It’s getting so bad, in fact, that Taylor Swift refused to put her music on Spotify, because she feels it devalues music. And if you plan on going into film without sucking up to some Hollywood execs, well, you have another thing coming.

There is a problem I’m getting at with these examples. A problem that is likely in the back of people’s minds when they pirate art, or pay a $5 subscription fee for indefinite listening, or viewing of creative and entertaining content, but clearly isn’t enough to change their ways. That problem is this: thanks to the coming digital age and our generation’s relative talent at navigating computers and smartphones, we are steadily devaluing art and killing the livelihood that allows artists to make the great things they make. Perhaps it’s because we’re cheap, college students, and perhaps it’s because we feel entitled. But whatever the reason, we are doing some serious harm to writers, musicians, filmmakers and artistic creators in many other mediums.

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Sure, one can make the argument that art should be free expression, that paying for art is silly and contradicts the point of art in the first place. But if this is so, how do you propose artists afford the time and money to create the things they do? If artists have no time to work, the quality of said work is sure to decline. Stephen King can’t while away his hours writing 2,000 words of text per day to create awesome novels if he needs a day job, and HBO can’t afford to make “Game of Thrones” if people keep pirating it instead of paying for a subscription, discs or digital copies of the series. Macklemore accomplished a daunting task by hitting the charts without a major label, but that accomplishment would never have happened without people buying his music and attending his concerts. Can there be a J.K. Rowling if people pirated her books? Could Peter Jackson have cranked out six multi-million dollar “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” movies if Hollywood expected no return on investment? Would they already be renewing seasons of “Better Call Saul” without people paying for “Breaking Bad?”

I won’t argue that there’s anything inherently wrong with a subscription service such as Spotify or Netflix. If we’re paying for content in some form, at least the artists who put hours of work — hundreds, if not thousands of them — into their creations are getting some form of credit, even if it’s next to nothing. But what I will argue, without hesitation, is that piracy is wrong and should not be seen otherwise. I don’t watch or pay for TV, yet people give me disbelieving looks when I say I paid $26 for the first seasons of “Better Call Saul” on iTunes. Never mind that this means I get to watch the episodes hours after they first air, in high definition, and I essentially paid $2 per episode in the series. Paying to watch TV, to many of my peers, sounds absurd. Yet my response is this: if we continue down this road, it will become crazy to think you can make money off art and entertainment, and then there won’t be a “Better Call Saul.” And in any case, don’t those filmmakers deserve $26 for all their hard work, more than Starbucks deserves $4 for a mass-produced latte with some whipped cream on top?

If you love entertainment and value art, the answer is right in front of you.

Collegian Columnist Dan Rice can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @danriceman.

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