In this week’s episode of This America Life, host Ira Glass opens by saying
Why don’t we just charge for the podcast? Answer is we don’t want to, because fewer people would actually hear the podcast. We like it to be free. And, idealistically, we like the idea that it should be possible to do ambitious stories and try things that nobody else is doing on radio, on podcast and pay for the whole thing by asking the people who listen to kick in a couple bucks each. I believe in that. I have thrown money at podcasts I like. It’s still really cheap entertainment. If that’s going to be the future of media, I like that future.
Monday night’s Pecha Kucha – Right-Brain Business Models – had two 6 minute 40 second presentations on this sort of theme.
Also speaking were Alex Munt; Susan Boccalatte who co-edits Trunk, Alice Gage of the beautifully designed Ampersand and Spod.
But to keep to my six minutes, I’ll just focus on Alan Crabbe and Rebecca Campbell.
Alan Crabbe talked about Fundbreak. A system of funding where creative projects raise money off strangers on the web. Nice interface aside, it has a lot in common with grant writing: you still need a budget, you still need to sell your project quickly before potential backers shift their focus. The difference are the backers themselves. Neither government nor corporate: instead, they’re people off the net who like the sound of the project. The artist in question offers a scale of incentives to funders, like a signed DVD or a live performance.
The site is still in beta at the time of this writing, and only one project so far is listed as successfully funded. But the model itself is a promising variation of ‘crowdfunding’.
Rebecca Campbell’s Posse offers a similar scale of rewards for fans who act for artists as their street teams; fan-ambassadors for the artist or the band. Campbell’s model offers $1 or $2 commissions for each ticket a fan sells. The best bit, she said was that fans get to feel like they’re part of the music industry. Essentially, she has bands’ fans acting as street teams. The website is a hub for organising this connection.
Both of these models seem less like a panacea for the creative arts, and more like a new set of tools for connecting fans with artists, big and small. I’m not sure that these models eliminate the middle-man – or middle-people – as much as they seem to. (Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with middle-people.) Facebook, Twitter, blog providers, PayPal, new street teams, even courier companies are still a middle layer between you and your fanbase.
The big difference seems to me to be that the management of these elements has been moved back in house again. And, of course: the cost of entry is much lower. So the ‘in-house’ can be inside YOUR house. I do wonder what happens when big companies also come round to these methods. Will they be thinking: “Hey – we can get our fans to do our promotion work for us, and pay us for the privilege!” Are these just tools, in practice, or will the motivation matter?
Of course, despite ‘crowdfunding’ being a new word, a number of people are already making money off models like these. One of the most prominent is Amanda Palmer, ex- The Dresden Dolls lead singer. As she says of new music business models in her interview in On the Media:
Everyone has to stop thinking there is an answer. The answer is, there’s an infinite number of answers.