Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What is content and what is its value? -- Part 2

First, a big thumbs up thanks to my friend, the brilliant Hamish McKenzie (if you're a Maya animator/rigger and you're not using Hamish's fantastic ZooTools then you are living a life of needless pain and woe) for sending me some links to TechDirt, a blog that covers a lot of things about content, copyright, new age and social media based business models, etc. 

In my last post I noted that I have drawn the conclusion that content (music, photographs, art, film, video, stories, etc.) is of no direct economic value outside of it's physical storage/delivery mechanism or the exclusive group experience of it (concerts, cinema, plays, etc.). This is a conclusion that a brief inspection of history itself seems to support. And as if that weren't enough, now in the digital internet age that limited value has become even less valuable- the point of direct economic worthlessness. The reason is simple- in the digital era there is no scarcity of digital files. The copy of a file does not diminish the existence of the source file. It is, literally, an infinite element. And anything that is (practically) infinite in availability is by nature economically worthless in a direct sense. Fair value for labor and all other "moral" constructs have no bearing. It's not a moral issue, it's a simple gravitational one. Let go of something, it falls. Whether that's right or wrong is irrelevant. Make an infinite supply of something, its value drops to zero. Scarcity is what creates value. Any efforts to impose scarcity on digital content in today's world is a Quixotic quest, doomed to only increase the sales of Maalox to those who tip at these infinite windmills. Kids, the genie's out of the bottle and we cannot put it back in. Reality dictates we learn to function in this new paradigm. (for a much more thorough dissertation on the impact of infinite supply on the economic value of a work of content, read this excellent TechDirt post. Read the linked posts that preceded it as well. For some this will be old hat, but many of us are still arriving at this dinner party.)

Commenter Ian asked a good question on my previous post: Is this depressing or liberating? (and by "this" he means the understanding that digital content is without inherent direct economic value)

The answer, I suppose, lies in how you see the world. I've been in both camps- depressed and liberated. For the last 4+ years I've been fortunate enough to be able to make a living as an independent content creator with my VTS animation tutorial videos. There have been good times, but for the last 2 years or so there's been a steady erosion as unauthorized copies of my videos have become more available on the internet. I won't lie:  unauthorized file sharing has put a sizable dent in my business, forcing me to consider alternative ways to feed la familia. However this is NOT a post whining about how people are stealing from my kids, etc. etc. etc. I knew 4 years ago when I started the VTS that file sharing would ultimately result. It's why I never bothered with copy protection or any of that stuff from the very start. I knew it was a waste of my most precious & limited resource- my time.  While I'd certainly prefer that people pay for the valuable (I think) info on how to be a better animator contained in my VTS videos, I won't waste energy complaining about those who don't. Nor will I waste energy trying to stop them, either. Instead I'd rather focus my energy on adapting and moving forward.

In the spirit of embracing things as they are and not as I wish them to be, I've begun to make some new animation tutorial videos and putting them up on my YouTube channel for free. (some direct links here, here, here and here). A few folks have stumbled across them, but I haven't promoted or mentioned them here on my blog yet. I figured this is a good time to introduce them. I think they offer some good info- and they're free. Share 'em as you see fit. I hope they help folks out. I'm still producing new VTS videos each month for those who want something more (we're currently working on a very complex James Brown inspired dance sequence utilizing video reference). And you can still purchase over four years' worth of back issue VTS videos for even more in depth info on being a better animator. But I'm going to mix in more of these free videos, too. I'll make more as I get the time- but my time is going to become even more scarce in the coming days and weeks.

More on that in a bit.


FerGil said...

I bet you're going to see your youtube channel subscriptions soar, now that you mentioned it here. I already suscribed.

Yes, content is, for lots of people, worthless. However, there are ways in which you can offer value, and continue making bussiness on the file-sharing era. Of course, it is harder and requires a lot of imagination, but a good attitude, like the one you have, is basic. Whine and be left behind, or adapt and thrive.

Great work, by the way. It's good to say that you create great content here, and even if directly charging the readers is impossible, I bet there are ways to leverage the value we put on your shared expertise and time.

Mike B said...

It's sad to hear that people are stealing your videos, but as you put it, it was probably inevitable that it would happen. I hope that you are still able to continue making a living teaching animation. Your tutorials have been a great help for me in the past, and I credit them for getting me my current job. I was fortunate enough to have down time between games to "stay in shape between projects" by doing exercises using your tutorials. But I have to say that the best experience was in taking your course. There is nothing more helpful than the video critiques you offer. It's very difficult to be critical of our own work and you have a meticulous eye for detail (from what I've experienced). I've helped a couple friends out with their animations by using a similar approach but still insist to them that they would receive the best training directly from you.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across them on youtube last week. I check out your blog many times daily since being introduced to it from my animation teacher at Sheridan College. Honestly, it's the best animation instruction in Maya I've received. The videos on YouTube are great. it's great to see someone go into maya and show you how the curves should look on things like a moving hold, for example, for proper weight. As soon as my Sheridan tuition is paid off, I'll be buying many of your VTS videos!

Ian said...

Ahhh there is nothing like the day to day reality of looking after a family to send a philosophical question running for the hills.
As someone who spends his online time trying to spread the good word about animation for free while raising a family I feel your pain, I’ve just been through a patch where my motivation has been shaken, but I feel I’m on the rebound now.

Having to find a place where you can put your creative energy and not have it clash with the inevitable financial concerns of modern life is something every animator (or artist) has to face. In my previous job as a teacher it was this unexpected conflict that would often drive students who weren’t going to make it through the course away as much as any technical issues. Frank Oz called it the “Symbiotic duel between art and commerce”.
Its confronting to students who’s exposure to art in school has been that you just do because it’s fun and it’s mostly up to you what you do, but I also think there is a crossroads later on, at 37 I’m among the very oldest animators or where I work. As you get a family and build a home it can change your perspective and you start to question what really motivates you, and where animation fits in with everything.
Personally I don’t think I run the risk of crushing any young animators dreams by raising these kinds of issues, if you are a young student of animation and are gona be made of the right stuff then you need to be able to hear things like this and still know down to your cotton socks that its a journey you are determined to make.
Keith I know it doesn’t help put food on your table, but I have so much respect for you and really appreciate all the work you put into spreading the good work in animation. You are a rare independent voice and animation is all the richer for having you out there and engaged with the online community.