Those of us who took advantage of comedian Louis C.K.’s revolutionary $5 online comedy special last fall were treated to another surprise in our email boxes yesterday. As it turns out, C.K. is now going on a multi-city tour and has decided to freeze out the fee gouging assholes at Ticketmaster by handling the booking and sales himself, and then passing the savings onto the consumers. This populist move is helpful to his fans in the short term (especially the cash poor ones like me), but I can’t help but wonder what this sort of “do it yourself” attitude means for the future of the marketplace for art.
Now I am by no means even somewhat qualified to speak about economics (which puts me in the same boat as most of the people at the University of Chicago), but even I know that successful capitalism depends on the constant moving of goods and services in exchange for capital. In many industries that means that being a middleman becomes an extremely worthwhile endeavor. Those in the middle of an industry are both contributing to the production of a good while receiving a portion of its profits, which can be used to spur other sectors of the economy. This basic fact both demonstrates why trickle-down economics is batshit insane (as the rich are never going to spend as much as the middle class) and highlights a worrisome development in the art economy.
As despicable as Ticketmaster and other corporatized aggregators are, they do serve a worthwhile purpose of allowing for new participants in the marketplaces of music, comedy, and the performing arts to reach a national artist (at least theoretically). If certain established artists are self-funding their exhibitions, this could conceivably potentially cripple any chances that aspiring new talents who lack this same capability to reach new audiences. Furthermore this development inadvertently could screw over consumers in the long run by depriving the economy of the unseen entertainment jobs associated with the industry.
Perhaps we are just witnessing the evolution of the consumer with this new trend. The newspaper, music, and movie industries were taken completely by surprise by the power of the web and suffered the consequences when executives demanded that the old methods of making money off of those products remained in place. But despite the collapse of those established industries as mass-profit making endeavors, the substantive product of those art forms have remained and evolved to meet the demands of the still-fervent consumers. As my friend Leor Galil wrote recently in Forbes, the music industry (for example) still pays its artists, but does so increasingly through crowd sourcing and via the wallets of already “fervent” fans.
So while this development of a less costly relationship between the artist and fan might be destabilizing for the abusive corporate interests who currently dominate the marketplace, I am still concerned with the lack of the aforementioned middlemen. What might be rewarding for consumers and artists alike in the short term does have some major consequences, and I am not yet sure that creating yet another deflationary industry is necessarily good for either of those groups in the future. But in the meantime, I’m going to buy me some Louis C.K. tickets.