The Book That Predicted The Creator Economy
In Praise Of Commercial Culture by Tyler Cowen
Before the start of the essay, I want to give a shoutout to Tim Dillon, one of my favorite courageous creators out there.
I care deeply about individuals creating and expressing a lot more than they currently do. One of my current side projects is building an audio-centric anonymous creator community platform, Parva, and we are still to see if it succeeds. But if you are interested in knowing more. Write to me at (abhi.katte @ gmail.com)
Coming to the book, Tyler Cowen’s 1998 book, “In Praise Of Commercial Culture” speaks about how markets, commerce, and wealth are a more suitable precondition for great art. He advocates capitalistic settings for art and vehemently defends contemporary culture while suggesting looking down on it while being easy is rather useless.
Cowen who now is a popular internet writer, economist, philosopher, and information collector is one of my favorite public intellectuals. The book shows exactly why Cowen is popular. He wastes no time coming to and making the core point. The book is a series of essays thinking deeply about the complex relationship between the artist and the market and the art.
Cowen makes a case about how capitalistic settings and motives for the production of art are better for the diversity of art that is produced. Early chapters of the book are full of examples of how the growth of commercialization of culture led to more minorities, women, and marginalized communities taking part in the production of culture. There is also an admission of the fact that there might be cases where governments might play a role in producing excellent culture.
One of the reasons why wealthy societies are wealthy is technology. Cowen champions the notion that the combination of technology and market infrastructure not only supports current art and culture but also helps us discover cultural products of the previous era thus exposing us to a much richer surface area of culture.
There are hundreds of examples where creators and artists leveraged either patron or market support that makes way for a full-blown defense of contemporary cultures. He comes across as advocating spending more and more of our attentional currency on current culture as far as possible.
Cowen admits in the area of literature that the odds are stacked against the flourishing of excellent writers but also highlights that times have progressively gotten better for independent writers.
Cowen writes,” Commercialised literature gives writers many possible outlets for their output. The exercise of free book buyer choice, while it supports the work of lesser writers, simultaneously creates a large number of market niches for masterpieces.”
Keep in mind when Cowen wrote this book, Youtube, Substack, Patreon and many other major capitalist pillars of today’s cultural production did not exist. In some ways Cowen predicted them. Cowens's book should be seen as a prediction of the creator economy and the historical recognition of such an economy already existing in parts and pieces all over the world.
To be clear the case that the book presents is not true about the field of music. And if we care about this particular means of cultural production we should start thinking about alternatives to Spotify and the current configuration of the music industry
there are some questions that the book definitely doesn’t address. This doesn’t make it any less of great work but just points out what the author wanted to prioritize.
Some questions I hope he goes deeper in the follow-up book if he ever decided to write one are:
- what kinds of varied returns are artists expecting and how does the market cater to those needs?
- how do we measure cultural progress, does the increase in the number and variety of cultural productions indicate progress in culture?
- on the rise of small individual patrons for a creator? how does this affect the dynamics of the macro marketplace exactly?
In re-reading the book i discovered why being a producer of culture is still underrated and why we need more and not less of decentralized culture. Definitely, not all of the productions will be of high standards but our society as a whole will be much richer as a result of the freedom we decide to afford for ourselves.
Remember, paying and voting for allowing more culture is paying and voting for more future freedom.